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Salts And Oils Analysis

Author: Poetry of Philip Levine Type: Poetry Views: 92

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In Havana in 1948 I ate fried dog

believing it was Peking duck. Later,

in Tampa I bunked with an insane sailor

who kept a .38 Smith and Wesson in his shorts.

In the same room were twins, oilers

from Toledo, who argued for hours

each night whose turn it was

to get breakfast and should he turn

the eggs or not. On the way north

I lived for three days on warm water

in a DC-6 with a burned out radio

on the runway at Athens, Georgia. We sang

a song, "Georgia's Big Behind," and prayed

for WWIII and complete, unconditional surrender.

Napping in an open field near Newport News,

I chewed on grass while the shadows of September

lengthened; in the distance a man hammered

on the roof of a hangar and groaned how he

was out of luck and vittles. Bummed a ride

in from Mitchell Field and had beet borscht

and white bread at 34th and 8th Avenue.

I threw up in the alley behind the YMCA

and slept until they turned me out.

I walked the bridge to Brooklyn

while the East River browned below.

A mile from Ebbetts Field, from all

that history, I found Murray, my papa's

buddy, in his greasy truck shop, polishing

replacement parts. Short, unshaven, puffed,

he strutted the filthy aisles,

a tiny Ghengis Khan. He sent out for soup

and sandwiches. The world turned on barley,

pickled meats, yellow mustard, kasha,

rye breads. It rained in October, rained

so hard I couldn't walk and smoke, so I

chewed pepsin chewing gum. The rain

spoiled Armistice Day in Lancaster, Pa.

The open cars overflowed, girls cried,

the tubas and trombones went dumb,

the floral displays shredded, the gutters

clogged with petals. Afterwards had ham

on buttered whole-wheat bread, ham

and butter for the first time

on the same day in Zanesville with snow

forecast, snow, high winds, closed roads,

solid darkness before 5 p.m. These were not

the labors of Hercules, these were not

of meat or moment to anyone but me

or destined for story or to learn from

or to make me fit to take the hand

of a toad or a toad princess or to stand

in line for food stamps. One quiet morning

at the end of my thirteenth year a little bird

with a dark head and tattered tail feathers

had come to the bedroom window and commanded

me to pass through the winding miles

of narrow dark corridors and passageways

of my growing body the filth and glory

of the palatable world. Since then I've

been going out and coming back

the way a swallow does with unerring grace

and foreknowledge because all of this

was prophesied in the final, unread book

of the Midrash and because I have to

grow up and because it pleases me.


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