Poem of the Week | February 23, 2015

This week we’re deeply honored to feature a poem by Philip Levine. Levine passed away last Saturday at 87. A Poet laureate from 2011 to 2012, he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for his collection The Simple Truth and received two National Book Awards — in 1980 for Ashes: Poems New & Old and 1991 for What Work Is. At his death, he was an emeritus professor of English at California State University, Fresno, where he had taught from 1958 to 1992. The poem we feature here was originally published in our inaugural issue, 1.1, in spring 1978.

Something Has Fallen


Something has fallen wordlessly
and holds still on the black driveway.


You find it, like a jewel,
among the empty bottles and cans


where the dogs toppled the garbage.
You pick it up, not sure


if it is stone or wood
or some new plastic made


to replace them both.
When you raise your sunglasses


to see exactly what you have
you see it is only a shadow


that has darkened your fingers,
a black ink or oil,


and your hand suddenly smells
of c1assrooms when the rain


pounded the windows and you
shuddered thinking of the cold


and the walk back to an empty house.
You smell all of your childhood,


the damp bed you struggled from
to dress in half-light and go out


into a world that never tired.
Later, your hand thickened and flat


slid out of a rubber glove,
as you stood, your mask raised,


to light a cigarette and rest
while the acid tanks that were


yours to clean went on bathing
the arteries of broken sinks.


Remember, you were afraid
of the great hissing jugs.


There were stories of burnings,
of flesh shredded to lace.


On other nights men spoke
of rats as big as dogs.


Women spoke of men
who trapped them in corners.


Always there was grease that hid
the faces of worn faucets, grease


that had to be eaten one
finger-print at a time,


there was oil, paint, blood,
your own blood sliding across


your nose and running over
your lips with that bright, certain


taste that was neither earth
or air, and there was air,


the darkest element of all,
falling all night


into the bruised river
you slept beside, falling


into the glass of water
you filled two times for breakfast


and the eyes you turned upward
to see what time it was.


Air that stained everything
with its millions of small deaths,


that turned all five fingers
to grease or black ink or ashes.