Poem Therapy 9:53 P.M. 11 July 2012: Our Valley -

Our Valley
Phillip 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.
My little valley is the very bottom of what once was Lake Bonneville, a primordial lake. It is flanked by the Rocky Mountains to the East, and The Great Salt Lake to the West. The soil is rich. On a humid day, the sulphur smell and tang of salt wafts over the land and for a moment it is possible to believe the ocean is nearby.

Like the poem, I have to remember that this small patch of Earth, is not mine, even though I have a paper that says I own it. I am passing through, just like all of those who came before me who had a title with their signature of ownership.

My great-great uncle lived on this land ninety four years ago. He walked and rode his horse up the same street that is in front of my home. The street was a dirt road until well into the forties. It is now something of a residential highway with its steady stream of cars.

William's funeral cortage, a wagon draped with black silk, was pulled up this street by horses with feathered headresses, to the cemetery. Occasionally, a hearse followed by a length of cars with thier lights on will pass by my house, headed for the cemetery.

Today is my Uncle William's birthday. If he were alive, he would be 114. He died in France in transport to the front, to Verdun, just three days after arriving, at the age of twenty-one.

Of course I never knew him. I am not exactly sure what my connection, (fascination, obsession),with him is, other than he arrived in my thoughts one day, took up residence, insisted on being acknowledged, and is as real to me as any relative I've known in the flesh.

A little weird, I know.

My intention was to visit his grave today, and pour a beer into the grass beside his headstone, but I spent the entire day with friends, and just barely got back from swimming.

I can't say that I believe in an afterlife that any religion has offered, but I do believe in a continuation of energy. Energy never dies, it just changes form. What form is it? Not anyone on the planet knows for certain.

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