“The Black Wastes of Moonless Waters”

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, Philip Levine thought all the big thoughts in his poem, “Let Me Begin Again.” If it appeals to the lost Buddhist in you, no surprise there. I myself am lost more often than not. I keep sensing tiny prayer flags in my soul, flapping their frustration.


Let Me Begin Again
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.