Monday, May 18, 2009

Philip Levine on Poetry Daily

Philip Levine seems to be relaxing a bit, to very nice results. I hope this isn't a one-off. I like it.

The Language Problem

Cuban Spanish is incomprehensible even to Cubans. "If you spit in his face he'll tell you it's raining," the cab driver said. In Cuban it means, "Your cigar is from Tampa." Single, desperate, almost forty, my ex-wife told the Cuban doctor she'd give a million dollars for a perfect pair of tits. "God hates a coward," he said & directed her to an orthopedic shoe store where everything smelled like iodine. A full-page ad on the back of Nueva Prensa Cubana clearly read "Free rum 24 hours a day & more on weekends." ("Free rum" was in italics.) When I showed up that evening at the right address, Calle Obispo, 28, the little merchant I spoke to said, "Rum? This is not a distillery." They were flogging Venetian blue umbrellas for $4 American. Mine was made in Taiwan and when it rained refused to open. Before sunset the streets filled with music. In the great Plaza de la Revolución the dark came slowly, filled with the perfume of automobile exhaust and wisteria. I danced with a girl from Santiago de Cuba. Gabriela Mistral García was her name; she was taller than I & wore her black hair in a wiry tangle. She was a year from her doctorate in Critical Theory. After our dance she grabbed me powerfully by the shoulders as a commandante in a movie might, leaned down as though to kiss me on the cheek, & whispered in my good ear, "I dream of tenure." It was the Fifties all over again.

Philip Levine
Michigan Quarterly Review
Spring 2009


At 5/18/2009 9:11 AM, Blogger rebmar said...

I like it!

At 5/18/2009 9:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

He had to add a bit of context to feel free enough to browse the way meaning and saying flip around desire, and he had to kind of resolve it into a joke on memory and the past, but, yeah, I like it too. It gets him to a present that feels like this one.

I wonder if he notices that it's much the same going from English to English? And that presenting can become its own context?

If he could make that move, he'd almost be James Tate...

At 5/21/2009 2:22 AM, Blogger Josh said...

Congrats on your poem being up at Poetry Daily today! And a fine one at that, sir.

At 5/21/2009 5:41 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Thanks Josh!


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