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.

Stalking #oldpoems

Mountain dandelions are different than ones back home.
They make fluffy yellow flowers look like housecats. Not lions at all.
Yellow fringed and orange centered with green eyelashes all around.
Roar pollen in the wind. Dig in the leftovers of a billion years.
Root like pigs. Deep into hard gray lichen coated ground.
Creep throughout a lawn and launch on eyes like prey
where they mindlessly graze

across the hazy dome that crowns sleepy towns.

Grow low, stooped heads.
Warn us off, and keep us walking.
There are lions in the tall grass.
And just like dandelions.

They’re stalking.

God calls Goose

Life is frightening or boring. Seldom in between.
We grow up educated into fortune telling.
Preparation, and expectation, share the quiet part
that both of them are predicated on prediction.
Gambling, just, the pessimistic edition.
Track all the ways shit goes sideways
and put money on it. Preempt. Ensure.

Guaranteed duck nine times out of ten
just not the one time God calls Goose.
Ten bucks says today. That’s all it takes.
The pricetag on tomorrow.

Priced it and called it freedom in the same breath. No one blinked.
At the irony. All you end up studying in fortune-teller school. Is history.

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.

Labor Day Weekend

Don’t ask for rain, ask for a drumroll. They’re the same.
Overlapping rippled, whip-led, beaten with sticks, thrones and symbols.
Cloud-teased sunlight and pitch black night like a tent in the rain.
Ruined, but not unattained. Baptism is the recipe for mud. Clay.
And water. Brother in law wielding a fly swatter.
A son I thought would be a daughter.
I used to be a kid with a stutter.
Played break the ice with my speech therapist.
Lost. Froze solid. With a note to my loved ones
crystallized in blue hands. “If the cold didn’t get me

loneliness did.”

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.

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

Someone Elses Atmosphere

We’ve sat on the porch and watched and listened to many summer thunderstorms roll our western horizon like a horde, like a million soldier army with only two feet, stepping heavy cannonade in between neighborhoods. Not last night. The cell was right over us. Shaking the house. Lighting up the bedroom like paparazzi peeking through our windows. Thunder seeming to ooze out from under us like worms out of the mud. Never would have believed it came from above. The house and farm was pounded by rain, and warned by lightning, we had our foundations tested for cracks of weakness. And we passed. We have too many, and they’ve all started working together to coincide like roots, and we held, broken as can be, more flexible for it. The baby that passes for a little boy didn’t lose a minute of sleep. Counted three corn stalks down. This calm, powder navy blue morning keeps last night’s weather like a secret. If you didn’t wake up from your dreams, watch daylight flash through sealed shut eyes, feel the monster knock up from under the bed hello, you would never know it had happened. That pleasant sounding, captured in a bottle, fun little Southern Summer thunder had stepped clean over our heads last night. Sparing us, but not before scaring us. We woke up this morning talking about last night like we both had the same nightmare.

And somewhere across the countryside, someone sat on their back deck grinning.
Our nightmare was their atmosphere for the evening.