11 June 2011

Larry Levis

[from Larry Levis’s The Afterlife, Iowa, 1977]

The Double

Out here, I can say anything.
I can say, for example, that a girl
disappearing tonight
will sleep or stare out
fixedly as the train moves her
into its adulthood of dust
and sidings.

I remember watching wasps
on hot evenings
fly heavily over chandeliers
in hotel lobbies.
They’ve torn them down, too.
And the elderly drunks
who seemed not to mind anything,
who seemed to look for change
in their pockets, as they gazed
at the girl in the Pepsi ad,
and the girl who posed for the ad,
must all be dead now.

I can already tell that this
is no poem to show you,
this love poem. It’s so
flat spoken and ignorable,
like the man chain smoking
who discovers he’s
no longer waiting for anyone,
and goes to the movies
alone each Saturday, and grins,
and likes them.
This poem so like the hour
when the street lights turn
amber and blink, and the calm
professor burns another book,
and the divorcee waters her one
chronically dying plant.
This poem so like me
it could be my double.

I have stood for a long time
in its shadow, the way I stood
in the shadow of a dead roommate
I had to cut down from the ceiling
on Easter break, when
I was young.

That night I put my car
in neutral, and cut the engine
and lights to glide downhill
and hear the wind rush over
the dead metal.
I had to know what it felt
like, and under the moon,
gaining speed, I wanted to slip
out of my body and be
done with it.

A man can give up smoking
and the movies, and live for years
hearing the wind tick over roofs
but never looking up from
his one page, or the tiny
life he keeps carving over and
over upon it. And when everyone
around him dies, he can move
a grand piano into
his house, and sit down
alone, and finally play,
certain that no one will
overhear him, though he plays
as loud as he can,
so that when the dead come
and take his hands off the keys
they are invisible, the way air
and music are not.

Larry Levis


  1. I love him too. Always have.

  2. An interesting poem! But our life is not it? Always have lots of choices and surprises in it...