We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass, something massive, irrational, and so powerful even the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it. You probably think I'm nuts saying the mountains have no word for ocean, but if you live here you begin to believe they know everything. They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine, a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls slowly between the pines and the wind dies to less than a whisper and you can barely catch your breath because you're thrilled and terrified. You have to remember this isn't your land. It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside and thought was yours. Remember the small boats that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men who carved a living from it only to find themselves carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home, so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust, wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.
Copyright © 2009 by Philip Levine. Reprinted from News of the World with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
The author of numerous award-winning poetry collections, Philip Levine was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000. In 2011, he was named the 18th U.S. Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress, and in 2013, he received the Academy of American Poets' Wallace Stevens Award for proven mastery in the art of poetry.
Date Published: 2009-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/our-valley