Sunday, September 15, 2013

Poetry Sunday: A Woman Waking

My featured poet this week is Philip Levine, a former United States poet laureate who spent his early years writing verse between shifts as a Detroit autoworker. It has just been announced that Mr. Levine has been awarded the Academy of American Poets' Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievementThe prize, which comes with a $100,000 award, is given annually for “outstanding and proven mastery of the art of poetry."

Mr. Levine is the quintessential blue collar poet, a poet of the commonplace. I looked at a number of his poems over the last few days and found them quite affecting, but there was one in particular that spoke to me. And here it is.

A Woman Waking
She wakens early remembering
her father rising in the dark
lighting the stove with a match
scraped on the floor. Then measuring
water for coffee, and later the smell
coming through. She would hear
him drying spoons, dropping
them one by one in the drawer.
Then he was on the stairs
going for the milk. So soon
he would be at her door
to wake her gently, he thought,
with a hand at her nape, shaking
to and fro, smelling of gasoline
and whispering. Then he left.
Now she shakes her head, shakes
him away and will not rise.
There is fog at the window
and thickening the high branches
of the sycamores. She thinks
of her own kitchen, the dishwasher
yawning open, the dripping carton
left on the counter. Her boys
have gone off steaming like sheep.
Were they here last night?
Where do they live? she wonders,
with whom? Are they home?
In her yard the young plum tree,
barely taller than she, drops
its first yellow leaf. She listens
and hears nothing. If she rose
and walked barefoot on the wood floor
no one would come to lead her
back to bed or give her
a glass of water. If she
boiled an egg it would darken
before her eyes. The sky tires
and turns away without a word.
The pillow beside hers is cold,
the old odor of soap is there.
Her hands are cold. What time is it? 


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