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Published: Thu Apr 15 1999
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
On the Job

Twenty-six years old, his hair so blonde
you could see the scalp, his skin
puffed from too much beer. Slight
with delicate wrists and long fingers,
slender forearms, the white sleeves
rolled over them. Arthur sat at the piano
and played a few scales. The bartender
looked annoyed but went back to reading
the afternoon paper full of ads
for the new GM cars. The one guy
drinking alone hollered, “Danny Boy!”
as though it were two in the morning.
Arthur laughed and played “Chopsticks”
before he began to hum and went into
a deep chord with the left hand, laughed
again as the right hand took over
with something we had never heard
before. The bartender turned,
the newspaper fallen to his waist,
and peered over his glasses at Arthur
swaying with all the power and fire
of spurned love and failure, with all
the glory of his mAGNIficent heart
that burned for someone he knew now
for certain wasn’t his. Later two women
sent a drink and then a written message,
the windows of the bar turned blue,
then purple, then black, the after-work
crowd drifted in by ones and twos
in a hushed silence none of us had
ever drunk to, though life becoming
music was what we went there for.

See what's inside AGNI 49

Philip Levine won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1995 for his collection The Simple Truth (Knopf, 1995). A recent Writer in Residence at New York University, he is the author of twenty volumes of poetry and the recipient of two Guggenheims, the Frank O’Hara Prize, and numerous other awards. (updated 6/2010)

“Interview with Philip Levine” by Jason Shinder appeared in AGNI 49.

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