Philip Levine

My Sister's Voice

Half asleep in my chair, I hear
a voice quiver the windowpane,
the same high cry of fear I first
heard beside the Guadalquivir
when I wakened to wind and rain
and called out to someone not there
and heard an answer. That was Spain
twenty-six years ago. The voice hers,
my sister’s, and now it’s come again
to ask how we go on without her.
That night beside the great river
I dressed in the dark and alone
left my family and walked till dawn
came, freezing, on the eastern rim
of mountains. I found no answer,
or learned never to ask, for
the wind answers itself if you 
wait long enough. It turns one way,
then another, the trees bend, they
rise, the long grasses wave and bow,
all the voices you’ve ever heard 
you hear again until you know
you’ve heard nothing. And so I wait
motionless, and as the air calms
my small, lost sister grows quiet,
as shy as she was in her life.
I remember coming back that night
in Sevilla past the rail yards,
trying to hold on to each word
she’d spoken even as the words fled
from my mouth. The switch engines
steamed in the cold. The sentry
in a brown cap sat up to shake
himself awake, and with nor fire,
no human cry and no bird song,
the day broke over everything.