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Winter 2013

Albion

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On narrow roads twisting
between the farms, if farms
these were and not fallow
fields set off by stone walls
too low to keep anything
in or out. I’d been told
that when the west wind raged
local spirits—all the ghosts
of the unmourned—gathered
on the hilltops where no one
dared to go. We parked
in a little meadow shaded
by ancient birch and sycamore
going silver and gray under
the noon sun. Hand in hand
we climbed until the under-
growth separated us and she—
more nimble than I—took
the lead, and I followed until
the trees thinned out. The only
sound besides our breathing
was the silence. Beyond the first
clearing a stone wall stumbled
up and over a steeper rise.
Once there we saw the land
itself became confused as to
where to go. What, I thought,
could possibly be waiting
beyond still another grove
of birch and sycamore?
That was forty years ago
or more. We were still
young or young enough,
and new to the adventure,
so of course we kept going,
not in the hope of finding
Celtic arrowheads or human
skulls purified by time
and weather, or bronze relics
of lives we knew nothing of,
or what was actually there:
the exhausted chalky soil
of this depleted island
my father fought for. High
above, the clouds moved
against a pure blue sky
or perhaps it was the sky
that moved and everything
else stopped, like the two
of us, listening. Listening
for what? I ask myself now.
Call and response from bird
to bird or the sough of wind
stuttering through the trees,
the voices of a forgotten past?
I can’t recall how long we
stood there nailed to the spot,
hand in hand, expectant,
as though anything
could tell us where we were.


—Philip Levine



Philip Levine, a former U. S. Poet Laureate, has won the Pulitzer Prize, the Ruth Lilly Prize, and numerous other awards and honors. Born in Detroit, he now divides his year between Fresno and Brooklyn.
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