Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Simple Truth

"For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love."
- Carl Sagan

Tonight, I packed my last box. I have whittled an entire houseful of stuff down into twelve boxes and what will fit in the backseat and trunk of my car. I feel very excited: like I am floating. It is an amazing feeling to get rid of so much junk....slash and burn indeed!

Whilst packing that last box, I found something that I hadn't looked at in many years. It is a long poem, written in red ink on yellow legal pad paper. It was left on my doorstep by a high school friend many years ago, when I lived in the house in which I spent most of my college time: 1414 East 37th Street in Austin. I love that house: still do, even though it is renovated and looks very different today than it did in 2003 when I moved out. 

Here is the poem, although sadly, it loses something not being written in red ink on yellow legal pad paper.

"The Simple Truth" by Philip Levine

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes, took them home, boiled them in their jackets and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt. Then I walked through the dried fields on the edge of town. In middle June, the light hung on in the dark furrows at my feet, and in the mountain oaks overhead, the birds were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers squawking back and forth, the finches still darting into the dusty light. The woman who sold me the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables at the road-side stand and urging me to taste even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way, she swore, from New Jersey. "Eat, eat," she said, "Even if you don't, I'll say you did."

Some things you know all your life. They are so simple and true they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme, they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker, the glass of water, the absence of light gathering in the shadows of picture frames, they must be naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.

My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965 before I went away, before he began to kill himself, and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious, it stays in the back of your throat like a truth you never uttered because the time was always wrong, it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken, made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt, in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.

{more information on Philip Levine can be found here}

1 comment: