Philip Levine

(January 10, 1928 / Detroit, Michigan)

Montjuich - Poem by Philip Levine

"Hill of Jews," says one,
named for a cemetery
long gone."Hill of Jove,"
says another, and maybe
Jove stalked here
once or rests now
where so many lie
who felt God swell
the earth and burn
along the edges
of their breath.
Almost seventy years
since a troop of cavalry
jingled up the silent road,
dismounted, and loaded
their rifles to deliver
the fusillade into
the small, soft body
of Ferrer, who would
not beg God's help.
Later, two carpenters
came, carrying his pine
coffin on their heads,
two men out of movies
not yet made, and near dark
the body was unchained
and fell a last time
onto the stones.
Four soldiers carried
the box, sweating
and resting by turns,
to where the fresh hole
waited, and the world went
back to sleep.
The sea, still dark
as a blind eye,
grumbles at dusk,
the air deepens and a chill
suddenly runs along
my back. I have come
foolishly bearing red roses
for all those whose blood
spotted the cold floors
of these cells. If I
could give a measure
of my own for each
endless moment of pain,
well, what good
would that do? You
are asleep, brothers
and sisters, and maybe
that was all the God
of this old hill could
give you. It wasn't
he who filled your
lungs with the power
to raise your voices
against stone, steel,
animal, against
the pain exploding
in your own skulls,
against the unbreakable
walls of the State.
No, not he. That
was the gift only
the dying could hand
from one of you
to the other, a gift
like these roses I fling
off into the night.
You chose no God
but each other, head,
belly, groin, heart, you
chose the lonely road
back down these hills
empty handed, breath
steaming in the cold
March night, or worse,
the wrong roads
that led to black earth
and the broken seed
of your body. The sea
spreads below, still
as dark and heavy
as oil. As I
descend step by step
a wind picks up and hums
through the low trees
along the way, like
the heavens' last groan
or a song being born.

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Read poems about / on: animal, dark, pain, sea, lonely, god, power, song, red, sleep, wind, night, world, sister, soldier, heaven, brother, rose, running, tree

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

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