Twelve Thirty One Nineteen Ninety Nine

By Larry Levis 1946–1996 Larry Levis
First Architect of the jungle & Author of pastel slums,
Patron Saint of rust,
You have become too famous to be read.

I let the book fall behind me until it becomes
A book again. Cloth, thread, & the infinite wood.

Don’t worry. Don’t worry.
In the future, everyone, simply everyone,
Will be hung in effigy.
The crepe paper in the high school gym will be
Black & pink & feathery,

Rainbow trout & a dog’s tongue. In effigy. This,

For example, was written in memory of ...

But of whom? Brecht gasping for air in the street?
Truman dancing alone with his daughter?

Goodbye, little century.
Goodbye, riderless black horse that trots
From one side of  the street to the other,
Trying to find its way
Out of  the parade.

Forgive me for saluting you
With a hand still cold, sweating,
And resembling, as I hold it up & a heavy sleep
Fills it, the body of someone

Curled in sleep as the procession passes.

Excuse me, but at the end of our complete belief,
Which is what you required of us, don’t we deserve

A good belly laugh? Don’t we deserve

A shout in the street?

And this confetti on which our history is being written,
Smaller & smaller, less clear every moment,

And subject to endless revision?

Under the circumstances, & because
It can imagine no other life, doesn’t the hand,

Held up there for hours,

Deserve it?

No? No hunh? No.

Source: Poetry (February 2014).


This poem originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2014
 Larry  Levis


Poet Larry Levis, whose collection The Afterlife won the Lamont Poetry Prize, often employed an imagist or surrealist approach in his work. As Diane Wakoski wrote in Contemporary Poets, Levis's "work is best when the poems are short and are shaped by his imagist instincts or his gestures towards surrealism. He is a master of the brief moment of recognition where the personal is embedded in the generic . . . and the least . . .

Continue reading this biography

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SUBJECT Living, Time & Brevity

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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