Tuesday Evening Poet Laureate Blogging

Former Poet Laureate Philip Levine has slipped between the veils.

May the Goddess guard him. May he find his way to the Summerlands. May his friends and family know peace.

As CNN reported:

He was 14 when he began working in auto factories, a formative experience that would inspire his work even after he left Detroit in the 1950s to pursue writing.

. . .

Detroit and the struggles of the working class were persistent themes in his work as he aspired to “find a voice for the voiceless.”

“You grow up in a place and it becomes the arena of your discovery,” he told the Detroit Free Press in 2011. “It also became the arena of my discovery of the nature of American capitalism and the sense of how ordinary people have no choice at all in how they’re going to be formed by the society. My politics were formed by the city.”

Here’s his poem, Burial Rites, which I think says what he wanted to say about his own death:

Everyone comes back here to die
as I will soon. The place feels right
since it’s half dead to begin with.
Even on a rare morning of rain,
like this morning, with the low sky
hoarding its riches except for
a few mock tears, the hard ground
accepts nothing. Six years ago
I buried my mother’s ashes
beside a young lilac that’s now
taller than I, and stuck the stub
of a rosebush into her dirt,
where like everything else not
human it thrives. The small blossoms
never unfurl; whatever they know
they keep to themselves until
a morning rain or a night wind
pares the petals down to nothing.
Even the neighbor cat who shits
daily on the paths and then hides
deep in the jungle of the weeds
refuses to purr. Whatever’s here
is just here, and nowhere else,
so it’s right to end up beside
the woman who bore me, to shovel
into the dirt whatever’s left
and leave only a name for some-
one who wants it. Think of it,
my name, no longer a portion
of me, no longer inflated
or bruised, no longer stewing
in a rich compost of memory
or the simpler one of bone shards,
dirt, kitty litter, wood ashes,
the roots of the eucalyptus
I planted in ’73,
a tiny me taking nothing,
giving nothing, and free at last.

I think this poem shows how, all the way through to the end, he lived in his own landbase, a land base rich with lilacs, roses, hummus rich with bones, and eucalyptus. And, Goddess knows, I respect that.

Do I hope that, in death, he is free of his land base, taking nothing, giving nothing, and free at last? I just don’t even think it’s possible. But I do hope that he’s free.

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