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Breakfasts With Joachim
(January 10, 1928 / Detroit, Michigan)

Breakfasts With Joachim

Poem By Philip Levine

Sunday morning at Mel's Country Kitchen,
the place quiet, the locals bowing
to their heaped plates, Joachim let go with,
'The Jews done it! ' A dozen forks clattered,
the place grew eerie, and then he added
in fake Okie, 'Moses went up that hill
to bring back God's word for us here.'
Everyone went back to stuffing their faces;
Joachim nibbled on dry toast and sipped
his unsweetened tea. Why he wanted people
to think he was a gun-toting redneck
I never knew. Except for his time in Spain
I doubted he'd fired a gun. He wouldn't talk
about those years except to say, only once,
'I was just a kid looking for adventure.'
I found his name in an obscure history
of the Lincoln Brigade: 'Joachim Barron,
missing in action, Teruel, 1937,'
a notation he refused to clarify.
After breakfast we drove to the river
to exercise his little gray mongrel, Ginsberg,
who adored him. 'Howl! ' he commanded.
The mutt raised his muzzle and let go
with a long, mournful wail. I confess
I adored him, too, especially then, walking
the river bank overgrown with burdocks,
milkweed, thistles in early October.
Joachim in his blue suit and cordovans
bowing to inspect whatever dried blooms
he found and to confer their Latin
designations. 'Gold! ' he once shouted, holding
out a stone as Ginsberg danced around him.
'Really,' I said. 'No, beautiful, worthless mica.'
With spit he brought the grays and browns
swimming to the surface. The true gold
was Joachim, dressed like a viceroy except
for a tired black and red scarf, brought back
from Spain, stained with the earth of Catalunya,
'What they buried the good Machado in
in '39.' His perfect loafers sinking
in mud, he recited the opening stanzas
of 'The Crime Was in Granada' and added,
'The only bad poem he ever wrote.'
Even when he was most alive I doubt
he knew he embodied what he worshipped,
the exquisite in the commonplace, or that
he dreamed the daily world could turn
on him that fast and all he treasured turn
to dust or nothing and leave me hunting
for what I'd never find, salt for the spirit.

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