Lost in a letter from a father
to a son is the explanation
of what can't be explained: why the world
takes everything. Eighty years ago
the writer faced death with his beliefs
and his bad English. I wasn't born then.
My mother and father hadn't met
because he was in Alexandria
on the run from the English army.
Later came Lisbon, a forged passport,
New York City, a job flogging
kosher staples in the Midwestern
territories. All that and more
had to take place in savage Detroit
before I could enter the bloodied
arena of American life.
I'm what's left except for the letter
behind glass, ink-smeared, the single page
wrinkled at the edges, the words
copied out hundreds of times
by the son until he gave up and let
their puzzle fall into history.
The double "o"s stare out, blinded eyes
that say, "You don't care, you never did."
We could have saved them all; instead
we let his father die and then ours,
we let the long nights descend one
after another on our fragile
houses, we let the western wind blow
itself to tatters, we let winter in.
Philip Levine's book of poems The Simple Truth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995.
Clickhereto visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site.To submit poetry to Slate, send up to five poems and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Robert Pinsky, Slate Magazine, Boston University, 236 Bay State Road, Boston, MA, 02215.