Today's poem is by Philip Levine

Why We Sing When We Work

Renamed Efraim after the Lord of Light, he was given
for his thirteenth birthday a small roan and pranced
in the roadway raising dust in the eyes of young mothers
whose curses, tame and traditional, did no one harm.
His brother Ismail walked at his side. A man of some years,
but merely a man, he herded the children to their safety.
Ismail dreamed of a small house at the edge of town, a view
of the distant mountains, a hillside staggered with grapes,
apple trees behind the house, their branches bowed
by dark clusters at summer's end. How little to ask for one
born too suddenly and under the wrong sign, the only brother
of he who made the sun stand still. One afternoon Efraim
dismounted to sit all that day by the waters of the river.
He neither prayed nor wept, for everything was answered.
No one remembered the year would end. Rain was gathering
in the low clouds coming in from the west, rain and more rain
until the ditches could not hold it nor the small streams
that fed the river that gave its name to our hopes, rain
that swept everything before it until the town was gone,
even the high wall that guarded plum and pear that pressed
their fruit for Efraim's delight. Hooves over great rump,
the roan was swept down the very streets it honored, its rider
and his mignons never seen again by anyone, and when spring
came back the valley greened in silence and disorder.

Copyright © 2003 Philip Levine All rights reserved
from Painted Bride Quarterly: Print Annual I
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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