My Brother, the Artist, at Seven

By Philip Levine b. 1928 Philip Levine
As a boy he played alone in the fields   
behind our block, six frame houses   
holding six immigrant families,   
the parents speaking only gibberish   
to their neighbors. Without the kids   
they couldn't say "Good morning" and be   
understood. Little wonder   
he learned early to speak to himself,   
to tell no one what truly mattered.   
How much can matter to a kid   
of seven? Everything. The whole world   
can be his. Just after dawn he sneaks   
out to hide in the wild, bleached grasses   
of August and pretends he's grown up,   
someone complete in himself without   
the need for anyone, a warrior   
from the ancient places our fathers   
fled years before, those magic places:   
Kiev, Odessa, the Crimea,   
Port Said, Alexandria, Lisbon,   
the Canaries, Caracas, Galveston.   
In the damp grass he recites the names   
over and over in a hushed voice   
while the sun climbs into the locust tree   
to waken the houses. The husbands leave   
for work, the women return to bed, the kids   
bend to porridge and milk. He advances   
slowly, eyes fixed, an animal or a god,   
while beneath him the earth holds its breath.

Source: Poetry (January 2003).

 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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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Youth, Summer, Living, Family & Ancestors, Home Life, Relationships

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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