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Baby Villon

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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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Baby Villon

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