Listen Carefully

My sister rises from our bed hours before dawn.
I smell her first cigarette and fall back asleep
until she sits on the foot of the bed to pull
on her boots. I shouldn't look, but I do,
knowing she's still naked from the waist up.
She sees me looking and smiles, musses my hair,
whispers something secret into my ear, something
I can't tell anyone because it makes no sense.
Hours later I waken in an empty room
smelling of no yesterdays. The sunlight streams
across the foot of the bed, and for a moment
I actually think it's Saturday, and I'm free.
Let me be frank about this: my older sister
is not smart. I answer all her mail for her,
and on Sundays I even make dinner because
the one cookbook confuses her, although
it claims to be the way to a man's heart.
She wants to learn the way, she wants
a husband, she tells me, but at twenty-six she's
beginning to wonder. She makes good money
doing piece work, assembling the cups that cap
the four ends of a cross of a universal joint.
I've seen her at work, her face cut with slashes
of grease while with tweezers she positions
the tiny rods faster than you or I could ever,
her eyes fixed behind goggles, her mind God
knows where, roaming over all the errors
she thinks make her life. She doesn't know why
her men aren't good to her. I've rubbed
hand cream into the bruises on her shoulders,
I've seen what they've done, I've even cried
along with her. By now I believe I know
exactly what you're thinking. Although I don't
get home until after one, we sleep
in the same bed every night, unless she's
not home. If you're thinking there's no way
we wouldn't be driven to each other, no way
we could resist, no way someone as wronged
as my beautiful sister could have a choice
about something so basic, then you're
the one who's wrong. You haven't heard a word.

©Philip Levine

Although Philip Levine moved long ago from his birthplace in Detroit, he still remains an active force in the city's community of artists. The recipient of much praise for his life of poetry, Levine has published sixteen books of verse and a collection of essays. He has won numerous prizes for his work, including a Pulitzer Prize for The Simple Truth; the National Book Critics Circle Award; and two Guggenheim Foundation fellowships. The list goes on and on. His work has appeared in every important American literary publication including the New Yorker, the American Poetry Review, Harpers, and the Antioch Review.

For two years Levine served as the chair of the Literature Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts, and was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2000.

Levine has not lived in Detroit for decades, yet he still remains an active force in this community of artists. He has always generously lent his words and his work to Detroit artists. He has taken part in many Michigan based projects in poetry, and has also been included in other portfolio projects and exhibits assembled by this community of photographers. Furthermore, he has supported the working men and women in this state, by commenting on their lives in his writing, and he has been included in events which support their struggles. Detroit Focus is deeply honored to have him in this collection.

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