Grief is made luminous in this intensely beautiful Larry Levis (1946-1996) poem I have been reading and re-reading for the past year.
“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;
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