The National Catholic Review
Philip Levine

"As long as there is earth under your feet
someone must dig into it." I learned this first
at age thirteen from Sophie Psaris,
once of Salonika, then of Detroit,
my next-door neighbor and mother to all
living things, who kneeled to the cold March earth
and the wild flags that dotted the junked fields
behind her garage. Rats thrived on the scraps
she set out. "They have to live too," said Sophie
leaving the gate to her fenced yard open. 

There must be an arena of heaven
open to all stray creatures, there must be
fields of newly turned red earth, the red earth
of La Mancha steeped in rain, and black earth too,
earth ripened by onion skins and orange rinds.
There must be room for the dead, their bodies
still inert and weighed down with desire,
great hulking bodies and tiny ones as well
that once were wrens and sparrows, their feathers
riffling in the winds off the sky’s restless waves.

April, 1947, the war over,
Steve and Eli home, their long, carved faces
shadowed, their eyes turned in. All down the block
houses close early. In the dark Sophie
opens the back gate to let the aroma
of rotting roses flood the untended fields
she scours for wild flowers. In my high room,
startled by the bark of a spade on stone,
I hang between two worlds, heaven and earth,
as the clouds pass over holding their tongues.

Philip Levine

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