Friday, November 17, 2023

"Belle Isle, 1949" by Philip Levine


We stripped in the first warm spring night
and ran down into the Detroit River
to baptize ourselves in the brine
of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles,
melted snow. I remember going under
hand in hand with a Polish highschool girl
I’d never seen before, and the cries
our breath made caught at the same time
on the cold, and rising through the layers
of darkness into the final moonless atmosphere
that was this world, the girl breaking
the surface after me and swimming out
on the starless waters towards the lights
of Jefferson Ave. and the stacks
of the old stove factory unwinking.
Turning at last to see no island at all
but a perfect calm dark as far
as there was sight, and then a light
and another riding low out ahead
to bring us home, ore boats maybe, or smokers
walking alone. Back panting
to the gray coarse beach we didn’t dare
fall on, the damp piles of clothes,
and dressing side by side in silence
to go back where we came from.

Source of the text – Philip Levine, New Selected Poems.  New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991, page 131.

TJB: Skinny dip lyric. The poem of a long-ago event, with language that builds toward then away from incantation, tells us what happened but not why.

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