My only advice is not to go away. Or, go away. Most of my decisions have been wrong.

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by Larry Levis


In the City of Light

The last thing my father did for me
Was map a way: he died, & so
Made death possible. If he could do it, I
Will also, someday, be so honored. Once,

At night, I walked through the lit streets
Of New York, from the Gramercy Park Hotel
Up Lexington & at that hour, alone,
I stopped hearing traffic, voices, the racket

Of spring wind lifting a newspaper high
Above the lights. The streets wet,
And shining. No sounds. Once,

When I saw my son be born, I thought
How loud this world must be to him, how final.

That night, out of respect for someone missing,
I stopped listening to it.

Out of respect for someone missing,
I have to say

This isn’t the whole story.
The fact is, I was still in love.
My father died, & I was still in love. I know
It’s in bad taste to say it quite this way. Tell me,
How would you say it?

The story goes: wanting to be alone & wanting
The easy loneliness of travelers,

I said good-bye in an airport & flew west.
It happened otherwise.
And where I’d held her close to me,
My skin felt raw, & flayed.

Descending, I looked down at light lacquering fields
Of pale vines, & small towns, each
With a water tower; then the shadows of wings;
Then nothing.

My only advice is not to go away.
Or, go away. Most

Of my decisions have been wrong.

When I wake, I lift cold water
To my face. I close my eyes.

A body wishes to be held, & held, & what
Can you do about that?

Because there are faces I might never see again,
There are two things I want to remember
About light, & what it does to us.

Her bright, green eyes at an airport—how they widened
As if in disbelief;
And my father opening the gate: a lit, & silent

City.


From The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief & Healing, edited by Kevin Young.

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