Philip Levine

In the Dark

In the last light of a summer day facing the Canadian shore
we watched from the island as night sifted into the river,
blackening the still surface. An ore boat passed soundlessly
trailing a tiny wake that folded in upon itself with a sigh,
unless that sigh was hers or mine. In the darkness it’s hard
to tell who is listening and who is speaking. St. Augustine
claimed we made love in the dark— though he did not write
“made love”— because we were ashamed to do it in the sight
of anything, although I suppose God could see in the dark, having
at least as good eyesight as a cat. Our cat Nellie used to like
to watch my wife and me at love, but she was not a creature
who generalized and of all things she liked best a happy household.
“God loves a happy giver,” I read in the Abyssinian chapel
on top of the Holy Sepulcher, which suggests the old saint
had no idea what he was talking about, but in the darkness
it’s not easy to tell who is talking and who listening, who giving,
who taking, who praying, who cursing. Even then, watching
from the island, I thought that making love was a form of prayer.
You got down on your knees, if you were a boy, and prepared
for whatever the future held in store, and no matter how firm
your plans without the power of another power you were lost.
It’s so dark back then I can’t tell what I’m thinking, although
I haven’t placed my hand on Millie’s shoulder for nothing,
nor have I turned my face toward Millie’s merely to catch
a reflection of the darkness in her wide, hazel eyes, cat eyes
I called them then. Millie sighs, the ore boat passes silently
to disappear into a future that’s still mysterious, I take a breath,
the deepest breath of my life, and knowing the generations of stars
are watching from above, I go down on my knees in prayer.