Biography of Phillis Levin
Phillis Levin is the author of four volumes of poetry, including May Day, which was published by Penguin in 2008 (pub date for this collection was April 29, 2008. Poet's other books of poems are Temples and Fields (University of Georgia Press, 1988), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award; The Afterimage (Copper Beech Press, 1995); and Mercury (Penguin, 2001). I am the editor of The Penguin Book of the Sonnet: 500 Years of a Classic Tradition in English (Penguin Books, 2001). Poet's honors and awards include a Fulbright Fellowship to Slovenia, the Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, a 2003 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, and a 2007 Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. Philip Levin is a professor of English and poet-in-residence at Hofstra University and is a visiting professor in the graduate creative writing program at New York University.
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Phillis Levin Poems
Now that the worst is over, they predict Something messy and difficult, though not Life-threatening. Clearly we needed
Of something, separate, not Whole; a role, something to play While one is separate or parting;
An Anthology of Rain
For this you may see no need, You may think my aim Dead set on something Devoid of conceivable value: An Anthology of Rain, A collection of voices Telling someone somewhere What it means to follow a drop Traveling to its final place of rest. But do consider this request If you have pressed your nose Of any shape against a window, Odor of metal faint, persistent, While a storm cast its cloak Over the shoulder of every cloud In sight. You are free to say Whatever crosses your mind When you look at the face of time In the passing of one drop Gathering speed, one drop Chasing another, racing to reach A fork in the path, lingering Before making a detour to join Another, fattening on the way Until entering a rivulet Running to the sill. So please accept this invitation: You are welcome to submit, There is no limit to its limit, Even the instructions are a breeze As long as you include Nothing about yourself Except your name. Your address Remains unnecessary, for the rain Will find you — if you receive it It receives you (whether or not You contribute, a volume Is sent). And when you lift The collection you may hear, By opening anywhere, a drop And its story reappear As air turns to water, water to air.
Anne Frank's High Heels
Miep managed to snap them up for 27.50 guilders. Burgundy-colored suede and leather ... — Anne Frank, Tuesday, August 10, 1943 When Miep took us home with her She held us up in the air, Eye-level with those eyes You may know, eyes spelling Sorrow-girl, wait-for-me, Happiness-around-a-corner- One-day, hurry-back, don't-tell. Two new hands took us in, Skin cradling skin. How empty we had been, Only a little bit worn — Not a penny, not a pebble Dwelling within. We became an altar, An offering red as wine, A wishing well. She was made to carry us Near and far, We were made to bear The pressure of her feet In darkness, in light, Their sweetness, their heat. We were getting used to her. Miep calls us a handsome pair.
I've decided to waste my life again, Like I used to: get drunk on The light in the leaves, find a wall Against which something can happen, Whatever may have happened Long ago—let a bullet hole echoing The will of an executioner, a crevice In which a love note was hidden, Be a cell where a struggling tendril Utters a few spare syllables at dawn. I've decided to waste my life In a new way, to forget whoever Touched a hair on my head, because It doesn't matter what came to pass, Only that it passed, because we repeat Ourselves, we repeat ourselves. I've decided to walk a long way Out of the way, to allow something Dreaded to waken for no good reason, Let it go without saying, Let it go as it will to the place It will go without saying: a wall Against which a body was pressed For no good reason, other than this.
in memory of Jean Blecker Levin Not a trace, those days, not a sign On a map of where you were from, That farm greener than green Rolling hills, hay high as a barn Under skies without end, joy Rolling too, the way it used to. Now that you're gone, The name of the place reappears. * Not a map in the world Will show where you are, Now that you are long gone Under the glowing ground, Lending yourself to the grass, Joined at last by Joe, who cried, As they lowered you down, "Jenny my love, my life." * Wherever you are, being Nowhere, show me a way To be here, you who are gone Into bottomless loam: ivy Climbing the walls of waking, The walls of sleep, show me to Two on a porch waiting To see the flesh of their flesh.
Flame under the bubbling water. Blue flame. Water ready for tea. Amber infusion soon to be seeping, Leaves about to uncurl. Here Is a tin, a spoon, a cup, an open Teapot saying, Nobody else but me To nobody else but you: awaken, Pour. What are you waiting for?
A day comes when nothing matters And nothing will suffice. The heart says: I cannot. The soul says: I am not. The window whose frame Once held dawn Gleams all night in desolation, And the one tree Untouched by blight Offers a fruit you do not refuse, An anguish impossible to conceive Until this lucky day. Weigh it in your hands, so heavy, So light: is there more to wish for?
The Third Day
When they came to the tomb What did they see? Only what they could not say. Too empty, too cold To say what they saw, Too full to say empty And cold, but full. They said what they said, Saw what they saw, And knew they could not Say what they saw. They did not know That whatever words they found To say would fill the world With those very words, The best they could find In that place, that time, When all words fail or fall. After the stone is rolled away, After the sky refuses to reply, Comes the heaviness of being here.
They, too, labor, And if we envy them we should remember How brief their stay in the ether is. Unfolding without reason, like forgiveness, Or summoning Themselves at the wind's bidding, they flee. We do not know where they go, we go As carelessly, as helplessly, finally Too full of time. But we are true To ourselves so rarely, while they are always Open to darkness, squandering light. A floating prison, a dream-balloon, The setting sun's chameleon, or the sliding Screen of the moon— When nothing else Contains us we turn to them, and all We ever gather appears less tangible.
A Needle in the Sky
There is a needle in the sky Being threaded now, but the thread is blue: That is why you cannot see it Threading its way. When all is said and done It will keep sewing—as long As a tiny knot remains, as long as something Whets the tip whenever the knot Happens to untie, as long as the sun Arouses the wind that catches The thread again, twisting an end so that It may begin. There is a needle Pulling a thread through your veins, A needle pulling the sap From the root to the bole, a thread Pulling a bird to a tree— Tugging your heart as soon as you believe There is nothing left. There is a glistening filament, a cold Instrument making its way From once upon a time to now, To tomorrow. Maybe the sun Is a giant spool, maybe the needle Cannot rest until it runs Out of light, maybe a star is a random Stitch unraveling . . . Until a needle runs out of thread, It is impossible to look Into its eye.
On Either Side of the Word Lie
The letters that must be taken away To find the word nestled inside Or not yet born. Removing those letters, Deciding how many, which ones, Is a science that resembles forgetting, Dismemberment in the service of song. Finally a new word rises from its shell, And if it cannot rise it calls out, saying It's time to be said, I've been here All along, but you were reading with- Out speaking, seeking without seeing A syllable alone is a seed of light.
There is another room You could spend time in. What a shame not to enter More often: walls a color Hard to imagine, windows Overlooking a shy garden. From there it is easy to see A neighbor pinning laundry, Composing a line of forlorn Collars and sleeves Punctuated by buttons Catching the afternoon sun, Whose face was a stranger Until their mother-of-pearl Was torn from a bed in a reef. Whenever a chance to return Returns, you wonder why You didn't sit in that sofa, Alone or near someone In a chair, watching A robin abandon The swaying branches, Listening to rain on the roof, Undersong of comfort, Undersong of grief. A lifetime could be wasted Dreaming there, a lifetime Wasted not dreaming there.
That the dead are real to us Cannot be denied, That the living are more real When they are dead Terrifies, that the dead can rise As the living do is possible Is possible to surmise, But all the stars cannot come near All we meet in an eye. Flee from me, fear, as soot Flies in a breeze, do not burn Or settle in my sight, I've tasted you long enough, Let me savor Something otherwise. Who wakes beside me now Suits my soul, so I turn to words Only to say he changes Into his robe, rustles a page, He raises the lid of the piano To release what's born in its cage. If words come back To say they compromise Or swear again they have died, There's no news in that, I reply, But a music without notes These notes comprise, still As spring beneath us lies, Already something otherwise.
Flame under the bubbling water.
Blue flame. Water ready for tea.
Amber infusion soon to be seeping,
Leaves about to uncurl. Here
Is a tin, a spoon, a cup, an open
Teapot saying, Nobody else but me
To nobody else but you: awaken,
Pour. What are you waiting for?