It had been long dark, though still an hour before supper-time. The boy stood at the window behind the curtain. The street under the black sky was bluish white with snow. Across the street, where the lot sloped to the pavement, boys and girls were going down on sleds. The boys were after him because he was a Jew. At last his father and mother slept. He got up and dressed. In the hall he took out his sled and went out on tiptoe. No one was in the street. The slide was worn smooth and slippery--just right. He laid himself down on his sled and shot away. He went down only twice. He stood knee-deep in snow: no one was in the street, the windows were darkened; those near the street-lamps were ashine, but the rooms inside were dark; on the street were long shadows of clods of snow. He took his sled and went back into the house.
This poem is in the public domain.
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.
Everyone loves a story. Let's begin with a house. We can fill it with careful rooms and fill the rooms with things—tables, chairs, cupboards, drawers closed to hide tiny beds where children once slept or big drawers that yawn open to reveal precisely folded garments washed half to death, unsoiled, stale, and waiting to be worn out. There must be a kitchen, and the kitchen must have a stove, perhaps a big iron one with a fat black pipe that vanishes into the ceiling to reach the sky and exhale its smells and collusions. This was the center of whatever family life was here, this and the sink gone yellow around the drain where the water, dirty or pure, ran off with no explanation, somehow like the point of this, the story we promised and may yet deliver. Make no mistake, a family was here. You see the path worn into the linoleum where the wood, gray and certainly pine, shows through. Father stood there in the middle of his life to call to the heavens he imagined above the roof must surely be listening. When no one answered you can see where his heel came down again and again, even though he'd been taught never to demand. Not that life was especially cruel; they had well water they pumped at first, a stove that gave heat, a mother who stood at the sink at all hours and gazed longingly to where the woods once held the voices of small bears—themselves a family—and the songs of birds long fled once the deep woods surrendered one tree at a time after the workmen arrived with jugs of hot coffee. The worn spot on the sill is where Mother rested her head when no one saw, those two stained ridges were handholds she relied on; they never let her down. Where is she now? You think you have a right to know everything? The children tiny enough to inhabit cupboards, large enough to have rooms of their own and to abandon them, the father with his right hand raised against the sky? If those questions are too personal, then tell us, where are the woods? They had to have been because the continent was clothed in trees. We all read that in school and knew it to be true. Yet all we see are houses, rows and rows of houses as far as sight, and where sight vanishes into nothing, into the new world no one has seen, there has to be more than dust, wind-borne particles of burning earth, the earth we lost, and nothing else.
From News of the World by Philip Levine. Copyright © 2009 by Philip Levine. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf. All rights reserved.
The new grass rising in the hills, the cows loitering in the morning chill, a dozen or more old browns hidden in the shadows of the cottonwoods beside the streambed. I go higher to where the road gives up and there's only a faint path strewn with lupine between the mountain oaks. I don't ask myself what I'm looking for. I didn't come for answers to a place like this, I came to walk on the earth, still cold, still silent. Still ungiving, I've said to myself, although it greets me with last year's dead thistles and this year's hard spines, early blooming wild onions, the curling remains of spider's cloth. What did I bring to the dance? In my back pocket a crushed letter from a woman I've never met bearing bad news I can do nothing about. So I wander these woods half sightless while a west wind picks up in the trees clustered above. The pines make a music like no other, rising and falling like a distant surf at night that calms the darkness before first light. "Soughing" we call it, from Old English, no less. How weightless words are when nothing will do.
Originally appeared in The New Yorker, 2001. Copyright © 2001 by Philip Levine. Reprinted by permission of the author. All rights reserved.