You Can Have It
My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says.
The moonlight streams in the window
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.
Thirty years will pass before I remember
that moment when suddenly I knew each man
has one brother who dies when he sleeps
and sleeps when he rises to face this life,
and that together they are only one man
sharing a heart that always labours, hands
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it?
All night at the ice plant he had fed
the chute its silvery blocks, and then I
stacked cases of orange soda for the children
of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time
with always two more waiting. We were twenty
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty.
In 1948 the city of Detroit, founded
by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes
of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died,
no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace,
for there was no such year, and now
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers,
calendars, doctors’ appointments, bonds
wedding certificates, drivers licenses.
The city slept. The snow turned to ice.
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then the bright grass rose
between the thousands of cracked squares,
and that grass died. I give you back 1948.
I give you all the years from then
to the coming one. Give me back the moon
with its frail light falling across a face.
Give me back my young brother, hard
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse
for God and burning eyes that look upon
all creation and say, You can have it.
There’s definitely some Spanish influence here, by way of Antonio Machado. Perhaps there’s also some labor/alienation sentiment for the working man on the factory floor, but hey, it’s Detroit and it’s a well-crafted poem.
Just because I love to highlight the generally Left-Of-Center political philosophy over at PBS and NPR, there’s a link to this PBS piece about life on the factory floor and Levine’s poem. Here’s a Paris Review interview with Levine.
Towards a theme:
This blog takes an interest in what’s happening in Detroit, and Levine writes frequently about his home city. This blog also takes an interest in 20th century poetry and American culture, as it’s moved from romanticism, modernism, to post-modernism and wherever it may be headed. It’s worthy noting the artist and his travels across America, still encountering the wide-open spaces and wilderness, the multitude and the energies of American life.
In fact, many artists have worked labor intensive jobs, much like the ones Levine describes above.
As for Detroit and the 60’s generation, you may have heard about Rodriguez, depicting the underbelly of Detroit with gritty street poetry set to music. Despite his talents as a musician and singer, he went largely unnoticed here and drifted off the scene, working for decades as a day-laborer in obscurity. Much to his surprise, he had enjoyed some recognition and success in South Africa all the while. 60 minutes has the feel-good story below.
Now out to San Francisco, mecca for the 60’s generation and the beats, and to Eric Hoffer. A man deeply suspicious of top-down organization and intellectuals running things, yet a man deeply curious and taken with ideas: He strikes this blog as something of an anti-intellectual’s intellectual. He worked as a longshoreman for much of his life in San Francisco and was not formally educated, but read many of the great books, writing in his rented room late into the night. In the video he discusses how he thought he was observing a change from an interest in business to an interest in ideas in American culture and society in the 1960’s, among other things.
He has some very important warnings about ideas, as the people taken with ideas often need those ideas to be true, and when their own lives aren’t worth minding, they will mind yours:
Related On This Site: What about the popular arts and culture?:Update And Repost-From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’…From The Detroit News: ‘How The Treasury, GM Stock Deal Got Done’
Just an observation: Since the 60’s generation we’ve institutionalized feminism, environmentalism, multiculturalism, and a fairly Left Of Center political philosophy, and well, it’s just an observation, political as it is: Hate Is A Strong Word-Some Links On The BBC, The CBC, & NPR…A Few Thoughts On NPR And Current Liberal Establishment Thinking Under Obama
Was Nietzsche most interested in freeing art from a few thousand years of Christianity, monarchy and aristocracy…something deeper?, at least with regard to Camille Paglia. See the comments: Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was Successful