Posts Tagged ‘poem’

Philip Levine RIP

Posted: 16 February 2015 in Uncategorized
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Philip Levine, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and U.S. poet laureate in 2011 and 2012, has died at the age of 87.

I have featured two of his poems on this blog over the years: “An Abandoned Factory, Detroit” and “What Work Is.”

Here is a third:

I Sing The Body Electric

People sit numbly at the counter
waiting for breakfast or service.
Today it’s Hartford, Connecticut
more than twenty-five years after
the last death of Wallace Stevens.
I have come in out of the cold
and wind of a Sunday morning
of early March, and I seem to be
crying, but I’m only freezing
and unpeeled. The waitress brings
me hot tea in a cracked cup,
and soon it’s all over my paper,
and so she refills it. I read
slowly in The New York Times
that poems are dying in Iowa,
Missoula, on the outskirts of Reno,
in the shopping galleries of Houston.
We should all go to the grave
of the unknown poet while the rain
streaks our notebooks or stand
for hours in the freezing winds
off the lost books of our fathers
or at least until we can no longer
hold our pencils. Men keep coming
in and going out, and two of them
recall the great dirty fights
between Willy Pep and Sandy Sadler,
between little white perfection
and death in red plaid trunks.
I want to tell them I saw
the last fight, I rode out
to Yankee Stadium with two deserters
from the French Army of Indochina
and back with a drunken priest
and both ways the whole train
smelled of piss and vomit, but no
one would believe me. Those are
the true legends better left to die.
In my black rain coat I go back
out into the gray morning and dare
the cars on North Indemnity Boulevard
to hit me, but no one wants trouble
at this hour. I have crossed
a continent to bring these citizens
the poems of the snowy mountains,
of the forges of hopelessness,
of the survivors of wars they
never heard of and won’t believe.
Nothing is alive in this tunnel
of winds of the end of winter
except the last raging of winter,
the cats peering smugly from the homes
of strangers, and the great stunned sky
slowly settling like a dark cloud
lined only with smaller dark clouds.


Poem of the day

Posted: 28 April 2014 in Uncategorized
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I chanced upon the following poem by Bertolt Brecht, from 1936, while searching for the appropriate words to commemorate the retirement of a colleague and longstanding friend.

Questions from a Worker Who Reads

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years’ War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions.


from Bertolt Brecht, Poems, 1913-1956, ed. John Willett and Ralph Manheim (London: Methuen, 1987).

Poem of the day

Posted: 11 October 2013 in Uncategorized
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A haiku by Steve Zilliak:

“O Captain! My Captain!
The ship’s weather’d every rack” –
at the Goodwill store

For Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

We stood together at the top of his icy steps, without a word for once, squinting at the hill below and the tumble we were about to take, heads bumping on every step till our bodies rolled into the street. He was older than the bread lines of the Great Depression. Before the War he labored at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, even organized apprentices, but now there was ice. I outweighed him by a hundred pounds; when my feet began to skid, I would land on him and hear the crunch of his surgically repaired spine. The books I held for him would fly away like doves disobeying an amateur magician.

Let’s go back in the house, I said. Show me the baseball Sandy Koufax signed to you: “from one lefiy to another. ” Instead, he picked up a blue plastic bucket of sand, the kind of pail good for building castles at Coney Island, tossed a fist of sand down onto the sun-frozen concrete and took the first step, delicately. Again and again, he would throw a handful of sand in the air like bread for pigeons, then probe with the tip of his shoe for the sandy place on the next step: sand, then step; sand, then step. Every time he took a step I took a step, an apprentice shadow studying the movements of his teacher the body. This is how I came to dance a soft-shoe in size fourteen boots, grinding my toes into the gritty spots he left behind on the ice. I was there:

I saw him turn the tundra into the beach with a wave of his hand, Coney Island of castles for the laborers and ballgames on the radio, showing the way across the ice and down the hill into the street, where he spoke to me the last words of the last lesson: You drive.

– Martín Espada

Poem of the day

Posted: 12 August 2011 in Uncategorized
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What Work Is

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is–if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’s someone else’s brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
a man is waiting who will say, “No,
we’re not hiring today,” for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who’s not beside you or behind or
ahead because he’s home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You’ve never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you’re too young or too dumb,
not because you’re jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don’t know what work is.

Philip Levine, U.S. poet laureate

Poem of the day

Posted: 11 March 2010 in Uncategorized


by Michael Heffernan

Before I gave up wondering why everything
was a lot of nothing worth losing or getting back,
I took out a jar of olives, a bottle of capers,
a container of leftover tomato sauce with onions,
put a generous portion of each in olive oil
just hot enough but not too hot,
along with some minced garlic and a whole can of anchovies,
until the mixture smelled like a streetwalker’s sweat,
then emptied it onto a half pound of penne, beautifully al dente,
under a heap of grated pecorino romano
in a wide bowl sprinkled with fresh chopped parsley.
If you had been there, I would have given you half,
and asked you whether its heavenly bitterness
made you remember anything you had once loved.

in honor of the founding members of the Puttanesca Review. . .