Searching for Us - Philip Levine

The Pinch Journal is proud to present the following poem by Pulitzer Prize winning author Philip Levine (1928 -2015) as a tribute to his work and his memory.

Originally published in the Spring 1987 issue of The Memphis State ReviewSearching for Us by Philip Levine is a poignant glance at the universal images that make up a family's memories.


Two ten-inch phonograph records, Bluebirds

going white, that won't give up their music.

My uncle's perfect clothbound book

that opened the secret of electric growth.

My mother's gap-toothed tortoise combs.

Her opera glasses. Her black and white

artistic snapshots taken on the August '36

return trip on the Normandy. She titled

this one "Sunset at Sea" and claimed

it was only a shadow of what took place

in color. My father's Victoria Cross

that he brought back from an automobile parts

convention. His white gold pocket watch,

a Howard, that runs and stops and runs

to keep his time. His naturalization papers

claiming he was born in 1898

in Poland, without a mention of his years

at war. My brother's grade school drawings

of Spitfires and ME 109's,

his "Withdrawl from Dunkirk," the beach

crisscrossed with small black lines 

that could be abandoned arms or the arms

of boys hugging the earth. A white flower.

Two dusty maple leaves. A blank postcard

without a stamp. My stillborn sister's

wish to mother a child, to breathe

the stained air that blows in at dusk

from the parking lots, to walk with us

on Sunday afternoons. Your finger prints

on the final application for release.

A bitten fountain pen, a dry stamp pad.

Two clear drops of fluid that catch

and hold the artificial light, that glow

with their own light when that's gone,

as eyes in stories are said to do.

Now in the dark they could be you,

they could be me, they could be anyone.