Philip Levine

Detroit, Michigan
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The Simple Truth

Rating: 3.7
I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town. In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light. The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey. "Eat, eat" she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."
Some things
you know all your life. They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love. Can you taste
what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.
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COMMENTS
babyy 05 April 2019
wahahwhhahhhhwhawhahwhwhahwhahhahwhawwhawaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhawwwwwwwaaaaahhh
1 0 Reply
very very very good muy goodo it reminds me of the time i am going to build a wall 10/10 wouldn't read again because it was bad and also I am not donald trump i tricked you also hi Ethan Yountz you are so cool
2 0 Reply
mia bando 11 May 2018
i don’t like this
2 0 Reply
casio 11 October 2018
very good argument...
0 0 Reply
Mia bando 11 May 2018
I don’t like this
2 0 Reply
Londis Carpenter 30 November 2017
truth and lies both have a taste of their own, which as you say, it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken. This is an unusual but marvelous poem. Thanks for the share.
2 0 Reply
Glen Kappy 14 December 2016
this poem calls to my mind the poem happiness by carl sandburg. -glen kappy
3 1 Reply
Michelle Claus 25 January 2015
Palpable melancholy As I was reading this composition, I was telling myself that it comes across more like poetic prose. Then, I noticed that Philip Levine built into his lines a disclaimer: Some things you know all your life. They are so simple and true they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme, Fair enough
4 0 Reply
Michelle Claus 25 January 2015
Palpable melancholy As I was reading this composition, I was telling myself that it comes across more like poetic prose. Then, I noticed that Philip Levine built into his lines a disclaimer: Some things you know all your life. They are so simple and true they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme, Fair enough
2 0 Reply
Greg Bell 16 April 2017
Agreed, Michelle: Palpable melancholy. Well put. This poem is a bit of a sleeper, beginning with just the savoring of simple pleasures, but there are 2 turns. The first (quoted by you) is, as you say, fair enough. The second arrested my attention: My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965 before I went away, before he began to kill himself, and the two of us to betray our love. That jarred me out of those simple pleasures (= truths) to elicit apprehension. (Where's he going with this.) Well, he was a master of subtlety, and here he continues to tease us down that road into a broad, winding turn into the dark heart of the matter, starting with those 'tasteable tangibles: Can you taste what I'm saying? It is onions or potatoes, a pinch of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious, it stays in the back of your throat like a truth you never uttered because the time was always wrong, it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken, made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt, in a form we have no words for, and you live on it. It's that catch at the back of the throat, the simple UNEXPRESSED truth - the unspoken love, the little betrayals, ultimately, I think, the betrayal of self - that festers, and we live on that. So I add to your observation: Masterful melancholy.
0 0 Reply
Kim Barney 25 January 2015
Mmmmm. Makes me hungry. Red potatoes, butter, salt, onions, sweet corn. I find intriguing the line BEFORE HE BEGAN TO KILL HIMSELF. This implies that it was a slow process. How did he do it? Alcohol? Drugs? Fascinating.
3 1 Reply

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