Sunday, 26 January 2014

'He would never use one word when none would do'~ poem by Philip Levine

Philip Levine, now in his 80's has written some incredibly moving poetry including this poem whose very title makes you aware of Philip's observational prowess and deep thinking characteristics. This is a beautifully told story in poetic form and it is no wonder that he was awarded the Pulitzer prize for his collection, 'The Simple Truth.' Here is more information on Philip Levine

If you said “Nice day,” he would look up
at the three clouds riding overhead,
nod at each, and go back to doing what-
ever he was doing or not doing.
If you asked for a smoke or a light,
he’d hand you whatever he found
in his pockets: a jackknife, a hankie –
usually unsoiled — a dollar bill,
a subway token. Once he gave me
half the sandwich he was eating
at the little outdoor restaurant
on La Guardia Place. I remember
a single sparrow was perched on the back
of his chair, and when he held out
a piece of bread on his open palm,
the bird snatched it up and went back to
its place without even a thank you,
one hard eye staring at my bad eye
as though I were next. That was in May
of ’97, spring had come late,
but the sun warmed both of us for hours
while silence prevailed, if you can call
the blaring of taxi horns and the trucks
fighting for parking and the kids on skates
streaming past silence. My friend Frankie
was such a comfort to me that year,
the year of the crisis. He would turn
up his great dark head just going gray
until his eyes met mine, and that was all
I needed to go on talking nonsense
as he sat patiently waiting me out,
the bird staring over his shoulder.
“Silence is silver,” my Zaydee had said,
getting it wrong and right, just as he said
“Water is thicker than blood,” thinking
this made him a real American.
Frankie was already American,
being half German, half Indian.
Fact is, silence is the perfect water:
unlike rain it falls from no clouds
to wash our minds, to ease our tired eyes,
to give heart to the thin blades of grass
fighting through the concrete for even air
dirtied by our endless stream of words.

I would definitely recommend taking time to read more of his work and this poem echoes a similar observation in a book by Cecelia Ahern, 'The Book of Tomorrow,' in which she describes how her uncle communicated primarily with mucus swallows and head movements!! I think that sometimes when we wish to understand people we definitely need to look a lot further than beyond their obvious communication. Words are often used far to readily and especially when we have opinions and are waiting for a chance to 'jump' into conversations in a discourteous way! 

'Water is thicker than blood'- how often do we not quite grasp s phrase or an idea properly? Again, we need to pay attention and take time to understand things although the understanding here goes deeper than the words. Great food for thought and an opportunity to challenge ourselves in many different ways- conduct, skills, beliefs.

Jaz McKenzie

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1 comment:

  1. The Poem suggest an amazing philosophy. An affinity with harmony that the system would probably disqualify. The fluency of his (Philip's) thoughts are healing.