A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
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
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.