Monday, September 12, 2011

Tribute to Philip Levine: Eggs and Bread

The next Poet Laureate for the United States is a man named Philip Levine. I'll be completely honest and tell you that I have stopped, for all intensive purposes, reading the news. I've subscribed to Tim Ferris' ideology, which is to instead ask those around me, "Hey, what's going on in the world today?" I've done fine so far -- but nobody told has talked to me about poetry.

Thankfully, I took two hard copies of the New Yorker with me to Manila; one of them is the August 29th, 2011 issue, where Levine wrote the poem, "Black Wine." I'd link to it, but it's behind the New Yorker's pay wall. (If you email me, I'll give you my account information.) The poem is bursting with facts presented in that meandering, loosely disjointed narrative that characterizes "high-class" poetry. The prose is so devastatingly clear -- "I decided one morning to test sobriety" -- it makes me want to spend the rest of my life learning how to emulate him. Also, I think he's the type of poet even "regular people" can appreciate. I'll start here, with a poem inspired by "Black Wine."

Eggs and Bread

Have you seen a chicken peck at an
apricot leaf? My mother called it roughage
for their pruny stomachs. Three hens and
a rooster, they skittered and flew at low
elevations around my sister, who said, "Shhh"
every night as she latched a rusty hook over
their plywood home. In the lumpy dark, they
were safe from midnight raccoons. I had the
idea to strum an acoustic guitar for the rooster.
He mounted my sandals, pushed a half-eaten
apple to me with clean claws. When hens lay
eggs it is for 184 days straight, speckled
shells tumble on pebbles and tanbark,
scooped up in a hand-warmer in a Dora the
Explorer backpack. The eggs can be drunk
raw. Chickens aside, I found myself on an
ancient island once and decided to starve
myself. Spend my pesos on room temperature
eggs, ingest wisps of ivory and crumbly yolk
in palettes of white gold. To face fear as I
could not avoid it. My pores turned mealy, my
teeth yellowed, my excitement plummeted
and bottomed out. For the first time in my life,
I was yellow outside, white inside. There I stood:
barefoot, under a dimming light, no leaves or even
pebbles lining my stomach, one awkward finger
poking, trying to fish pieces of egg shell
lodged inside a pulsing yellow yolk.

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