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Spring 2015

Leaves

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The Chevy stamping plant
commandeered by clans
of enormous rats so skilled
in their pursuit of life
they devoured intricate
machine parts believed
inedible. Five nights
a week you lived there—
this was in ’46—; and when
a long awaited spring
arrived nothing changed.
From heaven you could have
looked down on rows
of parked Chevys dozing
toward afternoon, you could
have imagined trees
growing in their stead,
elms—thousands of them—
their sticky leaves budding
out as they once did outside
the bedroom window.
You could have conjured
a pale climbing rose that
gathered dust, glass,
automobile exhaust,
the stains of melted snow,
to transform into blood-
tipped thorns, for thorns
too need to live. Not far off,
you told yourself, you could
hear the music of eternity.
More likely it was your own
breathing, new to the job,
or if not then the constant
rise and descent of the presses,
steadier than the beating
of your heart. The presses,
too, had their assignments,
to reform scraps of old toys,
abandoned stoves, yellow
school buses, armies of picks
and shovels, their handles
stained with our fathers’ lives.
That world stamped into
separate but equal steel
leaves we called springs,
springs for the generations
of Chevy cars and trucks not
yet dreamed of. The factory
is gone, the machines with it,
the night workers, you, me,
even the rats. All that’s left
are these few unread words
without rhythm or breath
fading before your eyes.



—Philip Levine



Philip Levine, a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, was the author of Breath, What Work Is, The Simple Truth, and numerous other books of poetry. From 1993 to his death on February 14, 2015, he regularly gave some of his best work to The Threepenny Review.
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