How We Are Made: A Poem for Philip Levine

A poem to honor Philip Levine

PhilandAda (1)
Ada Limón with Philip Levine.


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For Philip Levine

For months, I was a cannonball

dropped down the bore, reeling

in blurry vomitous swirls toward

the fuse; forty days with vertigo

is like that. My new equilibrium

was spinning inside chambers

of spherical blackness when the news

came. You, with your wiry limbs

of hard verse, inky gap-toothed grin

of gristle and work, you who grimly

told us to stop messing around,

to make this survival matter

like a factory line, like fish scaling,

like filament and rubble, you

who would say, most likely,

this was all sentimental crap, you

had gone on to cinders, blasted

into the ether without so much

as smoke. I stood then on the icy hill

under the expressway, filled

with the salt you had given me,

and for the first time that year,

the entire world stood still.


Ada Limón is the author of four books of poetry, Lucky WreckThis Big Fake WorldSharks in the Rivers, and most recently Bright Dead Things which was a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Poetry Daily, and others. 

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How We Are Made: A Poem for Philip Levine