America's newest Poet Laureate, 84-year-old Philip Levine, describes himself as an "old union man." His poems depict America's once mighty industrial centers in their current state of and disrepair and decay. Yet he still sees what was, both in the factories and the people, and reminds us of a time when Americans were able to both produce and consume. Levine's landscapes along Rust Belt America are bleak, but they are a part of our heritage and, as such, merit our attention, whether we are comfortable giving it or not.
The following short poem, An Abandoned Factory, Detroit, is a good example of the types of images captured by Philip Levine in his stark poetry.
An Abandoned Factory, Detroit
by Philip Levine
The gates are chained, the barbed-wire fencing stands,
An iron authority against the snow,
And this grey monument to common sense
Resists the weather. Fears of idle hands,
Of protest, men in league, and of the slow
Corrosion of their minds, still charge this fence.
Beyond, through broken windows one can see
Where the great presses paused between their strokes
And thus remain, in air suspended, caught
In the sure margin of eternity.
The cast-iron wheels have stopped; one counts the spokes
Which movement blurred, the struts inertia fought,
And estimates the loss of human power,
Experienced and slow, the loss of years,
The gradual decay of dignity.
Men lived within these foundries, hour by hour;
Nothing they forged outlived the rusted gears
Which might have served to grind their eulogy.