Belle Isle, 1949

By Philip Levine 1928–2015 Philip Levine
We stripped in the first warm spring night
and ran down into the Detroit River
to baptize ourselves in the brine
of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles,
melted snow. I remember going under
hand in hand with a Polish highschool girl
I'd never seen before, and the cries
our breath made caught at the same time
on the cold, and rising through the layers
of darkness into the final moonless atmosphere
that was this world, the girl breaking
the surface after me and swimming out
on the starless waters towards the lights
of Jefferson Ave. and the stacks
of the old stove factory unwinking.
Turning at last to see no island at all
but a perfect calm dark as far
as there was sight, and then a light
and another riding low out ahead
to bring us home, ore boats maybe, or smokers
walking alone. Back panting
to the gray coarse beach we didn't dare
fall on, the damp piles of clothes,
and dressing side by side in silence
to go back where we came from.

Philip Levine, "Belle Isle, 1949" from They Feed They Lion and The Names of the Lost. Copyright © 1999 by Philip Levine. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. 

Source: They Feed They Lion and The Names of the Lost (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)

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Poet Philip Levine 1928–2015

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Relationships, Living, Coming of Age, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Men & Women, 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 Relationships, Living, Coming of Age, Sports & Outdoor Activities, Men & Women, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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