Many of you might be familiar with American writer Raymond Carver for his iconic short stories, such as the minimalist/raw yet elegant pieces that comprise Cathedral or What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He was born in Oregon in 1938 and died from lung cancer at the age of 50 in 1988, only six weeks after his marriage to poet Tess Gallagher.
In his unfortunately abbreviated lifetime , Carver also wrote some fine poetry; in fact, I think he published more anthologies of poems than he did stories. Tonight, I give you one.
So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.
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”
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.