1/10/2014: Happy Birthday, Philip Levine!
The former U.S. poet laureate turns 86 today. Hear him read from his work and talk to David Greene about the “hateful,” “exhausting” work of laboring in Detroit car factories.
In “Salt and Oil,” from Mercy, Levine writes of the power — or perhaps the duty — of observation, and gives a little master class in what it means to look:
Three young men in dirty work clothes
on their way home or to a bar
in the late morning. This is not
a photograph, it is a moment
in the daily life of the world,
a moment that will pass into
the unwritten biography
of your city or my city
unless it is frozen in the fine print
of our eyes. I turn away
to read the morning paper and lose
the words. …
three young men in dirty work clothes
on their way under a halo
of torn clouds and famished city birds.
There is smoke and grease, there is
the wrist’s exhaustion, there is laughter,
there is the letter seized in the clock
and the apple’s tang, the river
sliding along its banks, darker
now than the sky descending
a last time to scatter its diamonds
into these black waters that contain
the day that passed, the night to come.
Full poem. More poems.
Drawing by N.C. Mallory, Flickr, Creative Commons.