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.