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 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/story