The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Wednesday

By Philip Levine

You might hear that after dark in towns
like Detroit packs of wild dogs took over
the streets. I was there. It never happened.
In the old country before the Great War,
my people were merchants and butchers,
and then the killings drove the family
first to England, then Canada, then here.
My father's brother had a shoe repair shop
for a time on Brush Street; he'd learned
the trade from his father back in Kiev.
My mother's family was in junk. The men
were huge, thick chested, with long arms
and great scarred hands. My uncle Leo
could embrace a barrel of scrap metal,
laugh out his huge laugh, and lift it up
just for the joy. His wife, Rebecca,
let her hair grow out in great wiry tangles
and carried her little fists like hammers.
Late summer Sundays we'd drive out
to the country and pick armloads
of sweet corn, boil them in sugar,
and eat and eat until we couldn't.
Can you believe those people would let
dogs take what was theirs, would cross
an ocean and a continent to let
anyone or anything dictate?
After dark these same men would drink
out on the front steps. The neighbors claimed
they howled at the moon. Another lie.
Sometimes they told stories of life
back in Russia, stories I half-believed,
of magic escapes and revenge killings,
of the gorgeous Ukrainian girls they had.
One night they tore up the lawn wrestling, until
Leo triumphed, Leo in his vested suit,
gray and sweat-stained. My uncle Josef
was different; tall and slender, he'd
come into the family through marriage
here in Michigan. A pensive, gentle man,
when stray dogs came to the back door
of the shoe shop he'd let them in, even
feed them. Their owners, he told me,
barely had enough to feed themselves.
Uncle Josef would take a battered pair
of work shoes and cut the soles off
with a hooked cobbler's knife and then,
drawing one nail at a time from his mouth,
pound on a new sole. He'd pry off
the heel and do the same. I was just a kid,
seven at most, and never tired of watching
how at the polishing wheel the leather
took on its color and began to glow.
Once he made a knife for me, complete
with a little scabbard that looped
around my belt. The black handle, too,
was leather, taken from a boot no one
reclaimed. He pounded and shaped it
until it felt like stone. Whenever you're
scared, he told me, just rub the handle
three times and nothing bad can happen.


From this week's New Yorker.

Adam had his first full Bar Mitzvah rehearsal in the sanctuary this afternoon. Traffic was terrible getting downtown, but the rehearsal itself went very well; he knows his Torah portion and Haftarah well, he knows the prayers he needs to lead the congregation, and though his speech needs a lot of work, he's further along than the girl whose Bat Mitzvah will be at the same service. (She's a full head taller than him, which isn't unusual among 13-year-olds, although older son had a very petite B'nai Mitzvah partner.) Daniel meanwhile had a good day because FedEx delivered the new laptop that he ordered with some of his Bar Mitzvah money -- he hadn't spent any of it since the event three years ago. He has some big Super Mario Bros. picture on his desktop already.

This little girl was exhausted by the events at the Claude Moore Colonial Fair, where her parents were working.

Young girls were working in the building where corn husk dolls and bags of potpourri could be put together by visitors.

Amateur actors rehearsed a Shakespearean scene.

Children did not have to be in colonial garb to play traditional colonial games...

...though the girl in charge of collecting shillings to bob for apples was dressed for the occasion.

This tent housed a bookseller and printer who was selling hand-bound books and hand-painted illustrations... well as plain fans, bookmarks, and prints that could be painted at the fair.

And of course there were skeins of hand-spun, hand-dyed threads and yarns.

After dinner I showed the family the fifth episode of the second season of Slings & Arrows -- the one where Richard finds out about Sanjay, and tells Geoffrey he wants garbage. *g* (And, I mean, lots and lots of other great things happen, but those scenes are so hilarious that they overshadow even Macbeth.) I greet with profoundly mixed feelings the news that ABC has decided to put Eastwood on its fall schedule; as much as I love the idea of Paul Gross playing the devil, that's how much I despised the movie version and I couldn't even read the book, it was so mired in stereotypes about women. I'm hoping they've done some major changes but the series descriptions are not entirely promising. I mean, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer all in one movie, and I can't even sit through it.

A friend told me about the Mars Chocolate Relief Act. I don't know whether to thank her or make her find me a free personal trainer, too. *g*

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