Philip Levine

(January 10, 1928 / Detroit, Michigan)

Green Thumb - Poem by Philip Levine

Shake out my pockets! Harken to the call
Of that calm voice that makes no sound at all!
Take of me all you can; my average weight
May make amends for this, my low estate.
But do not shake, Green Thumb, as once you did
My heart and liver, or my prostate bid
Good Morning to -- leave it, the savage gland
Content within the mercy of my hand.

The world was safe in winter, I was spring,
Enslaved and rattling to the slightest thing
That she might give. If planter were my trade
Why was I then not like a planter made:
With veins like rivers, smudge-pots for a soul,
A simple mind geared to a simple goal?
You fashioned me, great headed and obscene
On two weak legs, the weakest thing between.

My blood was bubbling like a ten-day stew;
it kept on telling me the thing to do.
I asked, she acquiesced, and then we fell
To private Edens in the midst of hell.
For forty days temptation was our meal,
The night our guide, and what we could not feel
We could not trust. Later, beneath the bed,
We found you taking notes of all we said.

At last we parted, she to East Moline,
I to the service of the great unseen.
All the way home I watched a circling crow
And read your falling portents in the snow.
I burned my clothes, I moved, I changed my name,
But every night, unstamped her letter came:
"Ominous cramps and pains." I cursed the vows
That cattle make to grass when cattle browse.

Heartsick and tired, to you, Green Thumb, I prayed
For her reprieve and that our debt be paid
By my remorse. "Give me a sign," I said,
"Give me my burning bush." You squeaked the bed.
I hid my face like Moses on the hill,
But unlike Moses did not feel my will
Swell with new strength; I put my choice to sleep.
That night we cowered, choice and I, like sheep.

When I awoke I found beneath the door
Only the invoice from the liquor store.
The grape-vine brought the word. I switched to beer:
She had become a civil engineer.
When I went walking birds and children fled.
I took my love, myself, behind the shed;
The shed burned down. I switched to milk and eggs.
At night a dream ran up and down my legs.

I have endured, as Godless Nazarite,
Life like a bone even a dog would slight;
All that the dog would have, I have refused.
May I, of all your subjects, be excused?
The world is yours, Green Thumb; I smell your heat
Licking the winter to a green defeat.
The creatures join, the coupling seasons start;
Leave me, Green Thumb, my solitary part.

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Read poems about / on: green, dog, winter, night, trust, strength, snow, spring, children, world, sleep, dream, home, river, running, change, child

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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