Philip Levine

Blue and Blue

In mid-June the light hangs on until I think
the day will never end. At the table, alone,
I place my left hand, palm up, before me
and begin to count the little dry river beds
on the map of life. One means I will live
until I won’t, another means someone else,
a third means children, a fourth the future’s past,
and taken together they mean nothing at all.
I lose the count and turn the hand over to find
four blue streams with nowhere to go. In 1965
in late summer in the harbor of Barcelona
as I went out to sea, I did not know all
this hand could tell me. Overhead the sky darkened
into a blue so deep I thought the world would
break into fire. The evening wind swept from left
to right across the bow, and the waves broke
into blue, and in the deep trough of each wave
ran a current of richer blue. At that moment
I told myself I was not alone. I told myself
the meaning of everything was held in a single drop
of sea water the way all time crowded that moment.
I understood how one human being was everyone.
I must have said it aloud in English, for the man
next to me, a salesman from Argentina, turned
to ask my meaning. The sea was blue and beautiful,
was all I had the courage to say in his language,
He nodded slowly, and a dampened lock of white hair
fell across his brow. Men like that, with eyes
so crimped in wrinkles they can’t possibly see out,
know everything. Or at least this one knew a fool
when he heard one, for he shoved his left hand
deeper into his jacket pocket and threw his cigar
into the face of the wind, where for a moment
it became so meaningless dying fires.
Where was I going? you want to know. To sea.
The way young men in stories go to sea? No.
I worked for an American parts manufacturer
with headquarters in Chicago, I was nearly thirty-eight,
with a wife and three kids back in California.
I shared a state room on the good ship Kangaroo
bound for Genoa, where I meant to flog bearings,
drive shafts, and universal joints to merchants
far shrewder than I. Actually none of this matters.
When you were just nineteen you waited all summer
in Havana for a man to offer you a job
running guns into Bolivia, and that was how
you made your fortune, found the meaning of life,
and disappeared into cinema. Thus, it’s not you
but I who must ask why the sea eats so many fires
or how a drop of salt water contains each moment.
It’s hopeless. No one else wonders how each of us
became the other, no one else sits here asking
his own left hand what it holds, while outside
the mourning doves gather in the tall blond grass
under a sky that quickens into blue and blue.