Final Note & Poems by Phillip Levine

Now that you have explored our posts and a part of the rich history of Detroit, we leave you with poems from Detroit native and 2011 Congress Poet Laureate Phillip Levine. Levine is known for his subject matter on Detroit and it’s social, economic, and political elements. Enjoy.

Image

Drum

In the early morning before the shop
opens, men standing out in the yard
on pine planks over the umber mud.
The oil drum, squat, brooding, brimmed
with metal scraps, three-armed crosses,
silver shavings whitened with milky oil,
drill bits bitten off. The light diamonds
last night's rain; inside a buzzer purrs.
The overhead door stammers upward
to reveal the scene of our day.
                              We sit
for lunch on crates before the open door.
Bobeck, the boss's nephew, squats to hug
the overflowing drum, gasps and lifts. Rain
comes down in sheets staining his gun-metal
covert suit. A stake truck sloshes off
as the sun returns through a low sky.
By four the office help has driven off. We
sweep, wash up, punch out, collect outside
for a final smoke. The great door crashes
down at last.
            In the darkness the scents
of mint, apples, asters. In the darkness
this could be a Carthaginian outpost sent
to guard the waters of the West, those mounds
could be elephants at rest, the acrid half light
the haze of stars striking armor if stars were out.
On the galvanized tin roof the tunes of sudden rain.
The slow light of Friday morning in Michigan,
the one we waited for, shows seven hills
of scraped earth topped with crab grass,
weeds, a black oil drum empty, glistening
at the exact center of the modern world. 

A Story

Everyone loves a story. Let's begin with a house.
We can fill it with careful rooms and fill the rooms
with things—tables, chairs, cupboards, drawers
closed to hide tiny beds where children once slept
or big drawers that yawn open to reveal
precisely folded garments washed half to death,
unsoiled, stale, and waiting to be worn out.
There must be a kitchen, and the kitchen
must have a stove, perhaps a big iron one
with a fat black pipe that vanishes into the ceiling
to reach the sky and exhale its smells and collusions.
This was the center of whatever family life
was here, this and the sink gone yellow
around the drain where the water, dirty or pure, 
ran off with no explanation, somehow like the point
of this, the story we promised and may yet deliver.
Make no mistake, a family was here. You see
the path worn into the linoleum where the wood,
gray and certainly pine, shows through.
Father stood there in the middle of his life
to call to the heavens he imagined above the roof
must surely be listening. When no one answered
you can see where his heel came down again
and again, even though he'd been taught
never to demand. Not that life was especially cruel;
they had well water they pumped at first,
a stove that gave heat, a mother who stood
at the sink at all hours and gazed longingly
to where the woods once held the voices
of small bears—themselves a family—and the songs
of birds long fled once the deep woods surrendered
one tree at a time after the workmen arrived
with jugs of hot coffee. The worn spot on the sill
is where Mother rested her head when no one saw,
those two stained ridges were handholds
she relied on; they never let her down.
Where is she now? You think you have a right
to know everything? The children tiny enough
to inhabit cupboards, large enough to have rooms
of their own and to abandon them, the father
with his right hand raised against the sky?
If those questions are too personal, then tell us,
where are the woods? They had to have been
because the continent was clothed in trees.
We all read that in school and knew it to be true.
Yet all we see are houses, rows and rows
of houses as far as sight, and where sight vanishes
into nothing, into the new world no one has seen,
there has to be more than dust, wind-borne particles
of burning earth, the earth we lost, and nothing else.

They Feed They Lion

Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter, 
Out of black bean and wet slate bread, 
Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar, 
Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies, 
They Lion grow. 

Out of the gray hills 
Of industrial barns, out of rain, out of bus ride, 
West Virginia to Kiss My Ass, out of buried aunties, 
Mothers hardening like pounded stumps, out of stumps, 
Out of the bones' need to sharpen and the muscles' to stretch, 
They Lion grow. 

Earth is eating trees, fence posts, 
Gutted cars, earth is calling in her little ones, 
"Come home, Come home!" From pig balls, 
From the ferocity of pig driven to holiness, 
From the furred ear and the full jowl come 
The repose of the hung belly, from the purpose 
They Lion grow. 

From the sweet glues of the trotters 
Come the sweet kinks of the fist, from the full flower 
Of the hams the thorax of caves, 
From "Bow Down" come "Rise Up," 
Come they Lion from the reeds of shovels, 
The grained arm that pulls the hands, 
They Lion grow.
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I do things.
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