That Bungalow and You

For Phillip Levine
February 15, 2015

It was your sneer,
That side view of your face,
A photo of a Jew
In my grandmother’s Bible,
Hair, like a spread of hands,
Eyes, squinting,
To the sun rays through
The dirty window stitched
With alarm wires,
Painted clay,
Greasy gears

It was how you ignored us,
Then questioned us,
With your brick and mortar
Of careful sighs,
Making us regurgitate
Our lives, our poems,
To be judged by you,
Teaching us how
To judge ourselves

Bly’s, Leaping Poetry,
leaped– a spider from my hand
And onto the floor of
That bungalow in my past,
My distressed boy, in jeans,
In a desk near a steel door,
Outside, the brown birds,
That never made
My poems, then, trees,
With their humming branches,
Dung kissed clouds
In a Fresno sky,
And planes, I never boarded;
these pages, offset poems,
In light blue ink in our hands

And the ghosts of poets from
A revolution you slept with,
Love-hated like death-
Stood about the room;
Vallejo rubbing his fingers,
Hernandez, curled under a desk,
Scratching love on the floor,
With the courage of broken lead,
Neruda, his fat pen drawing lines
on your face

We all becomes timeless,
When words never die in us

In the summer, I brought
The after-smell of dried grape
And hooked knife,
My drunken father,
Stumbling like a scream
Trapped in my ear,
The thumb of my mother,
Knitting with her sister,
My brothers, shirtless
Salamanders, moving
into the wash

And now, the years,
Flaccid on bone,
A calendar furled out
In the wind that counts,
I sit here, in my submission,
And hear of your passing

How you must be rising
Above the pixel fuzz, Phil,
The etchings in your ledger,
The tough images
Of a long life of work,
Your kneaded wisdom,
Now solid and here like stone

You must be holding your own
Arms out in rows of shelves,
In the “hush, hush”
Of that infinite library,
Where my brother,
in tennis shorts,
Might see you,
My Uncle Noe
with his pocket
Full of God,
and all those, who,
Like you, have sparked
A permanent torch near
that stone in grass

And all these words remain,
Anyway, in imperfect lines of sugar
And Times Bold Roman,
A dash of stars, words,
Vaguely telling our story-
In that bungalow and you,
Forever turning away from us,
Then catching a glimpse
Of what you felt was important,
Biting down on your lips,
Taunting us, daring us, to write