Tell me I can have it and I’ll flash back to a bedroom lit by moonlight, two weary brothers switching off carrying the world on their shoulders.
Some of us are in this to be remembered. Others are in it because they are art, because it possesses and becomes them, inside and out.
This is not an elegy for a man who worked the assembly lines of Detroit at fourteen. This is not about a father, uncle, even a brother. This is about poetry that won’t be forgotten even after all of us are.
There’s a difference between creating worlds and preserving them; the difference between language, maybe, and photography. The Philip Levine who existed in life – the one who stubbed his toe on the ragged edge of his bedroom door, the one who drank his coffee too hot and ate his ice cream too cold and too quickly – that’s not a man I can remember. That’s not a man I knew and it’s unfair for me to create him. “Whatever’s here/is just here, and nowhere else”.
But Philip Levine also created art. He created a world where the broken clock didn’t exist but his mother’s grave did, harsh and beautiful, and now his grave does as well. The Philip Levine I’ll learn about and remember and cherish won’t be the same Philip Levine who drank away nights at sawdust hotels or had a pain in his left shoulder during thunderstorms. But someone else can have that. I’ll save what he chose to be saved, remember him as he gave himself, as something of beauty and something of art.