he asks me if I’m happy

Tonight, a poem from 81-year-old Philip Levine, who grew up in Detroit, worked many years in the industrial city’s factories before (and while) he became a writer, and penned much-needed, stunning poems about the complex lives of the working class.

I always think it’s wonderful to hear poets read their work in their own voices if you can somehow attain a recording, and thanks to the newfangled wonder that is youtube, you can listen to Philip Levine read this poem here: A Reading of “Starlight”

“Starlight”-Philip Levine

My father stands in the warm evening
on the porch of my first house.
I am four years old and growing tired.
I see his head among the stars,
the glow of his cigarette, redder
than the summer moon riding
low over the old neighborhood. We
are alone, and he asks me if I am happy.
“Are you happy?” I cannot answer.
I do not really understand the word,
and the voice, my father’s voice, is not
his voice, but somehow thick and choked,
a voice I have not heard before, but
heard often since. He bends and passes
a thumb beneath each of my eyes.
The cigarette is gone, but I can smell
the tiredness than hangs on his breath.
He has found nothing, and he smiles
and holds my head with both his hands.
Then he lifts me to his shoulder,
and now I too am among the stars,
as tall as he. Are you happy? I say.
He nods in answer, Yes! oh yes! oh yes!
And in that new voice he says nothing,
holding my head tight against his head,
his eyes closed up against the starlight,
as though those tiny blinking eyes
of light might find a tall, gaunt child
holding his child against the promises
of autumn, until the boy slept
never to waken in that world again.


2 thoughts on “he asks me if I’m happy

  1. I will most likely fall asleep moments after reading this poem. What an arresting final line. Something strange and wonderful happens to my life if I pretend that each and every morning I am awakening to an entirely new world inhabited by entirely new creatures reconstructed during the course of the night. Tonight, I believe and hope that a Noah’s flood is going to cover and uncover, lift and unsettle the things in my life. Tomorrow, I hope to find things not quite where I remembered them to be.

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