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Sierra Kid Analysis



Author: poem of Philip Levine Type: poem Views: 14

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"I've been where it hurts." the Kid

He becomes Sierra Kid

        I passed Slimgullion, Morgan Mine,
        Camp Seco, and the rotting Lode.
             Dark walls of sugar pine --,
             And where I left the road

             I left myself behind;
             Talked to no one, thought
        Of nothing. When my luck ran out
        Lived on berries, nuts, bleached grass.
             Driven by the wind
             Through great Sonora pass,

             I found an Indian's teeth;
             Turned and climbed again
        Without direction, compass, path,
        Without a way of coming down,
             Until I stopped somewhere
             And gave the place a name.

             I called the forests mine;
             Whatever I could hear
        I took to be a voice: a man
        Was something I would never hear.

He faces his second winter in the Sierra

        A hard brown bug, maybe a beetle,
        Packing a ball of sparrow shit --
             What shall I call it?
        Shit beetle? Why's it pushing here
        At this great height in the thin air
             With its ridiculous waddle

        Up the hard side of Hard Luck Hill?
        And the furred thing that frightened me --
             Bobcat, coyote, wild dog --
        Flat eyes in winter bush, stiff tail
        Holding his ground, a rotted log.
             Grass snakes that wouldn't die,

        And night hawks hanging on the rim
        Of what was mine. I know them now;
             They have absorbed a mind
        Which must endure the freezing snow
        They endure and, freezing, find
             A clear sustaining stream.
    
He learns to lose

             She was afraid
             Of everything,
        The little Digger girl.
             Pah Utes had killed
             Her older brother
        Who may have been her lover
             The way she cried
             Over his ring --

             The heavy brass
             On the heavy hand.
        She carried it for weeks
             Clenched in her fist
             As if it might
        Keep out the loneliness
             Or the plain fact
             That he was gone.

             When the first snows
             Began to fall
        She stopped her crying, picked
             Berries, sweet grass,
             Mended her clothes
        And sewed a patchwork shawl.
             We slept together
             But did not speak.

             It may have been
             The Pah Utes took
        Her off, perhaps her kin.
             I came back
             To find her gone
        With half the winter left
             To face alone --
             The slow grey dark

             Moving along
             The dark tipped grass
        Between the numbed pines.
             Night after night
             For four long months
        My face to her dark face
             We two had lain
             Till the first light.
    
Civilization comes to Sierra Kid

             They levelled Tater Hill
                 And I was sick.
        First sun, and the chain saws
             Coming on; blue haze,
                 Dull blue exhaust
        Rising, dust rising, and the smell.

             Moving from their thatched huts
                 The crazed wood rats
        By the thousand; grouse, spotted quail
             Abandoning the hills
                 For the sparse trail
        On which, exposed, I also packed.

             Six weeks. I went back down
                 Through my own woods
        Afraid of what I knew they'd done.
             There, there, an A&P,
                 And not a tree
        For Miles, and mammoth hills of goods.

             Fat men in uniforms,
                 Young men in aprons
        With one face shouting, "He is mad!"
             I answered: "I am Lincoln,
                 Aaron Burr,
        The aging son of Appleseed.

             "I am American
                 And I am cold."
        But not a one would hear me out.
             Oh God, what have I seen
                 That was not sold!
        They shot an old man in the gut.

Mad, dying, Sierra Kid enters the capital

                 What have I changed?
        I unwound burdocks from my hair
                 And scalded stains
                 Of the black grape
        And hid beneath long underwear
                 The yellowed tape.

                 Who will they find
        In the dark woods of the dark mind
                 Now I have gone
                 Into the world?
        Across the blazing civic lawn
                 A shadow's hurled

                 And I must follow.
        Something slides beneath my vest
                 Like melted tallow,
                 Thick but thin,
        Burning where it comes to rest
                 On what was skin.

                 Who will they find?
        A man with no eyes in his head?
                 Or just a mind
                 Calm and alone?
        Or just a mouth, silent, dead,
                 The lips half gone?

                 Will they presume
        That someone once was half alive
                 And that the air
                 Was massive where
        The sickening pyracanthus thrive
                 Staining his tomb?

                 I came to touch
        The great heart of a dying state.
                 Here is the wound!
                 It makes no sound.
        All that we learn we learn too late,
                 And it's not much.

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