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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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