You Can Have It

By Philip Levine 1928–2015 Philip Levine
My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop   
one by one. You can have it, he says.

The moonlight streams in the window   
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.

Thirty years will pass before I remember   
that moment when suddenly I knew each man   
has one brother who dies when he sleeps   
and sleeps when he rises to face this life,

and that together they are only one man   
sharing a heart that always labors, hands   
yellowed and cracked, a mouth that gasps   
for breath and asks, Am I gonna make it?

All night at the ice plant he had fed
the chute its silvery blocks, and then I   
stacked cases of orange soda for the children   
of Kentucky, one gray boxcar at a time

with always two more waiting. We were twenty   
for such a short time and always in
the wrong clothes, crusted with dirt
and sweat. I think now we were never twenty.

In 1948 in the city of Detroit, founded
by de la Mothe Cadillac for the distant purposes   
of Henry Ford, no one wakened or died,   
no one walked the streets or stoked a furnace,

for there was no such year, and now
that year has fallen off all the old newspapers,
calendars, doctors’ appointments, bonds,   
wedding certificates, drivers licenses.

The city slept. The snow turned to ice.   
The ice to standing pools or rivers
racing in the gutters. Then bright grass rose   
between the thousands of cracked squares,

and that grass died. I give you back 1948.   
I give you all the years from then
to the coming one. Give me back the moon   
with its frail light falling across a face.

Give me back my young brother, hard
and furious, with wide shoulders and a curse   
for God and burning eyes that look upon   
all creation and say, You can have it.

Philip Levine, “You Can Have It” from New Selected Poems. Copyright © 1991 by Philip Levine. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: New Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 1991)

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Poet Philip Levine 1928–2015

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Living, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Time & Brevity, Jobs & Working, Activities

 Philip  Levine


Philip Levine was one of the leading poetic voices of his generation, “a large, ironic Whitman of the industrial heartland,” according to Edward Hirsch. The son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, Levine was born and raised in industrial Detroit, where he began working in the auto factories at the age of 14. 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 . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Relationships, Family & Ancestors, Time & Brevity, Jobs & Working, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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