Philip Levine

(January 10, 1928 / Detroit, Michigan)

Gangrene - Poem by Philip Levine

Vous êtes sorti sain et sauf des basses
calomnies, vous avey conquis les coeurs.

Zola, J'accuse


One was kicked in the stomach
until he vomited, then
made to put back
into his mouth what they had
brought forth; when he tried to drown
in his own stew
he was recovered. "You are
worse than a nigger or Jew,"

the helmeted one said. "You
are an intellectal.
I hate your brown
skin; it makes me sick." The tall
intense one, his penis wired,
was shocked out of
his senses in three seconds.
Weakened, he watched them install

another battery in
the crude electric device.
The genitals
of a third were beaten with
a short wooden ruler: "Reach
for your black balls.
I'll show you how to make love."
When two of the beaten passed

in the hall they did not know
each other. "His face had turned
into a wound:
the nose was gone, the eyes ground
so far back into the face
they too seemed gone,
the lips, puffed pieces of cracked
blood." None of them was asked

anything. The clerks, the police,
the booted ones, seemed content
to inflict pain,
to make, they said, each instant
memorable and exquisite,
reform the brain
through the senses. "Kiss my boot
and learn the taste of French shit."

Reader, does the heart demand
that you bend to the live wound
as you would bend
to the familiar body
of your beloved, to kiss
the green flower
which blooms always from the ground
human and ripe with terror,

to face with love what we have
made of hatred? We must live
with what we are,
you say, is enough. I
taste death. I am among you
and I accuse
you where, secretly thrilled by
the circus of excrement,

you study my strophes or
yawn into the evening air,
tired, not amused.
Remember what you have said
when from your pacific dream
you awaken
at last, deafened by the scream
of your own stench. You are dead.


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Read poems about / on: kiss, sick, flower, hate, remember, green, dream, pain, death, wind



Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

Poem Edited: Thursday, April 7, 2011


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