Us valley folk don’t know Whitman
only an actual place, or a whiff
of salt you and I pass every day
on the way to school or on the way
home after work. We keep alive our
impulse to sing in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise
from the hard clay, from the lacy
white flowers Mama used to call
wild chicory, from the milkweed,
from the rye, and from the broom.
We don’t see the ocean, not ever,
but we believe something is waiting
7 years from somewhere — a song
beyond the Pacheco Pass in simple
diction and narrative style where
no words are noticed, because you’re
thrilled and terrified by the
mountains that you begin to believe
know everything. And we are walking
through a fig orchard we think of
as divine, we think of as blown
roses spreading their private charms,
we think of as a woman’s memory
awakening on a late Saturday morn.
If we’re quiet we might hear something,
a local police station, a bungalow,
a traffic light stuck on yellow.
You have to remember the main focus
is closer to simple song than speech.
Us ordinary folk find ourselves
in the dust, in an actual city,
in a place that isn’t our land.
All words can be found in Philip Levine’s poems “Our Valley,” “Homecoming,” and his biography page in The Poetry Foundation. Levine died February 14, 2015, at the age of eighty-seven at his home in Fresno, California. He was the U.S. poet laureate from 2011 to 2012, and Pulitzer winner in 1995 for “The Simple Truth.” Levine’s valley is the same one where I live, work, and play. Prompted by Blogging U.