Vox Populi

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Philip Levine: Red Dust

This harpie with dry red curls 
talked openly of her husband, 
his impotence, his death, the death 
of her lover, the birth and death 
of her own beauty. She stared 
into the mirror next to 
our table littered with the wreck 
of her appetite and groaned: 
Look what you’ve done to me! 
as though only that moment 
she’d discovered her own face. 
Look, and she shoved the burden 
of her ruin on the waiter. 


I do not believe in sorrow; 
it is not American. 
At 8,000 feet the towns 
of this blond valley smoke 
like the thin pipes of the Chinese, 
and I go higher where the air 
is clean, thin, and the underside 
of light is clearer than the light. 
Above the tree line the pines 
crowd below like moments of the past 
and on above the snow line 
the cold underside of my arm, 
the half in shadow, sweats with fear 
as though it lay along the edge 
of revelation. 


And so my mind closes around 
a square oil can crushed on the road 
one morning, startled it was not 
the usual cat. If a crow 
had come out of the air to choose 
its entrails could I have laughed? 
If eagles formed now in the 
shocked vegetation of my sight 
would they be friendly? I can hear 
their wings lifting them down, the feathers 
tipped with red dust, that dust which 
even here I taste, having eaten it 
all these years. 

Copyright 1971 Philip Levine. From Red Dust: Poems. First published in book form by George Hitchcock of Kayak Press in a limited edition of 1,200 copies designed and printed by George Hitchcock at the Kayak Press. Bindery work by Louis Rangaves. Prints by Marcia Maris.

This poem is included in Vox Populi for non-commercial educational purposes only.

For a biographical sketch of Philip Levine and the importance of his work, please click here.

Philip Levine (1928-2015)

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This entry was posted on August 9, 2020 by in Opinion Leaders, Poetry, Social Justice and tagged , , , , .

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