Starting Over

LevineThere’s probably no more welcome expression in the English language than “do-over,” as in, “I’d like a do-over, please.” Not surprising, considering that we get almost nothing right the first time… or the second… or the third. The numbers expand as the task grows more complicated, and what is more complicated than this thing called living a life?

With this question in mind, I was introduced to another poet by his death. In this case, it’s the late Philip Levine, who died last week. I have ordered a collection of his works via interlibrary loan so I can explore his poetry more thoroughly, but have found a few online and like this one particularly. It is called “Let Me Begin Again,” and it appeals to the lost Buddhist in me. (I know he’s lost because I keep sensing tiny prayer flags in my soul.)


Let Me Begin Again by Philip Levine


Let me begin again as a speck

of dust caught in the night winds

sweeping out to sea. Let me begin

this time knowing the world is

salt water and dark clouds, the world

is grinding and sighing all night, and dawn

comes slowly and changes nothing. Let

me go back to land after a lifetime

of going nowhere. This time lodged

in the feathers of some scavenging gull

white above the black ship that docks

and broods upon the oily waters of

your harbor. This leaking freighter

has brought a hold full of hayforks

from Spain, great jeroboams of dark

Algerian wine, and quill pens that can’t

write English. The sailors have stumbled

off toward the bars of the bright houses.

The captain closes his log and falls asleep.

1/10 ’28. Tonight I shall enter my life

after being at sea for ages, quietly,

in a hospital named for an automobile.

The one child of millions of children

who has flown alone by the stars

above the black wastes of moonless waters

that stretched forever, who has turned

golden in the full sun of a new day.

A tiny wise child who this time will love

his life because it is like no other.


I like how his birthday on January 10th of ’28 brings the comment “Tonight I shall enter my life/after being at sea for ages.” It’s an apt description for the vast oceans of our pre-birth (and perhaps of our post-deaths, too, as only Levine could — or more likely couldn’t — tell us). The kicker, though, comes at the end: “A tiny wise child who this time will love/his life because it is like no other.”

Food for thought, that. While we’re alive, the “this time” is in our very hands. Too many of us don’t realize that.


2 thoughts on “Starting Over

  1. I sense an obscure humor in this. He wants to return flying above what he now sees as a leaking freighter filled with antiquated and useless works in an “oily” sea which would be the social production it is sinking in. He wants to be above and more progressive, but time is a continuing enemy of its leaks. I like the two dichotomies of flying vs sinking and being innocent vs experienced (born vs old). Now the captain sleeps as his “crew” he has trained go out on the town. I very much like this poem.


    • It’s always good to find a poem that resonates. The scary thing is, there’s hundreds more out there that seem perfect for “us” (as in, the unknown — to the poets — reader). How many will we find in our remaining time? More, I hope, than if we never looked in the first place. Glad you enjoyed it….


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