In this “characteristically wise” (The New York Times Book Review) collection from one of our most celebrated poets, Philip Levine brings us finely made, powerfully telling imagery from the worlds of hand, heart, and mind.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.50(w) x 9.28(h) x 0.49(d)|
About the Author
Philip Levine was born in 1928 in Detroit. He has received numerous awards for his poetry, including the National Book Award for What Work Is and the Pulitzer Prize for The Simple Truth. He divides his time between Fresno, California, and Brooklyn, New York.
Date of Birth:January 10, 1928
Place of Birth:Detroit, Michigan
Education:B.A., Wayne State University; M.F.A., Iowa Writers Workshop, University of Iowa
Read an Excerpt
We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.
You probably think I'm nuts saying the mountains have no word for ocean, but if you live here you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls slowly between the pines and the wind dies to less than a whisper and you can barely catch your breath because you're thrilled and terrified.
You have to remember this isn't your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside and thought was yours. Remember the small boats that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men who carved a living from it only to find themselves carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.
THE HEART OF OCTOBER
Dusk south of Barcelona, the slopes leading up to the fortress, a city of wooden crates and cardboard shacks staggers up the mountain as the rain runs down, a black river. The final night,
I whisper to no one. A patch of red,
the single moving thing, comes toward me to become the shirt of a young girl,
eleven or twelve. Bare- legged, picking her way to avoid the sharp stones,
she reaches me. Through perfect teeth in her perfect mouth she demands a duro,
one hand held out. Only one duro,
she insists, stamping a naked foot,
browned and filthy on the filthy earth.
When I pay up and turn for home she is beside me laughing as the rain streams down her forehead, her short hair a black cap plastered in place. "A duro! "
she demands again. "Another?" I say.
"Yes, of course," she laughs into the face of the rain, "and after that another."
Even a child knows the meaning of rain:
it is the gift of October, a gift that arrives on time each autumn to darken the makeshift shacks and lighten the hillside with a single splash of color.
NEWS OF THE WORLD
Once we were out of Barcelona the road climbed past small farm-
houses hunched down on the gray, chalky hillsides. The last person we saw was a girl in her late teens in a black dress & gray apron carrying a chicken upside down by the claws. She looked up &
smiled. An hour later the land opened into enormous green meadows.
At the frontier a cop asked in guttural Spanish almost as bad as mine why were we going to Andorra. "Tourism," I said. Laughing,
he waved us through. The rock walls of the valley were so abrupt the town was only a single street wide. Blue plumes of smoke ascended straight into the darkening sky. The next morning we found what we'd come for: the perfect radio, French- made,
portable, lightweight, slightly garish with its colored dial &
chromed knobs, inexpensive. "Because of the mountains, reception is poor," the shop owner said, so he tuned in the local Communist station beamed to Spain. "Communist?" I said. Oh yes, they'd come twenty- five years ago to escape the Germans, & they'd stayed.
"Back then," he said, "we were all reds." "And now?" I said. Now he could sell me anything I wanted. "Anything?" He nodded. A
tall, graying man, his face carved down to its essentials. "A Cadillac?"
I said. Yes, of course, he could get on the phone & have it out front— he checked his pocket watch— by four in the afternoon.
"An American film star?" One hand on his unshaved cheek, he gazed upward at the dark beamed ceiling. "That could take a week."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This volume seems to me to represent a new direction for Levine, trying to write about a more diffuse set of experiences. My sense is that for many of the poems there is a slight mismatch between the subjects he is tackling here and the clear, blunt language and tough style that served him so well in earlier collections focused on working class life and experience. In any case, fans of Levine will certainly enjoy reading this volume for the gems that can be found within it. But new readers of Levine would do better to start with his much more consistent collection *What Work Is* or his *Selected Poems,*