Lance Levens


"Watts" is part of an ongoing series in which I'm trying to find a new home for the sonnet.  Grittier subject matter and more vernacular diction. "Uncle Izzy" came about after a study of Twa Corbies.



Uncle Izzy


A Negro Jew, he picked cotton
along the Pedee River;
his twisted locks spun to his waist.
Adonai Shalom.

Sundown Fridays he'd leave the field
along the Pedee River--
until the overseer caught him.
Adonai Shalom.

He whipped old Uncle Izzy bloody
along the Pedee River
with pellets on his lash's tips.
Adonai Shalom.

Salted down the puckering wounds
along the Pedee River,
smoked on his mare, savored the screams.
Adonai Shalom.

Swore he'd blast the first to bring
along the Pedee River
water, grits or any succor.
Adonai Shalom.

In dirt and ants he prayed his last
along the Pedee River
in the sacred tongue they cannot kill
Adonai Shalom.



His acne formed an Andes, pink and thick.
It throbbed; it told us Thomas Watts was mad

whose limber, bony body, pale and quick
stank of his cigarettes. I saw him glad

once when I ran a sweep. I felt his eyes
zoom in from cornerback; his helmet came-

-boom!-in my gut and we were twisted ties,
a ball ballet that dared not speak its name

'till our pad-clattering crash on hard-packed clay.
Friend for an instant, he thrust out his hand
and jerked me up to run it one more time.

Years later as if God had closed a rhyme,
a beat cop grinned: that pitted face, now tanned.
"Watch the light, Levens. Still can't run that play."




Lance Levens is a teacher Latin, German, English, and Greek. Recent publications include Beloit Poetry Journal, Poetry Southeast, Scriveners, The Adirondack Review, Poem, Penwood Review, and Oak Square.