ELEGY FOR PHILIP LEVINE
If you’re old enough to read this you know
what work isn’t; it isn’t in poems
or in the screed a screen door delivers
when it opens and bangs shut on your thoughts
of childhood. You might even agree that
the opening salvo of “West End Blues”
matters more than anything you could write
in seven lifetimes, but so what, my friend.
Out of burlap sacks, out of kiss my ass,
we say goodbye as the factories close,
and our amber waves of grain have become
yellow lines in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
However your life unfolded, it was
an enormous yes, gathering milkweed,
sweet will, winter words, dust, and red carnations
to scatter on the graves of dictators
as an imprecation and a warning.
Now America shackles amendments
to tailpipes and all the bluebirds’ windpipes
are cut to whistling so long or “Dixie.”
Our love, your rose’s many thorns, the dew
that won’t wait long enough to stand your wren
a drink, the no one who listened to wind
speak its new truth to the moon—all are gone,
jacketed in a guttural moan off
the coast of a distant Ellis Island.
What actually took place is now lost
in the mythologies of families,
yoking stories to the dinner table,
aproning them there into immense sails,
beat in time to the pulse felt at the wrist.
We’ll never waken on a world again
where your Detroit of ’48 will be
carried and transmuted—those oily floors,
those fathers departed in fifth autumns,
those torn into light and underbellied
in stone, those cartwheels into early dusk
now become a poem with no ending.
February 22, 2015
Dante Di Stefano: “I hope that there will be many poems that honor the memory of Philip Levine, who died on February 14th. This is my one.”