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Best Famous Philip Levine Poems


Here is a collection of the all-time best famous Philip Levine poems. This is a select list of the best famous Philip Levine poetry. Reading, writing, and enjoying famous Philip Levine poetry (as well as classical and contemporary poems) is a great past time. These top poems are the best examples of Philip Levine poems.

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by Philip Levine |

The Return

 Suddenly the window will open
and Mother will call
it's time to come in

the wall will part
I will enter heaven in muddy shoes

I will come to the table
and answer questions rudely

I am all right leave me
alone. Head in hand I
sit and sit. How can I tell them
about that long
and tangled way.

Here in heaven mothers
knit green scarves

flies buzz

Father dozes by the stove
after six days' labour.

No--surely I can't tell them
that people are at each
other's throats.


by Philip Levine |

The House

 They are building a house
half a block down
and I sit up here
with the shades down
listening to the sounds,
the hammers pounding in nails,
thack thack thack thack,
and then I hear birds,
and thack thack thack,
and I go to bed,
I pull the covers to my throat;
they have been building this house
for a month, and soon it will have
its people...sleeping, eating,
loving, moving around,
but somehow
now
it is not right,
there seems a madness,
men walk on top with nails
in their mouths
and I read about Castro and Cuba,
and at night I walk by
and the ribs of the house show
and inside I can see cats walking
the way cats walk,
and then a boy rides by on a bicycle
and still the house is not done
and in the morning the men
will be back
walking around on the house
with their hammers,
and it seems people should not build houses
anymore,
it seems people should not get married
anymore,
it seems people should stop working
and sit in small rooms
on 2nd floors
under electric lights without shades;
it seems there is a lot to forget
and a lot not to do,
and in drugstores, markets, bars,
the people are tired, they do not want
to move, and I stand there at night
and look through this house and the
house does not want to be built;
through its sides I can see the purple hills
and the first lights of evening,
and it is cold
and I button my coat
and I stand there looking through the house
and the cats stop and look at me
until I am embarrased
and move North up the sidewalk
where I will buy
cigarettes and beer
and return to my room. 
from "All's Normal Here" - 1985


by David Lehman |

Sestina

 for Jim Cummins 

In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton's
twin. Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman," 
about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform. Donna dressed 
 like Wallace Stevens 
in a seersucker summer suit. To town came Ted Berrigan, 
saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell."
But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine. 

At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine's
latest: the Pulitzer. A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton. 
No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell, 
pour something into Donna's drink. "In the Walt Whitman 
Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan, 
pulling on a Chesterfield. Everyone laughed, except T. S. Eliot. 

I asked for directions. "You turn right on Gertrude Stein,
then bear left. Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine 
and you're there," Jim said. When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan 
with cigarette ash in his beard. Graffiti about Anne Sexton
decorated the men's room walls. Beth had bought a quart of Walt 
 Whitman. 
Donna looked blank. "Walt who?" The name didn't ring a Marvin Bell. 

You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell. 
You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell. 
You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as 
 Walt Whitman. 
You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura 
 of Philip Levine. 
Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she 
 returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan." 

Donna was candid. "When the spirit of Ted Berrigan 
comes over me, I can't resist," she told Marvin Bell, 
while he stood dejected at the xerox machine. Anne Sexton
came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan 
had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine. 
The cop read him the riot act. "I don't care," he said, "if you're Walt 
 Whitman." 

Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman. 
"He was indefatigable, but he wasn't Ted Berrigan."
The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine, 
up a point and a half on strong earnings. Marvin Bell 
ended the day unchanged. Analyst Richard Howard
recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.

In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton, 
not both. Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with 
 Marianne Moore.
And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.


by Philip Levine |

The Return

 See, they return; ah, see the tentative
 Movements, and the slow feet,
 The trouble in the pace and the uncertain
 Wavering!

See, they return, one, and by one,
With fear, as half-awakened;
As if the snow should hesitate
And murmur in the wind,
 and half turn back;
These were the "Wing'd-with-Awe,"
 Inviolable.

Gods of the wingèd shoe!
With them the silver hounds,
 sniffing the trace of air!

Haie! Haie!
 These were the swift to harry;
These the keen-scented;
These were the souls of blood.

Slow on the leash,
 pallid the leash-men!


by Philip Levine |

Last Words

 I do not want a plain box, I want a sarcophagus
With tigery stripes, and a face on it
Round as the moon, to stare up.
I want to be looking at them when they come
Picking among the dumb minerals, the roots.
I see them already -- the pale, star-distance faces.
Now they are nothing, they are not even babies.
I imagine them without fathers or mothers, like the first gods.
They will wonder if I was important.
I should sugar and preserve my days like fruit!
My mirror is clouding over --
A few more breaths, and it will reflect nothing at all.
The flowers and the faces whiten to a sheet.

I do not trust the spirit. It escapes like steam
In dreams, through mouth-hole or eye-hole. I can't stop it.
One day it won't come back. Things aren't like that.
They stay, their little particular lusters
Warmed by much handling. They almost purr.
When the soles of my feet grow cold,
The blue eye of my tortoise will comfort me.
Let me have my copper cooking pots, let my rouge pots
Bloom about me like night flowers, with a good smell.
They will roll me up in bandages, they will store my heart
Under my feet in a neat parcel.
I shall hardly know myself. It will be dark,
And the shine of these small things sweeter than the face of Ishtar.


by Philip Levine |

The Dead

 Revolving in oval loops of solar speed,
Couched in cauls of clay as in holy robes,
Dead men render love and war no heed,
Lulled in the ample womb of the full-tilt globe.

No spiritual Caesars are these dead;
They want no proud paternal kingdom come;
And when at last they blunder into bed
World-wrecked, they seek only oblivion.

Rolled round with goodly loam and cradled deep,
These bone shanks will not wake immaculate
To trumpet-toppling dawn of doomstruck day : 
They loll forever in colossal sleep;
Nor can God's stern, shocked angels cry them up
From their fond, final, infamous decay.


by Philip Levine |

Small Game

 In borrowed boots which don't fit 
and an old olive greatcoat, 
I hunt the corn-fed rabbit, 
game fowl, squirrel, starved bobcat, 
anything small. I bring down 
young deer wandered from the doe's 
gaze, and reload, and move on 
leaving flesh to inform crows. 

At dusk they seem to suspect 
me, burrowed in a corn field 
verging their stream. The unpecked 
stalks call them. Nervous, they yield 
to what they must: hunger, thirst, 
habit. Closer and closer 
comes the scratching which at first 
sounds like sheaves clicked together. 

I know them better than they 
themselves, so I win. At night 
the darkness is against me. 
I can't see enough to sight 
my weapon, which becomes freight 
to be endured or at best 
a crutch to ease swollen feet 
that demand but don't get rest 

unless I invade your barn, 
which I do. Under my dark 
coat, monstrous and vague, I turn 
down your lane, float through the yard, 
and roost. Or so I appear 
to you who call me spirit 
or devil, though I'm neither. 
What's more, under all, I'm white 

and soft, more like yourself than 
you ever would have guessed before 
you claimed your barn with shot gun, 
torch, and hounds. Why am I here? 
What do I want? Who am I? 
You demand from the blank mask 
which amuses the dogs. Leave me! 
I do your work so why ask?


by Philip Levine |

Making Light Of It

 I call out a secret name, the name
of the angel who guards my sleep,
and light grows in the east, a new light
like no other, as soft as the petals
of the blown rose in late summer.
Yes, it is late summer in the West.
Even the grasses climbing the Sierras
reach for the next outcropping of rock
with tough, burned fingers. The thistle
sheds its royal robes and quivers
awake in the hot winds off the sun.
A cloudless sky fills my room, the room
I was born in and where my father sleeps
his long dark sleep guarding the name
he shared with me. I can follow the day
to the black rags and corners it will
scatter to because someone always
goes ahead burning the little candle
of his breath, making light of it all.


by Philip Levine |

The Grave Of The Kitchen Mouse

 The stone says "Coors" 
The gay carpet says "Camels" 
Spears of dried grass 
The little sticks the children gathered 
The leaves the wind gathered 

The cat did not kill him 
The dog did not, not the trap 
Or lightning, or the rain's anger 
The tree's claws 
The black teeth of the moon 

The sun drilled over and over 
Dusk of his first death 
The earth is worn away 
A tuft of gray fur ruffles the wind 
One paw, like a carrot 
Lunges downward in darkness 
For the soul 

Dawn scratching at the windows 
Counted and closed 
The doors holding 
The house quiet 
The kitchen bites its tongue 
And makes bread


by Philip Levine |

Late Moon

 2 a.m. 
December, and still no mon 
rising from the river. 

My mother 
home from the beer garden 
stands before the open closet 

her hands still burning. 
She smooths the fur collar, 
the scarf, opens the gloves 

crumpled like letters. 
Nothing is lost 
she says to the darkness, nothing. 

The moon finally above the town, 
The breathless stacks, 
the coal clumps, 

the quiet cars 
whitened at last. 
Her small round hand whitens, 

the hand a stranger held 
and released 
while the Polish music wheezed. 

I'm drunk, she says, 
and knows she's not. In her chair 
undoing brassiere and garters 

she sighs 
and waits for the need 
to move. 

The moon descends 
in a spasm of silver 
tearing the screen door, 

the eyes of fire 
drown in the still river, 
and she's herself. 

The little jewels 
on cheek and chin 
darken and go out, 

and in darkness 
nothing falls 
staining her lap.