Annotation – The Poem You Asked For by Larry Levis

This is a more prosaic toned poem, but chopped up in stocky, poetic lines. The work functions for me as a hybridized experience, an offspring of the overlap between fiction and poems. Ascribing a poem a personality, giving it action, physical description, played out brilliantly in this piece. “…I offered it all my money, my clothes, my car with a full tank. But the poem stared at the floor.” Not just ‘my car’ but a full tank. One can’t entice a poem out from hiding with a vehicle empty of the fuel that makes it move. The poem is a journey. It gets hungry. Tired. And then inspired, and fat and full. Greedy.

We don’t get rhyme. We don’t get flowery language. The poem really lacks in most archetypal elements of poetry except for having that exact subject as its theme. Which is in and of itself a very poetic thematic twist. A literary contrast, examining lofty, often put up on a pedestal subjects with pedantic tone of voice. The reader sits somewhere in the middle pulled in two separate directions by the same detail. “…beat me and took my money, tore the faded clothes off my back, said Shit-” This really is a poet’s poem. Haven’t we all been beat up by a piece or two of our own writing? Not that we had much to begin with anyhow, but it takes what we do have, the abusive poem likes our faded clothes and running cars and greasy hair. Prefers it, because it was needed once, worn. The shine has almost always worn off the preferred. And the poem of Larry Levis is coming for all faded things.

Almost everyone who pursues this craft can relate in one way or another to this poem. I would also feel comfortable stating that anyone who pursues intentionally creative endeavors of any kind on a daily basis can relate to the all too often overly familiar, needy, and abusive habits of the muse. Being a poet is like keeping a pet bird. It’s like sliding a sleek silver bit in the crotch of a horse’s jaw. It’s a lover you struggle to shake. In spite of both your sakes.

All of that to say what poetry is not: a thing connected to a remote control, mindless or incapable of revolution and resistance, a thing to do to pass the time. Not an object. Not a skill. Not a subject. “And the poem…Said it was going over to your place.” The ultimate mystery and power of inspiration is that it has a will of its own. And it will leave you when it wants to. And it will refuse to leave you when it wants to.

Hyperbole

I am a teacher. One part courtroom jester. One part dunce. One part dad and one part mom. I am the voice of books, and the ears of reason. I love it when they confess, what I am about to say might be wrong. And I get to tell them. There’s no such thing. Not here. Not in this classroom, in this group of peers. The most important part of recognizing right is the memory of being proudly, loudly, defiantly wrong. My most important lesson. Make a mess. Make mistakes. Fumble my words. Forget the definition of hyperbole. ‘How can you be our teacher and you don’t know what hyperbole means?” he says. I’m no saint. On the inside, I’m eighteen years old again and I want to embarrass him into the ground for having done so to me. But, on the outside, I’m thirty three, on the clock, first year in a new job, honesty is maybe an incentive they add one to two years before retirement, but for new hires like me it’s improv. I laugh at myself and agree. I tell him the most important thing you learn in school are directions to the nearest library. No one, no matter what they tell you, remembers everything. Every time hyperbole comes up in discussion from then on I sound it out slowly and ask them what it means. We laugh. Adults mess up. Forget. Lose track. First and foremost, we’re teaching them how to handle that.

I am a teacher because I was hired and presented to them as a teacher but I never earned them calling me Mr. Homesley, it’s required. Even in lectures I often use my life as my example and I keep wanting to call myself Jeremy. I am a teacher so I am Mr. Homesley and I had never met that man before and I still don’t always recognize him as me. Like hyperbole. Some great exaggeration of my maturity and capacity. One of those teachers who likes to say I am learning just as much as you are. And I am. But that’s a secondary lesson. Secondary to the next six to eight years of sure to be harder than we ever imagined life. I’ll get an email one day. Just shy of a decade. One of these kids will reach out and tell me they heard that great deafening click I spoke of hearing right around when I turned twenty six. It’s eerie, and inescapable, and undeniable. I called my dad, my mom, I apologized to them. I felt my weight, finally, my age, my height, my mortality, everything, all the sudden like that. Hit me.

You don’t grow up. You don’t graduate. You don’t stop learning and gain some wisdom and maturity because you hit a hand-drawn checkmark on a coffee-stained desk calendar. Speaking hyperbolically now, just kidding, that isn’t a word, oh wait, it is? Well anyway. I am a teacher. And as a teacher, the greatest piece of information I really have to offer, is directions to the nearest library.

Life may as well be called school. And while we’re here, all of us, on equal terms, students.

Doorways in Windows

The cold descended so low last night it touched the grass and turned it white. In some places, soil has spat up phlegmy streams of ice like tiny fireworks frozen in place. If you’ve ever stepped on a bed of broken glass you know the feeling of walking on frozen ground. Only pines cling summer green, and it has turned the horizon eerily into prison bars, the nakedness of hardwood trees. I absolutely know someone dressed up in all the colors of mother nature’s vomit is sitting somewhere they’re not supposed to with a gun staring through their foggy breath and only hearing squirrels. Camouflage fools intelligence, but blares out loud to wisdom bright as blazon orange. More men and women than one could ever imagine have been sentenced to hell by a jury of furry woodland critters. Laid belly up guts exposed in the dead center of a hot country road paved with the asphalt of all your worst decisions. I look out across the early morning, late December scene, ice poised on the precipice of muck, and see many things where others say they don’t see much. Wooden towers untouched by carpenters taller than any of the two stories downtown. A man I don’t recognize weighed the cold against a lit cigarette unworthy. Two cats, three kittens. One solid vein of sunlight spiderweb woven between all the eastern trees. I don’t know who you have to be to look out at such scenes and read the story of eternity. I know you can’t stop once you do. I know something of the nature of truth. 

I know it always sets doorways in windows.

Something pities you

Shake your head. Shake it out. Shudder. The best way to unshutter. Open up why don’t you. Talking to yourself again. Out loud. On “paper”. Jesus Christ I have changed quickly. Same as it has ever been. I keep waking up while I’m already awake and realizing how many years I slept through fully conscious with eyes open. Dead-eyed asleep and ceaseless dreaming. What do I want out of life? What do I want out of a deer my brother killed. Everything I can get but I’m not ready for yet. I feel like the animals I’ve ended surely sit patiently waiting on the jury that judges me into whatever hereafter. I want them to look at the work, and feel maybe less hate and resentment than I would. We’re always counting on other people to be better than we are. Why does anyone ever ask why did everyone pile onto the short cut and traffic jam it into engine-idling oblivion. The long way is the short way again, because the numbers have shifted, and the only way to think nature isn’t on top is to bury your head in her. We will, all of us, die, and in doing the things we describe as life, learn to live again. You’ll shake your head. Shake out the you. The me. I. Whatever ridiculous code name you’ve been called your whole life. For me. I’m shaking out a Jeremy. I’m waking up all Jeremiah and feisty. A hammer in the hand of the carpenter was once a tree with roots cupped in the palm of the earth, and metal nestled deeper than that. If you want to know the creator, you have got to start thinking elemental.

You’ve got to start thinking. Now.

I have no clue about what the afterlife will look or feel like. But. I have every clue imaginable regarding how I entered, and my full understanding, of this one. And I can dream, without much difficulty, that being reborn into the next world will generally be similar to our entrance into this one. You had zero control. Absolutely no say in how you survived the first years of life. The most you knew to do was cry, and another being, better or worse, sought to silence you. Protected you. Ushered you every step to your current high-priced ticket seat. How do you find your way in the afterlife? The same way you made it to this one.

You scream, and cry.
Then something pities you, and keeps you alive.

The son of the one who does.

Little dipper. Spits in a little cup. Orion’s belt. Twenty two hung from it. Shooting star out from the corner of an eye. Cat reacts. Coyotes funnel throats along their tongues and howl at the big black upside down bowl and eat something innocent alive. No clouds for miles means stars for hours and tied up dogs barking clear up till midnight. A word you can stand silent and frozen inside. They don’t quite capture that in movies. The heaviness of legs in pitch black. The frozenness you feel in sixty five degree darkness. Loudness, falling leaves. The timing of acorns. Some little animal like a ship in the center of the ocean bow lights off. We go our separate ways. Once hips thaw. Knees fracture like a glass hammer against an ice sculpture. The biggest, scariest, most armed, most equipped, steady lipped and high hipped being in the woods this time of night is still the most afraid. Nudist colony of stars in the countryside unclothed of course and cold as the North and on clear nights you can hear trains but can’t see street lights. 

When I go walking alone at night with no light, it is the honestest I ever felt. The stark, bodiless impression it presses on me is the realest fear has ever been. The most physical and obvious loneliness. I carry a stick and feel ahead of my steps with it like a blind person. I step slow, and light, enough so that if I feel my toe come down on a twig I never drop my heel. I carry snuffed lights that would give me away to light my way, and I only ever turn them on when headed home. I tell myself, there is something out here worth this fear. It is better it should meet me by all means overly prepared, than some small goat, or distracted chicken, or paltry child.

A man like me out in the wild. 

Blind. Naked underneath so many layers.
Armed. Two of my own. The land I do not own.

But I am the son of the one who does.

A crutch to the able

These systems aren’t broken. Your tiled roof isn’t broken. But there’s a reason your roofer didn’t push you to choose tin. There’s a reason solar energy is secondary to toxic, highly limited, hard to procure, highly pollutive energy. These reasons are called corporate interests, and the reality is, our system of government was created with them in mind. You know that, because they left humans enslaved while they set businesses free. Fix education. Fix government. That’s the problem. We’ve never broken the cast off these things and seen them fail for themselves.

A crutch to the able-bodied is a disability.

Spectral Gap

Early morning high shadow heavy vignette. Low saturation and low light make every color the smoky version of its former self. There are no more blades of grass. Each tree is now a spectral gap. A lean tower of black. Roosters are writers too sir, they just use early morning the way we use paper. Nature is full of formulaic poets. Farms full with university graduates. Early morning heavy with high shadow framed in last night’s sticky vignette. Woke up to the heroic whoop of a police siren. Roosters huffing like monkeys in white dotted magnolias. Automatic coffee maker performing Houdini’s last act. Septembair through a south facing window. The fear is there. Waiting. Like unread morning emails. Like Eggs the dog bent like a pretzel to scratch-stomp her belly. Breath from a mouth that once promised to love me forever. 

There are memories I’ve had forever, that only ever come back to me early morning.

There are colors there that can not be found anywhere.

The Final Frontier

The future we imagine for ourselves in science fiction and culture in general, is probably two thousand years away. Our final frontier is still right here in front of us. Would you like to know how many times I’ve explained how chickens lay an egg every day to fully grown people who have eaten them their entire lives. Or the necessity of pollination to people more comfortable believing their plants aren’t producing because they read their Farmer’s Almanac the wrong way and not the product called insecticide they and their neighbors dumped all over their gardens. All vegetables and fruits are byproducts of a kinky inter-species three-way that’s been going down for the last one hundred and thirty million years. Our planet is a whole other sort of billionaire. We aren’t descended from monkeys. But we are clearly mammals. There’s no arguing that, we’re already trading milk with one another, dabbling in raising one another’s children. Clearly human beings are a part of a massive extended family. We’re all bound by the same rules and needs.

We’ve exhaustively answered the question of how a creature can know it all and understand nothing. We can’t do that another two thousand years. We’ll extinct ourselves long before that.

We don’t understand the earth we stand on. For example, you’re not sitting upright right now. Think about where you are on a globe. You’re jutted out sideways slightly down or some other absurd direction, depending on where you are. And you’re spinning and flying through space. And if you dig deep enough, you’re actually floating on a giant terraform raft bobbing up and down on the fat Santa belly of lava that gives our planet its rosy cheeks and cheery disposition, also our mind-boggling magnetic force-field that shields us from a constant bombardment of solar radiation that surrounds us, so much so one could describe a Solar System in terms of planets that exist within the outer atmosphere of their sun. Think about this, we’re being pulled and held by a gravity that extends outward from a central point within the earth. It pulls us, as it radiates out, and pulls and holds the moon, while still going out to tickle comets and asteroids into buzzing close by us. How the hell does gravity reach with a force that only attracts.

How does gravity extend outward while pulling inward, how long can intelligent life forms live on a planet before they committedly seek to understand it, before they break the hypnotic lifeless species-wide stare into the dingy fun-house mirror of our own incestual, violent, derisive and divisive cultural memory, our naval gazing religions, our self-obsessed youth worshiping. I’m fine with all of it as long as we understand, really know the story behind where chickens come from, how eggs are formed, long before we develop species-wide nutritional dependency on them. Water tables and topsoil. Constellations and art. Anyone who has really known a single acre of land has dabbled in this pursuit we call the future.

The final frontier. Only it isn’t out there. It’s the next two thousand years.
We need to learn how to really live here.
We need to understand our current way of life was shaped out of fear.
We need the sort of breakaway only a quiet life in the country can afford.
Go back to the very first drawing board.
The wilderness you’re at war with otherwise called your backyard.
I’m here to tell you, what you’re really fighting is a farm.

It isn’t thyme.

That’s the thing about journals and wine, they’re nothing but juice without time. Your grocery lists and garden designs will be worth at least a sideways smile in four or five years. But in ten to twenty, or thirty, to eyes still reading long after yours have entered the book, your handwriting, not just that one of a kind chicken scratch, but an undeniable image of your hand, alive, writhing, a little list that led you on your way out into town, strangers who stared you down, held the door for you, nodded hello. It takes fifty years to even know the value of what we’re losing when we exclusively hunt and peck every thought under threat of the launched arrow of a backspace key. You can type a cocktail, squeeze words, add liquor, pour out every sort of juice. But you have to hand-write wine, and more than that, be patient for it. One virtue that has been entirely and purposefully written out of education. Society. Culture in general. Patient people make poor consumers. Patient. Stubborn. Frugal with money, but always giving away food. Journals, and handwritten things, and stubborn, patient people who like to work with animals every day, who like four chores and sixteen memories and three bruises on every dinner plate. Who get a bit of therapeutic benefit from shedding tears over a thirty year old grocery list that somehow grew into a treasure of incalculable value with nothing else added to it but time.

Journals.
Wine.
Seeds.
Friendships.
Faith.
Family.
Life. All have same secret ingredient.

If you don’t know, don’t worry, it comes for you too.
Be patient. It isn’t thyme.

The Dishes

We are all too dependent on vision.

The house is a wreck but we’re still doing dishes. A warm dishrag smile wipes fresh tears off all our faces. When we trust our eyes too much, they show, they reveals us. Superficial. I know what you thought when you read that word. I know its most common usage. As insult. Negative. Self defense. That’s not even half of its definition though. Mostly because, there’s barely half a definition there to start with. Surface. Visible. In its truest meaning, there’s not one of us who isn’t superficial. It isn’t a choice. It’s biology. Evolution. Our anatomy. What’s crazy is, our eyes aren’t even that spectacular. But that never stopped us trusting them completely. 

Which makes us an easy trick, cheap, corporations are like abstract painters studying what certain colors opiate or infuriate or inspire us to work. What shapes set us at ease, what wall-patterns put us on the edge of our seats, grind our teeth. Look at our faces. We look like hoot owls and chimpanzees mated. We’ve made the entire surface of our skin one huge sex organ, with nothing more than time and boredom to work with. When they talk about enlightenment, about piercing some form of illusory perception and seeing true, pessimistic, hard pill to swallow, reality, this is what they mean. 

Just do the dishes. Not to get a good feeling or delight or ease or feel all put together for once. Anyone can put a suit on. You’re not the devil because you’re dirty and live out on the street. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful if all the important flaws we carry around could be seen. Well, that superficial dream has led us by the hand through the absolute worst chapters of the ongoing novel that is humankind. 

If skin color was a poker-tell, if skin color was a political persuasion, if skin color was a criminal confession, hot damn, wouldn’t that be easy. Wouldn’t that just please these predator eyes we feverishly and catastrophically feed. If the deepest, truest nature of a person could, just for once, be as superficial as an earring in one ear, or tattoo above the rear, or otherwise respectable young man too lazy to cut off his long hair. What if it was as simple as a pigment in someone’s skin? What if the dishes weren’t white? Would they be harder to clean, would you get the same peace of mind from warmly and tenderly washing them. The cleanest dishes in existence, it’s just, you can’t easily see that from a distance. Inside we find a simple, universal, colorful frustration, we find the tiny innocuous seed that grows into such destructive things, the worst of which has always been the thin permeating invasive vine of systemic racism. 

Maybe there’s hope in this, I don’t know, I don’t think there is, but it feels good to them, hate, they do it like a drug-user during the years they refuse to admit it’s a problem, back when they still call it medicine, being hateful, racist, alleviates some stressful condition we are in. Hate is not fire the way they would have it seem.
Believe me when I say, hate is a balm to the hateful. 

It sets their guilt at ease. 

I’m not saying it’s better, or that you should, I’m stating for fact that if you fully think it through, you’ll eventually feel what I feel when I think about myself, and people who were in truly hateful places in their lives while I knew them. Sympathy. I just see pain. Planted in the most fertile soil that exists. The misplaced human conscience. I kind of see them perpetually trying to scrub black dishes white, eternally, in some place that is so almost heaven. Eyeballs are for earth. This is the place of their birth. Their original intention. Heaven might not appear on the surface so pleasing to them. So try, strive, to glimpse something while you’re here without using your eyes. Practice.

That elusive deep down buried in the chest heart smile happiness.
No one got that from doing the dishes.

I have nothing new to say.
Eyes were never the only way.

There’s always been more than one definition for vision.

#LookItUp