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Fall 2013

Urban Myths

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Slow learner though I am, it took me one night
to discover that rain in New York City
is just like rain in Detroit. It gets you wet.

Even in the Village the streets empty out
long before midnight. The comedy clubs
stay open, but no one comes out or goes in.

If there’s music, it’s the music in your head,
the same music that became the theme song
to every late-night walk under the moon.

In Detroit no one walks under the moon
much less talks to it or to the unseen stars
that years ago we stopped believing were there.

As for midnight walks in the rain, in Detroit
they’re regarded as urban myths like dance halls,
night baseball or Fourth of July weekends.

From Brooklyn, across the East River
from New York, you can actually see
the parades, the picnics, and the fireworks.

The lovers crowd the Brooklyn promenade
waiting for hours for the final darkness to fall,
full of hope that at last Manhattan will ignite.

But it never does. It’s exactly like Detroit,
with more people, more money and two rivers
instead of one and often a hint of an ocean.

Brooklyn is different, the auto plants hum
night and day. Most of the workers are old
and look even older in their full beards,

prayer shawls, and black bib overalls.
They’re glad to make union wages, they feel
useful punching in and out. When they’re too old

to work they cross the Williamsburg Bridge
to the city on warm evenings to stroll
under a canopy of stars and the same moon

that left Detroit before I finished high school.
The more spiritual ones bike the Brooklyn Bridge
to Manhattan in hope of having a vision.

They come back with amazing souvenirs,
illustrated Apocrypha, tiny reproductions
of Ms. Liberty, and rumors of a savior

who rose from Michigan in 1928,
rumors I helped create with my tales
of the magic dogs who saved the synagogues.

Everything I’ve written here is true,
and the cities—Brooklyn and Detroit—
are actual, and people still live in them,

people you might love were you to venture
east, like the Magi on their mad quest
to touch a star and pass into history.

I still go back each year to Detroit
to relive my long childhood in the houses
that burned down ages ago, to walk alone
the streets paved with gold and to get wet.


—Philip Levine



Philip Levine was the author of News of the World, What Work Is, Breath, and many other terrific books of poetry. A longtime contributor to The Threepenny Review, he died on February 14, 2015.
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