Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Photo by kristijacobsen


(For Philip Levine* and the Polish lass) 

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./...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.--- — From “Belle Isle, 1949,” by Philip Levine,  They Feed The Lion and the Names of the Lost, (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999). 

Barely knew you from the nuts and bolts:
touching car parts is no match to feeling
your limbs as they simmer downstream
among the river’s effluvium. In this heat,
what does it cost me to float with dead fish?
I even like the taste of rust from stolen bikes. 

Soon, the shimmer of sunset on melted snow
will make a magical beach out of this debris,
even the oil slick from the plant’s sewage
cannot make the sand any darker, coarser.
We are the river’s hostages, but she is ours;
everything else is owned and spoken for. 

On a warm spring day like today, we swim
away from a horde of upstream fears, pains
washed from the factory’s stygian bowels.
Like runaway children, we dive deep, drink
a cocktail of filth maybe, but so bloody what?
Aren’t we happy? Aren’t we free? Aren’t we? 

Sundown and the plant’s call for a change
of shift force us back to a beach we dare
not crawl on however fevered our desire
has become. Oh, absently, we took our time
in the river, lost what frenzied dreams we
would have had. We must go back to work.

---Albert B. Casuga

* Newly-appointed US Poet Laureate, Philip Levine

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