Above the Angels


 Philip Levine

for Strempek

A row of corrugated gray huts

hunkering down in the November rain.

Across the way the fire burns night and day

though unseen now in first light. Bernard

wakens to the bouquet of warming milk

and burned coffee. It will be said later

he had the bearing of an angel

with clear eyes, a wide untroubled brow,

thick golden curls. His mother's home now

from the night shift to prepare his day,

so he rises and stands as a man

on the cold linoleum. The Rouge plant,

where she works, goes on burning and banging,

but neither mother nor son notices.

It's their life. Nonsense, we say,

how can the life of an angel abide

a Ford plant where the treasures

of the earth are blasted and beaten

into items? In an empty church

in Genoa two years ago, we saw

the girl Mary in a rose gown shyly

bowing before a dazzling Gabriel,

the painting stained but recognizable.

That was an angel, bathed in his own light,

bearing the gift of a God, a terrifying

presence from an unknown world!

When Bernard bows to dip his bread

into the coffee, his mother lays a hand

on the pale nape as though she knows

he will die eleven years from now

in a fiery crash on U.S. 24

on his way home and thus leave

an orphaned son behind. In this world

the actual occurs. In November

the cold rain streams skyward in sheets,

the dawn passes, the day shift arrives,

the houses grip down, separate and scared.