Listen to Philip Levine reading this poem. Let us bless the three wild Reds of our school days. Bless how easily Gaunt Vallejo would lose control, the blood rushing to his depleted face while his mistress in a torn trench coat stroked his padded shoulders to calm him. We'll call him Vallejo after the poet only because he vaulted into speech in such a headlong rush. (In truth his name was Slovakian.) We'll call her Lupino after the film star because she was more beautiful in memory than in fact, her cheeks drawn over fine bones, her hair tumbling down from under the beret, hair we loved and called "dirty blond."Vallejo would rise in class, unasked, to interrupt "the tired fascist swill"the stunned professor was giving out:"The proper function of a teacher is to inform the unformed cadres of the exploited classes regarding the nature of their enslavement to an estate sold to their masters of the means of production." Lupino would rise quietly beside him to show solidarity and to begin her therapy. Two-ton Cohen would join in flashing his party cards for all to see and invoking the sacred triads of Hegel. And we, the unformed and uninformed, dropped our pencils and groaned with gladness to be quit of Aristotle's Ethics or the monetary theories of James K. Polk and stared into a future of rotund potential fulfilled. They are gone now, the three—Vallejo, Lupino, Cohen— into an America no one wanted or something even worse, so bless their certainties, their fiery voices we so easily resisted, their tired eyes, their cheeks flushed with sudden blood, bless their rhetoric, bless their zeal, bless their costumes and their cards, bless their faith in us, especially that faith, that hideous innocence.
Philip Levine's book of poems The Simple Truth won the Pulitzer Prize in 1995.
Clickhere to visit Robert Pinsky's Favorite Poem Project site.Please note: Because Slate's backlog of accepted poems is substantial, poetry editor Robert Pinsky will not be reading new submissions until December 2005.