Thursday, April 10, 2008

BillyBlog's Favorite Poems, #21 ("They Feed They Lion" by Philip Levine)

Philip Levine is an award-winning poet who has written amazing poetry about gritty, blue-collar life, growing up and coming of age in Detroit, Michigan. By the flimsiest of correlations, as the child of a Detroit-born father, who went to the same high school as Levine (Central), but missed him by a few years (although I believe he was in the same class as my Aunt Bobby), the beloved Detroit Tigers won their first game of the season last night in Boston, after a week and a half of winless futility.

What a mess that sentence was!

The point is, Tigers won, here's a Detroit poet, with a Detroit poem. This is one of Levine's finest, which I have heard him read at least once, at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival in 2004. At the end of the poem you'll find a link to listen to it as well.

They Feed They Lion
Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,
Out of black bean and wet slate bread,
Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,
Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,
They Lion grow.

Out of the gray hills
Of industrial barns, out of rain, out of bus ride,
West Virginia to Kiss My Ass, out of buried aunties,
Mothers hardening like pounded stumps, out of stumps,
Out of the bones' need to sharpen and the muscles' to stretch,
They Lion grow.

Earth is eating trees, fence posts,
Gutted cars, earth is calling in her little ones,
"Come home, Come home!" From pig balls,
From the ferocity of pig driven to holiness,
From the furred ear and the full jowl come
The repose of the hung belly, from the purpose
They Lion grow.

From the sweet glues of the trotters
Come the sweet kinks of the fist, from the full flower
Of the hams the thorax of caves,
From "Bow Down" come "Rise Up,"
Come they Lion from the reeds of shovels,
The grained arm that pulls the hands,
They Lion grow.

From my five arms and all my hands,
From all my white sins forgiven, they feed,
From my car passing under the stars,
They Lion, from my children inherit,
From the oak turned to a wall, they Lion,
From they sack and they belly opened
And all that was hidden burning on the oil-stained earth
They feed they Lion and he comes.
Listen: "They Feed They Lion" (mp3)

Incidentally, I spoke to Levine about the family connection. He did not know/remember my Aunt, but he did know who my grandfather, William Cohen, the man for whom I was named, was. It was certainly an inspiring moment, to have a Pulitzer Prize winning poet acknowledge the connection to a man who (and I am certainly understating this) was a public figure in Detroit in the middle of the last century as an attorney who championed the causes of the working men and women of Hamtramck.

Previous Favorite Poems for National Poetry Month:

#22 - "Looking at Kilauea" by Garret Hongo
#23 - "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" by Randall Jarrell
#24 - A Handful of Richard Brautigan
#25 - "A Buddha in the Woodpile" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
#26 - "Separation" by W.S. Merwin
#27 - "The Flea" by John Donne
#28 - Poem Twenty from Pablo Neruda's Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
#29 - "Magpie's Song" by Gary Snyder
#30 - "Eunoia" by Christian Bok

No comments: