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By Philip Levine

As a boy he played alone in the fields   

behind our block, six frame houses   

holding six immigrant families,   

the parents speaking only gibberish   

to their neighbors. Without the kids   

they couldn’t say “Good morning” and be   

understood. Little wonder   

he learned early to speak to himself,   

to tell no one what truly mattered.   

How much can matter to a kid   

of seven? Everything. The whole world   

can be his. Just after dawn he sneaks   

out to hide in the wild, bleached grasses   

of August and pretends he’s grown up,   

someone complete in himself without   

the need for anyone, a warrior   

from the ancient places our fathers   

fled years before, those magic places:   

Kiev, Odessa, the Crimea,   

Port Said, Alexandria, Lisbon,   

the Canaries, Caracas, Galveston.   

In the damp grass he recites the names   

over and over in a hushed voice   

while the sun climbs into the locust tree   

to waken the houses. The husbands leave   

for work, the women return to bed, the kids   

bend to porridge and milk. He advances   

slowly, eyes fixed, an animal or a god,   

while beneath him the earth holds its breath.


Philip Levine, "“My Brother, the Artist, At Seven”" from (: , )

Source: Poetry

Poet Bio

Philip Levine was born in Detroit, Michigan, to Russian Jewish immigrants. Working in factories while earning his degrees, Levine had a close connection with the working class, which was a major influence on his poetry. Levine received the Pulitzer Prize for his 1994 collection The Simple Truth and in 2011 was appointed poet laureate of the United States.

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