Poem of the Week | April 22, 2012

This week we’re featuring a poem by the late great Larry Levis, a co-editor of TMR in the late seventies, as well as an award-winning and amazingly influential poet and teacher. His books include, among others, The Afterlife (University of Iowa Press), Winter Stars (University of Pittsburg Press), The Widening Spell of Leaves (University of Pittsburg Press), and Elegy (University of Pittsburg Press). This poem was first published in the 1991 issue 13:3 of TMR.

photo by Jay Paul

Labyrinth as the Erasure of Cries Heard Once Within It or: (Mr. Bones I Succeeded…’ Later)

-for John Berryman
—Is dog eat dog out dere’—Big Business, Mr. Bones.
You know what I’m doing now? I’m watching the Complete
Poems of Hart Crane as they are slowly fed
Into a pulping machine in East Bayonne.


How intime, this foreman shouting in my ear.
I think each page should make a little speech
As it is shredded, but I don’t hear a thing
Except … he seems to be implying I don’t work here.


I mean … so far he’s called me Yid, Spic, Dago,
Commie, & Queer—I’ve never been so . . . honored.
And Mister Crane, the year I left the South,
It was not only out of print, your oeuvre,


It had become so many other things:
Kindling, dog food, a kind of diluted cereal
They feed to hogs, to fatten them for slaughter;
And some of the poems went into suburban landfills


Out on Long Island. You see, the pulp, if mixed
With all the trash of Manhattan, sometimes makes
A kind of land where there isn’t any land.
People live there. In fact, you’d be amazed


At all the different things your poems are used for.
Some were compressed into those artificial
Logs, to burn with other logs. You see? You still
Catch fire. Skiers, lovers, urban dwellers,


Cold winter travelers, they read those flames,
Just like they read a poem. It has, always,
A different meaning for every one of them.
Sometimes, around a campfire, Mr. Crane,


They grow still, as if remembering
Phrases like “adagios of islands” or
“A burnt match skating in a urinal”:
Really they think of nothing, nothing at all.


Even Mr. Yvor Winters, your trusted friend,
Who schooled my sister in unhappiness,
Who grew (of North Beach) paranoid in the end,
—Because he fear hisself, he fear de madness


Dere’—like Heisenberg, who wore the braille
Of snowshoes, even on summer days,
Going out, among the milder particles,
Braced for the bright light, to get his mail.