17 December 2005

Larry Levis

[A middle fragment of a poem titled “The Letter” from Winter Stars by Larry Levis]

. . . If you want to know, I’m thinking
Of the widow with the wide eyes, Nona Laroche,
who’s dead now, & who for days after the fire,
Could still smell smoke on her clothes. . . .
Some great uncle, if the dead could shrug, & they
Can’t, would say: “They loved fast horses.”

Sometimes I almost believe her soul looks out
of the photograph, almost clears the sill
Of the eyes & comes near; though it does not ever
Move, it holds me while I look at it.
But even today, I can’t conceive of a soul
Without seeing a woman’s body. Specifically,
Yours, undoing the straps of an evening dress
In a convertible, & then lying back, your breasts
Holding that hint of dusk mixed with mint
And the emptiness of dusk. Someone put it
Crudely: to fuck is to know. If that is true,
There’s a corollary: the soul is a canary sent
Into the mines. The convertible is white, & parked
Beneath the black trees shading the river,
Mile after mile. Your dress is off by now,
And when you come, both above & below me,
When you vanish into that one cry which means
Your body is no longer quite your own
And when your face looks like a face stricken
From this world, a saint’s face, your eyes closing
On some final city made entirely
Of light, & only to be unmade by light
Again—at that moment I’m still watching
You—half out of reverence & half because
The scene is distant, like a landscape, & has
Nothing to do with me. Beneath the quiet
Of those trees, & that sky, I imagine
I’m simply a miner in a cave; I imagine the soul
Is something lighter than a girl’s ribbon
I witnessed, one afternoon, as it fell—blue,
Tossed, withered somehow, & singular, at
A friend’s wedding—& then into the river
And swirled away. Do I chip away with my hammer?
Do I, sometimes, sing or recite? Even though
I have to know, in such a darkness, all
The words by heart, I sing. And when I come,
My eyes are closed fast. I smile, under
The earth. They loved fast horses. And someone else
Will have to watch them, grazing on short tufts
Of spring grass beside the riverbank,
When we are gone, when we are light, & grass. . . .

I copied this fragment for Anne Haines, as she prepares to write about the body, and, I venture, the soul.

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