by Philip Levine

He has found nothing, and he smiles

and holds my head with both his hands.

Then he lifts me to his shoulder,

and now I too am there among the stars,

as tall as he. Are you happy? I say.

He nods in answer, Yes! oh yes! oh yes!

And in that new voice he says nothing,

holding my head tight against his head,

his eyes closed up against the starlight,

as though those tiny blinking eyes

of light might find a tall, gaunt child

holding his child against the promises

of autumn, until the boy slept

never to waken in that world again.

My father stands in the warm evening

on the porch of my first house.

I am four years old and growing tired.

I see his head among the stars,

the glow of his cigarette, redder

than the summer moon riding

low over the old neighborhood. We

are alone, and he asks me if I am happy.

"Are you happy?" I cannot answer

I do not really understand the word,

and the voice, my father's voice, is not

his voice, but somehow thick and choked,

a voice I have not heard before, but

heard often since. He bends and passes

a thumb beneath each of my eyes.

The cigarette is gone, but I can smell

the tiredness that hangs on his breath.

David LaMotte


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Read by Philip Levine