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.

North Carolina

December thirteenth. North Carolina. I hear a tree frog click. Fire crack.
The same dog over and over. A layered silhouette of trees against tees
misled me into thinking I can glimpse the shape of the gully in front of me.
Hard wooded. Known to house turkeys. One fat cornfed squirrel.

I blame the calendar for most problems.
They make it too easy to wait.
The calendar always made me late.
Mark one a holy day.
People sacrifice hundreds of others preparing for it.
Marking them off as they get in their way.
Weak days.

With seasons, on the other hand, we are ahead of the game.
Like tonight. It isn’t even winter yet. And already, it’s spring.

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.

The Cake

If the universe is like me, no wonder. No wonder whatsoever
this place is such a mess. Try to tell heart cells
what the lungs are blown up to. Ask the liver
how it feels about its job in waste management.
Tell on your skeleton to all the soft senseless pink frosting.
Take the cake. Dump it in the milky substance of your consciousness.
Make it soggy. Like the rest of your body.
Destined to be parted by a blunt spoon and swallowed unchewed
by the great toothless mouth of our universe. Slurping like breakfast cereal.

The big bang hit like a mid-morning sixth cup of coffee beer shit.
Self-expression. Wipe it away. Flush it down.
Forget it drowned in the bowl no one eats from.

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.

Fathers and Sons excerpt

I know it may not seem exciting, but to me it is like living scripture, I am walking twenty miles on faith that another traveler left a message in a journal that will inform me which direction to head for the next twenty. I quite possibly have never worried about my son’s safety more so than I am being gripped to shreds by right now.

Worry is the lightest thing that’s too heavy to carry. I decide to leave it here in this shelter, in this journal, where I snored so hard I shook the mice from the rafters and awoke with a black bear cub and its mama curled up beside me in our den. I burnt the paper that held my breakfast. I filled every watertight container I have brimming with the lifeblood of this magical, wonder-filled forest.

And before she left, pack on, boots laced tight, hiking poles in one hand, Hailey hugged me, a good hug, full of that same lightning that passed through her hand into me last night. When that insurmountable intergenerational distance melts away at warp speed and through so much time and experience, we stand equals, young and old, both able to imbue one another with the exact form of energy the other needs. She may as well have thrown gasoline on the fire last night. She made this old footsore man feel young again. For a flash in a pan. For five minutes. And she got to see her father, in me. Hundreds, no, thousands of miles, distance be damned, it’s all distorted through the filter of emotions. Every mile. So many thousands of feet, maybe ten thousand or more foot steps.

Knowing that doesn’t make taking one any easier.

from Fathers and Sons

My gut instinct is to call it a sign, but no. Jeremiah says, this is life.

Without walls. Without society’s endless game of hide and seek.
Hide from the world, seek products to fill the void.
This is what we’re so afraid of.

The deafening loudness of a quiet life in the country.

How this tiny insignificant spring can cancel out the noise
off so many other things.

I can’t even hear myself think.