There’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.