"Just outside Malaga, California,
lost among the cluster of truckstops
there is a little untended plot
of ground and weeds and stone
that bears my name, misspelled,
and under the stone is dirt, hardpan,
more dirt, rocks, then one hundred
and one different elements
embracing each other in every way
they can imagine so that at times
they remind me of those photographs
I saw as a boy and which I was assured
were expensive and stimulating
and meant nothing. There are also
over a thousand beer bottle caps
one of my sons was saving until
he calculated that he would never
reach a million and so quit. (Quit saving, not drinking.)
One document is here, ceremoniously labeled
“My Last Will and Testament.” My sister
so hated it she threw it into the bare hole
and asked that it be shovelled under.
Not one foolish hope of mine is here, for none
was real and hard, the hope that the poor
stalked from their cardboard houses to
transform our leaders, that our flags wept
colored tears until they became nothing but flags of surrender.
I hoped also to see my mother
a long distance runner, my brother give
his money to the kids of Chicago
and take to the roads, carless, hatless,
in search of a task that befits a man.
I dreamed my friends quit lying
and their breath took on the perfume
of new-mown grass, and that I came
to be man walking carelessly
through rain, my hair tangled, my one
answer the full belly laugh I saved
for my meeting with God, a laugh I
no longer needed. Not one nightmare
is here, nor are my eyes which saw
you rise at night, barefoot and quiet,
and leave my side, and my ears which heard
you return suddenly, your mouth tasting
of cold water. Even my forehead
is not here, behind which I plotted
the overthrow of this our republic
by means of the refusal to wipe.
My journals aren’t here, my right hand
that wrote them, my waist that strained
against so many leather belts and belts
of cloth that finally surrendered.
My enormous feet that carried me safely
through thirty cities, my tongue
that stroked and restroked your cheek
roughly until you said, “Cat.” My poems,
my lies, my few kept promises, my love
for morning sunlight and dusk, my love
for women and the children of women,
my guiding star and the star I wore
for twenty seven years. Nothing of me
is here because this is not my house,
this is not the driver’s seat of my car
nor the memory of someone who loved me
nor that distant classroom in which I
fell asleep and dreamed of lamb. This
is dirt, a filled hole of earth, stone
that says return to stone, a broken fence
that mumbles Keep Out, air above nothing,
air that cannot imagine the sweet duties
of wildflowers and herbs, this is cheap,
common, coarse, what you pass by
every day in your car without a thought,
this is an ordinary grave."
My Grave, by Philip Levine
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