Three Poems by Richard Levine

Teaching and Learning

I asked a colleague who’d been out,
“Are you feeling better, today?”
“I wasn’t sick. I was in jail,”
he said. “Jail! Why?” I asked. “Police
arrested me for driving at night
with a broken headlight.” “They
can’t do that; can they?” I asked.
He smiled, and patted me on the back.

We were teachers. All but five of us were
black. The principal and staff were
black. Most of the neighborhood was
black. Our students were
black. I was a good teacher, young,
white and with much to learn.


The Southern Cross

There are so many ways to die in war.
You can be sniped out of your life, walking
a trail, or trip a string that holds a grenade
waiting for yours or anyone’s last step.
And in that at-any-moment tension,
you learn to breathe while holding your breath.

The night we heard that Martin Luther King
had been shot, I was on perimeter
watch, in Phu Bai, alert to an enemy
we knew surrounded us. The story
said he was outside the Lorraine Motel,
in Memphis. Under Vietnam’s starry
sky and Southern Cross, I wondered.


To Forget a War

It’s easy to forget a war
made of paper and screens, a war
you can fold and tuck under an arm
when you’ve arrived at your stop,

the doors closing behind you
as you walk away; a war that won’t
bleed into your coffee or dreams,
or on your colleagues in a meeting,

a war that won’t rival all other
intimacies in your life, so you
have to introduce it to your wife
and your children; a war that will never

have to offer you its left hand to shake,
because its right one is only a sleeve.


Richard Levine, a retired NYC teacher, is the author of Now in Contest, Selected Poems, Contiguous States, and five chapbooks. An Advisory Editor of, he is the recipient of the 2021 Connecticut Poetry Society Award, and was co-editor of “Invasion of Ukraine 2022: Poems.” A Vietnam veteran, his review “The Spoils of War” appears in the current issue of American Book Review. website: