Philip Levine

Dust and Memory

A small unshaven man, perhaps fifty,
with a peaked cap pulled sideways
to hide his features. He bowed his head
to the ground, groaned, rose to thrust
his head back in abandon, and flung
his body forward again. A supplicant
on his knees to what? The earth and sea
that had misused him? The power of pain?
The female God-face painted on the prow
of the fishing boat whose shade he hid in?
When the cap fell away I recognized a man
I passed each evening coming home at dusk,
a near neighbor to whom I’d never spoken
and never would. After dark I did not
steal back to find him gone or to hear
the sea, moonless, itself only a word
without consonants, repeated invisibly
inside my head.
                          What is this about?
Wherever you are now there is earth
somewhere beneath you waiting to take
the little you leave. This morning I rose
before dawn, dressed in the cold, washed
my face, ran a comb through my hair
and felt my skull underneath, unrelenting,
soon the home of nothing. The wind
that swirled the sand that day years ago
had a name that will outlast mine
by a thousand years, though made of air,
which is what I too shall become, hope-
fully, air that says quietly in your ear,
“I’m dust and memory, your two neighbors
on this cold star.” That wind, the Levante,
will howl through the sockets of my skull
to make a peculiar music. When you hear it,
remember it’s me, singing, gone but here,
warm still in the fire of your care.