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LEVINE, Philip



To a Child Trapped in a Barbershop


You’ve gotten in through the transom
and you can’t get out
till Monday morning or, worse,
till the cops come.


That six-year-old red face
calling for mama
is yours; it won’t help you
because your case


is closed forever, hopeless.
So don’t drink
the Lucky Tiger, don’t
fill up on grease


because that makes it a lot worse,
that makes it a crime
against property and the state
and that costs time.


We’ve all been here before,
we took our turn
under the electric storm
of the vibrator


and stiffened our wills to meet
the close clippers
and heard the true blade mowing
back and forth


on a strip of dead skin,
and we stopped crying.
You think your life is over?
It’s just begun.



Belle Isle, 1949


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.