Levine: They Feed They Lion

The American poet Phillip Levine died Saturday of last week. He was 87, so he wasn’t snatched away from us untimely, but still it’s another loss in a winter that has taken many people, friends and fellow pilgrims, near and far. The Fates weave cloth of snow, and the snick of Atropos’ scissors is in every snowflake that touches the ground.

I call Levine an American poet because he was born, grew up, and lived in working class Detroit, and in the 20th century there was no more American place than Detroit. He was a child during the depression. Levine read poetry and became a poet while working in factories, the dark, satanic mills of the American automotive Jerusalem, operating a punch press and a jackhammer. He did not cease from mental fight, nor did his sword sleep in his hand; Levine fueled  a chariots of fire with spare, plain, angry words.  And if you think that I go amiss drawing a cord between two poets by borrowing phrases from William Blake’s Jerusalem, you’re wrong.

Phillip Levine wrote what to me is one of the finest poems ever written:


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.

H/t to poet Nabina Das for posting the Levine viddy on Facebook.


One response to “Levine: They Feed They Lion

  1. Still gives goosebumps. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s