Posts tagged Philip Levine

Philip Levine’s book The Simple Truth is dedicated “For my brothers, with me from the start.” In “The Trade,” below, he makes a surprising deal with one of his brother’s gifts to him, finding something more precious, perhaps, in the reversal of expectation, the revaluing of what we call precious, as his poetry so often does.

The Trade
Crouching down in the loud morning airof the docks of Genoa, with the gulls wheelingoverhead, the fishermen calling, I consideredfor a moment, then traded a copy of T.S. Eliotfor a pocket knife and two perfect lemons.The old man who engineered the deal heldthe battered black Selected Poems, pushedthe book out at arm’s length perusing the notesto “The Wasteland” as though he understood them.Perhaps he did. He sifted through the boxof lemons, sniffing the tough skins of several,before finally settling on just that pair.He worked the large blade back and forthnodding all the while, and stopped abruptlyas though to say, Perfect! I had notcome all that way, from America by wayof the Indies to rid myself of the burdenof a book that haunted me or even to say,I’ve had it with middle age, poetry, my life.I came only from Barcelona on the good shipKangaroo, sitting up on deck all nightwith a company of conscript Spaniardswho passed around the black wine of Alicantewhile they sang gypsy ballads and Sinatra.We’d been six hours late getting started.In the long May light the first beaconsalong the Costa Brava came on, then Franceslipped by, jewelled in the darkness, as Idozed and drank by turns in the warm sea airwhich calmed everything. A book my brother gavetwenty years before, out of love, stolenfrom Doubleday’s and brought to the hospitalas an offering, brother to brother, and carriedall those years until the words, memorized,meant nothing. A grape knife, wooden handled,fattened at one end like a dark fist, the bladelethal and slightly rusted. Two lemons, onefor my pocket, one for my rucksack, perfumingmy clothes, my fingers, my money, my hair,so that all the way to Rapallo on the trainI would stand among my second-class peers, tall,angelic, an ordinary man become a gift.

Learn more about Philip Levine’s The Simple Truth and browse other titles by Philip Levine.
To share the poem-a-day experience with friends, pass along this link »

Philip Levine’s book The Simple Truth is dedicated “For my brothers, with me from the start.” In “The Trade,” below, he makes a surprising deal with one of his brother’s gifts to him, finding something more precious, perhaps, in the reversal of expectation, the revaluing of what we call precious, as his poetry so often does.

The Trade

Crouching down in the loud morning air
of the docks of Genoa, with the gulls wheeling
overhead, the fishermen calling, I considered
for a moment, then traded a copy of T.S. Eliot
for a pocket knife and two perfect lemons.
The old man who engineered the deal held
the battered black Selected Poems, pushed
the book out at arm’s length perusing the notes
to “The Wasteland” as though he understood them.
Perhaps he did. He sifted through the box
of lemons, sniffing the tough skins of several,
before finally settling on just that pair.
He worked the large blade back and forth
nodding all the while, and stopped abruptly
as though to say, Perfect! I had not
come all that way, from America by way
of the Indies to rid myself of the burden
of a book that haunted me or even to say,
I’ve had it with middle age, poetry, my life.
I came only from Barcelona on the good ship
Kangaroo, sitting up on deck all night
with a company of conscript Spaniards
who passed around the black wine of Alicante
while they sang gypsy ballads and Sinatra.
We’d been six hours late getting started.
In the long May light the first beacons
along the Costa Brava came on, then France
slipped by, jewelled in the darkness, as I
dozed and drank by turns in the warm sea air
which calmed everything. A book my brother gave
twenty years before, out of love, stolen
from Doubleday’s and brought to the hospital
as an offering, brother to brother, and carried
all those years until the words, memorized,
meant nothing. A grape knife, wooden handled,
fattened at one end like a dark fist, the blade
lethal and slightly rusted. Two lemons, one
for my pocket, one for my rucksack, perfuming
my clothes, my fingers, my money, my hair,
so that all the way to Rapallo on the train
I would stand among my second-class peers, tall,
angelic, an ordinary man become a gift.

Learn more about Philip Levine’s The Simple Truth and browse other titles by Philip Levine.

To share the poem-a-day experience with friends, pass along this link »

I composed my first poems in the dark … secret little speeches to the moon when the moon was visible.
Philip Levine in his last lecture as US Poet Laureate

Our poetry celebration (co-hosted w/ Tumblr) knocked my socks off. The spectacular evening at Housing Works Bookstore featured poet laureate Philip Levine and 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry, Tracy K. Smith. In addition, beloved newcomers Karolina Manko and Saeed Jones, dazzled the crowd with their sharp verse.

A Poem-A-Day Celebration: Philip Levine's "The Mercy"

celebratepoetry:

From our current Poet Laureate, Philip Levine, an immigrant story, the unrecorded contours and meaning of which the offspring must fill in for himself, with a bittersweet generosity that won’t discount the pain.

- Knopf Poetry Team

***

The Mercy

The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island
eighty-three years ago was named “The Mercy.”
She remembers trying to eat a banana
without first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman
who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her
with a red bandana and taught her the word,
“orange,” saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening
with the black waters calming as night came on,
then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the corners
of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish
to find her family in New York, prayers
unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored
by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness
before she woke, that kept “The Mercy” afloat
while smallpox raged among the passengers
and crew until the dead were buried at sea
with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
“The Mercy,” I read on the yellowing pages of a book
I located in a windowless room of the library
on 42nd street, sat thirty-one days
offshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships
arrived, “Tancred” out of Glasgow, “The Neptune”
registered as Danish, “Umberto IV,”
the list goes on for pages, November gives
way to winter, the sea pounds the alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig
under towns in western Pennsylvania
only to rediscover the same nightmare
they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.

Aaand that’s why he’s our Poet Laureate.

Poet Laureate, Philip Levine.

Poet Laureate, Philip Levine.

Philip Levine, recently named the United States Poet Laureate, reads a few of his poems in the recording studio in the Random House building.

Philip Levine, recently named the United States Poet Laureate, reads a few of his poems in the recording studio in the Random House building.

Poet Laureate, Philip Levine, recalls life at the factory.