On mid-August nights I come
               out here after ten
and watch the light rise
               from the great gray bowl
of the stadium, watch it catch
               a scrap of candy wrapper
in the wind, a soiled napkin
               or a peanut shell and turn
it into fire or the sound
               of fire as the whole world
holds its breath. In the last
               inning 50,000
pulling at the night
               air for one last scream.
They can drain the stars
               of light. 

Joe Louis grew up a few miles
               east of here and attended
Bishop Elementary.
               No one recalls
a slender, dumbfounded
               boy afraid of his fifth grade
home room teacher. Tom Jefferson
               —“Same name as the other one”—
remembers Joe at seventeen
               all one sweltering summer 
unloading bales of rags
               effortlessly from the trucks
that parked in the alley
               behind Wolfe Sanitary Wiping Cloth.
“Joe was beautiful,”
               is all he says, and we two
go dumb replaying Joe’s
               glide across the ring
as he corners Schmeling
               and prepares to win
World War II. Like Joe
               Tom was up from Alabama,
like Joe he didn’t talk
               much then, and even now…

Tom Jefferson

is a believer.

You can’t plant winter vegetables

if you aren’t,

you can’t plant anything, except

maybe radishes.

You don’t have to believe

anything to grow

radishes. . . .

He was planting before the Victory Gardens

His mother brought

the habit up from Alabama. She was

growing greens

behind the house no matter how small

her strip of land. . .

“That’s Biblical,” he says

“We couldn’t even look

near each other

for fear of how

one might make the other cry.

That’s Biblical,

knowing the other so well

you know yourself,

being careful the way she was

never to say nothing

or show the least sign. . .”

FROM A Walk with Tom Jefferson

by Philip Levine


We were not

idle hands. Still a kid

when I worked nights

on the milling machines

at Cadillac transmission,

another kid just up

from West Virginia asked me

what was we making,

and I answered, I’m making

2.25 an hour,

don’t know what you’re

making, and he had

to correct me, gently, what was

we making out of

this here metal, and I didn’t know.

Whatever it was we

made, we made of earth, Amazing earth…

The place was called Chevy

Gear & Axle —

It’s gone now, gone to earth

like so much here —

so perhaps we actually made

gears and axles

for the millions of Chevies

long dead or still to die.

It said that, “Chevrolet

Gear & Axle”

right on the checks they paid

us with, so I can

half-believe that’s what we

were making way back then.