Phillis Levin was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and holds degrees from Sarah Lawrence College and The Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of Temples and Fields (Georgia, 1988), The Afterimage (Copper Beech, 1995), and Mercury (Penguin, 2001), and the editor of The Penguin Book of the Sonnet (2001). Her fourth collection of poems, May Day, will be published by Penguin in 2008. She is an elector of the American Poetsí Corner of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine and the co-director (with Vijay Seshadri) of the Sarah Lawrence Language Exchange. Her honors include the 1988 Norma Farber First Book Award, a 1995 Fulbright Fellowship to Slovenia, the 1999 Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, a 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2006 Richard Hugo Award from Poetry Northwest, and a 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She lives in New York and teaches at Hofstra University.

Three Poems by Phillis Levin


Conversation Between Clouds

And one said to the other:
It's different every time, but there was one . . .

And as they roiled above they seemed to want to be
Something in particular, not just anything,

Becoming, in turn, something altogether other,
Dying out at the edge,

Where the last trace of their former form had been.

And one said to the other:
Think of two creatures lying down, unknowing

They recline upon a substance without body
Floating in the air,

Of the vertigo of knowing this
The moment they arise, a moment carrying the fall

Itself as they fold into each other or fade.

And one said to the other:
Remember, dear, there is nothing below but a sea

Of wind, ribbons of rain,
A parachute of snow, nothing contains us,

But even so, it is wise to hold on to my hand
Even though

It is a cloud among clouds.

[Originally published in The New Republic]


May Day

Iíve decided to waste my life again,
Like I used to: get drunk
On the light in the leaves, find a wall
Against which something can happen,

Whatever may have happened
Long ago Ė let a bullet hole echoing
The will of an executioner, a crevice
In which a love note was hidden,

Be a cell where a struggling tendril
Utters a few spare syllables at dawn.
Iíve decided to waste my life
In a new way, to forget whoever

Touched a hair on my head, because
It doesnít matter what came to pass,
Only that it passed, because we repeat
Ourselves, we repeat ourselves.

Iíve decided to walk a long way
Out of the way, to allow something
Dreaded to waken for no good reason,
Let it go without saying,

Let it go as it will to the place
It will go without saying: a wall
Against which a body was pressed
For no good reason, other than this.

[Originally published in The New Yorker]


My Brotherís Shirt

I ask my brother
did he put on his shirt
to go through the long passage

Where is the shirt for that journey
shirt of love
shirt of blood

                 *

I ask my brother
did he take off his shirt
to go through the long passage

Where is the shirt for that journey
shirt of blood
shirt of love

[Originally published in Barrow Street ]