April 8: Philip Levine's "MY FATHERS, THE BALTIC"

Most readers know that Philip Levine hails from Detroit; in his significant body of poems describing wartime and postwar life in the working-class culture of that city, we’ve met his brother Eddie, his mother, his father, and other emblematic American characters, often the children of immigrants. In today’s poem he reaches further back and farther away to introduce a founding member of the Levine school of thought.


Low and gray, the sky
sinks into the sea.
Along the strand stones,
busted shells, bottle tops,
dimpled beer cans.
Something began here
centuries ago,
maybe a voyage,
a nameless disaster.
Young men set out
for those continents
beyond myth
while the women
waited and the sons
grew into other men.
Looking for a sign,
maybe an amulet
against storms, I kneel
on the damp sand
to find my own face
in a small black pool,
wide- eyed, alarmed.
My grandfather crossed
this sea in ’04
and never returned,
so I’ve come alone
to thank creation
as he would never
for carrying him home
to work, age, defeat,
those blood brothers
faithful to the end.
Yusel Prisckulnick,
I bless your laughter
thrown in the wind’s face,
your gall, your rages,
your abiding love
for money and all
it never bought,
for your cracked voice
that wakens in dreams
where you rest at last,
for all the sea taught
you and you taught me:
that the waves go out
and nothing comes back.

Read more from News of the World

Other books from Philip Levine