Philip Levine in NAR | “A New Day” and “Possession”

By the time the reborn North American Review celebrated its first anniversary with the publication of the Spring, 1965 issue, Philip Levine was a regular contributor. The issue included two of Levine’s poems, with the first of them, “A New Day,” occupying pride of place as the first piece in the magazine, after managing  editor Bernard E. Richardson’s introductory notes.

Both “A New Day” and “Possession” would appear, without revision, in Levine’s 1968 volume, Not This Pig, and both articulate  a demythologized vision of America which “had been free land ... but now it was yours” and in which “what we get is what we bring” with “no fresh start and no bird song.”

 

Photo by by Geoffrey Berliner


 

NAR 250.1

Philip Levine

A New Day

The headlights fading out at dawn,

A stranger at the shore, the shore

Not wakening to the great sea

Out of sleep, and night, and no sun

Rising where it rose before.

 

The old champion in a sweat suit

Tells me this is Chicago, this– 

He does not say– is not the sea

But the chopped grey lake you get to

After travelling all night

 

From Dubuque, Cairo, or Wyandotte.

He takes off at a slow trot.

And the fat slides under his shirt.

I recall the Friday night

In a beer garden in Detroit

 

I saw him flatten Ezzard Charles

On TV, and weep, and raise

Both gloved hands in a slow salute

To a God. I could tell him that.

I could tell him that those good days

 

Were no more and no less than these.

I could tell him that I thought

By now I must have reached the sea

We read about, or that last night

I saw a man break down and cry

 

Out of luck and out of gas

In Bruce’s Crossing. We collect

Here at the shore, the two of us.

To make a pact, a people come

For a new world and a new home,

 

And what we get is what we bring:

A grey light coming on at dawn,

No fresh start and no bird song

And no sea and no shore

That someone hasn't seen before.

 


 

Philip Levine

Possession

 

They  thought  they could go back

to find the same marked squirrels

nesting in the walnut trees

and that there  would  be some  work

to do, something  useful

and  hard,  and  that  they  might  please

 

their own  need to be doing.

You know what they found? They found

themselves standing  in your yard

awed  by the gladiolus

and the absence of  something

they  knew.   This  had  been  free land,

they said,

but now it was yours who went in to call the  law.

 


Courtesy  of Wesleyan University Press