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Philip Levine - Sierra Kid

"I've been where it hurts." the Kid 

He becomes Sierra Kid

        I passed Slimgullion, Morgan Mine, 
        Camp Seco, and the rotting Lode. 
             Dark walls of sugar pine --, 
             And where I left the road 

             I left myself behind; 
             Talked to no one, thought 
        Of nothing. When my luck ran out 
        Lived on berries, nuts, bleached grass. 
             Driven by the wind 
             Through great Sonora pass, 

             I found an Indian's teeth; 
             Turned and climbed again 
        Without direction, compass, path, 
        Without a way of coming down, 
             Until I stopped somewhere 
             And gave the place a name. 

             I called the forests mine; 
             Whatever I could hear 
        I took to be a voice: a man 
        Was something I would never hear.

He faces his second winter in the Sierra

        A hard brown bug, maybe a beetle, 
        Packing a ball of sparrow shit -- 
             What shall I call it? 
        Shit beetle? Why's it pushing here 
        At this great height in the thin air 
             With its ridiculous waddle 

        Up the hard side of Hard Luck Hill? 
        And the furred thing that frightened me -- 
             Bobcat, coyote, wild dog -- 
        Flat eyes in winter bush, stiff tail 
        Holding his ground, a rotted log. 
             Grass snakes that wouldn't die, 

        And night hawks hanging on the rim 
        Of what was mine. I know them now; 
             They have absorbed a mind 
        Which must endure the freezing snow 
        They endure and, freezing, find 
             A clear sustaining stream.
He learns to lose

             She was afraid 
             Of everything, 
        The little Digger girl. 
             Pah Utes had killed 
             Her older brother 
        Who may have been her lover 
             The way she cried 
             Over his ring -- 

             The heavy brass 
             On the heavy hand. 
        She carried it for weeks 
             Clenched in her fist 
             As if it might 
        Keep out the loneliness 
             Or the plain fact 
             That he was gone. 

             When the first snows 
             Began to fall 
        She stopped her crying, picked 
             Berries, sweet grass, 
             Mended her clothes 
        And sewed a patchwork shawl. 
             We slept together 
             But did not speak. 

             It may have been 
             The Pah Utes took 
        Her off, perhaps her kin. 
             I came back 
             To find her gone 
        With half the winter left 
             To face alone -- 
             The slow grey dark 

             Moving along 
             The dark tipped grass 
        Between the numbed pines. 
             Night after night 
             For four long months 
        My face to her dark face 
             We two had lain 
             Till the first light.
Civilization comes to Sierra Kid

             They levelled Tater Hill 
                 And I was sick. 
        First sun, and the chain saws 
             Coming on; blue haze, 
                 Dull blue exhaust 
        Rising, dust rising, and the smell. 

             Moving from their thatched huts 
                 The crazed wood rats 
        By the thousand; grouse, spotted quail 
             Abandoning the hills 
                 For the sparse trail 
        On which, exposed, I also packed. 

             Six weeks. I went back down 
                 Through my own woods 
        Afraid of what I knew they'd done. 
             There, there, an A&P, 
                 And not a tree 
        For Miles, and mammoth hills of goods. 

             Fat men in uniforms, 
                 Young men in aprons 
        With one face shouting, "He is mad!" 
             I answered: "I am Lincoln, 
                 Aaron Burr, 
        The aging son of Appleseed. 

             "I am American 
                 And I am cold." 
        But not a one would hear me out. 
             Oh God, what have I seen 
                 That was not sold! 
        They shot an old man in the gut.

Mad, dying, Sierra Kid enters the capital

                 What have I changed? 
        I unwound burdocks from my hair 
                 And scalded stains 
                 Of the black grape 
        And hid beneath long underwear 
                 The yellowed tape. 

                 Who will they find 
        In the dark woods of the dark mind 
                 Now I have gone 
                 Into the world? 
        Across the blazing civic lawn 
                 A shadow's hurled 

                 And I must follow. 
        Something slides beneath my vest 
                 Like melted tallow, 
                 Thick but thin, 
        Burning where it comes to rest 
                 On what was skin. 

                 Who will they find? 
        A man with no eyes in his head? 
                 Or just a mind 
                 Calm and alone? 
        Or just a mouth, silent, dead, 
                 The lips half gone? 

                 Will they presume 
        That someone once was half alive 
                 And that the air 
                 Was massive where 
        The sickening pyracanthus thrive 
                 Staining his tomb? 

                 I came to touch 
        The great heart of a dying state. 
                 Here is the wound! 
                 It makes no sound. 
        All that we learn we learn too late, 
                 And it's not much.

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Added: Feb 20 2003 | Viewed: 1443 times | Comments and analysis of Sierra Kid by Philip Levine Comments (7)

Sierra Kid - Comments and Information

Poet: Philip Levine
Poem: Sierra Kid
Volume: On The Edge
Year: Published/Written in 1963
Poem of the Day: Aug 31 2016

Comment 7 of 7, added on October 16th, 2013 at 4:24 AM.

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Comment 6 of 7, added on May 27th, 2013 at 7:44 PM.

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Comment 5 of 7, added on May 27th, 2013 at 4:11 PM.

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