Our Valley

By Philip Levine b. 1928 Philip Levine
We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay   
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment   
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I'm nuts saying the mountains   
have no word for ocean, but if you live here   
you begin to believe they know everything.   
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you're thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn't your land.   
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats   
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men   
who carved a living from it only to find themselves   
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,   
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,   
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.

Source: Poetry (November 2008).

 Philip  Levine

Biography

“A large, ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland” according to Edward Hirsch in the New York Times Book Review, Philip Levine is one of the elder statesmen of contemporary American poetry. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Levine was born and raised in industrial Detroit. As a young boy in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, he was fascinated by the events of the Spanish Civil War. His heroes were not only . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Landscapes & Pastorals, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Religion

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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