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You’re gonna strike the match—

You’re gonna strike it—

Flame the bank up into pods
          of fire, be

          a masterhand—   


And someone said, Gasoline.

Someone said, We have to change the images
          inside their heads, said


And motor oil, he bought at a mini-mart.


And the cat said Don’t   
         even though it was dead
and the squirrel said Don’t
and the little dog missing an eye and a leg
         even though they were dead, said

Don’t Don’t

but you did it anyway.

And someone said, That boy is sick—
And someone said, It was kind of pretty

         when you didn’t know what it was from the road.


Hours now, by the trashed banks, counting
         the colored

Brown for beer. Green
         for the fizzy water, clear
for anything and
         tail lights smashed, cars mucked like
big cats
         trapped in tar, who
ate the flesh right off their legs, if they were
they could hurry home, they could float

         killed cat dead at the end of your stick, who could   
do that,
         shot in the head—
         Like in the shows where the cop
cleans up his town,
         then the ambulance comes for the drowned.


You felt bad, so you did it.

You thought it was pretty, so you
         did it again.

You felt charged and buoyant
         as you picked your way home

         to the blue-lit fatherless den—

So you did it again.

The BB’ed mutt, leg smashed, home-bum toasting you
          with his beer as you
dragged it
          to the sludgy bank, the match, the gas, the
pile of tires someone had dumped, were you
          dumped? you had asked
after another one left, and she had
          slapped you,
and slapped—

You were an ambulance, you could see she had drowned—

Like in the shows where the warrior
         collects his dead and
brings them to the shore,
         to burn them
in their body-boats, release
         the spiritual



And the parents said,   
         Didn’t he have a house key around his neck,
didn’t he have a pager, an electrical tether
         to a list of chores and a stocked refrigerator—

And the teachers said Yes, but what
          were the images inside his head, they   
see it and they make it   

And you put it in a tire, your
          viking boat,   
you set it on fire and it kept afloat
          as it sailed down the river—
to the heaven of not being

Source: Poetry (June 2006)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 2006 issue of Poetry magazine

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  • Poet Dana Levin grew up in California’s Mojave Desert and earned a BA from Pitzer College and an MA from New York University.
    Levin’s collections of poetry include In the Surgical Theatre (1999), Wedding Day (2005), Sky Burial (2011), and Banana Palace (2016). Selecting Levin’s manuscript for the American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize, Louise Glück praised the work as “sensuous, compassionate, violent, extravagant.” In the Surgical Theatre also won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares, the Witter Bynner Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the PEN/Osterweil Award. The New Yorker commented that “Sky Burial brings a wealth of ritual and lore from various strains of Buddhism, as well as Mesoamerican and other spiritual traditions…the intensity and seriousness and openness of her investigations make [Dana] Levin’s use of this material utterly her own, and utterly riveting.”
    Levin’s free-verse, image-driven poems grapple with the legacies of...

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