Baby Villon

By Philip Levine b. 1928 Philip Levine
He tells me in Bangkok he’s robbed
Because he’s white; in London because he’s black;   
In Barcelona, Jew; in Paris, Arab:
Everywhere and at all times, and he fights back.

He holds up seven thick little fingers
To show me he’s rated seventh in the world,   
And there’s no passion in his voice, no anger   
In the flat brown eyes flecked with blood.

He asks me to tell all I can remember
Of my father, his uncle; he talks of the war   
In North Africa and what came after,
The loss of his father, the loss of his brother,

The windows of the bakery smashed and the fresh bread   
Dusted with glass, the warm smell of rye
So strong he ate till his mouth filled with blood.
“Here they live, here they live and not die,”

And he points down at his black head ridged   
With black kinks of hair. He touches my hair,   
Tells me I should never disparage
The stiff bristles that guard the head of the fighter.

Sadly his fingers wander over my face,   
And he says how fair I am, how smooth.   
We stand to end this first and last visit.   
Stiff, 116 pounds, five feet two,

No bigger than a girl, he holds my shoulders,   
Kisses my lips, his eyes still open,
My imaginary brother, my cousin,
Myself made otherwise by all his pain.

Philip Levine, “Baby Villon” from Not This Pig. Copyright © 1968 by Philip Levine. Reprinted with permission by Wesleyan University Press.

Source: New Selected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1991)

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Poet Philip Levine b. 1928

Subjects Activities, Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Crime & Punishment

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 Philip  Levine

Biography

“A large, ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland” according to Edward Hirsch in the New York Times Book Review, Philip Levine is one of the elder statesmen of contemporary American poetry. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Levine was born and raised in industrial Detroit. As a young boy in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, he was fascinated by the events of the Spanish Civil War. His heroes were not only . . .

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SUBJECT Activities, Race & Ethnicity, Social Commentaries, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Crime & Punishment

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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