O where are you going, said feather to father,
That avenue veers through a shambling sky
There, where the wounded would find they are wanted. 
That mist on the mirror is a battlement, boy.

O have you a memory, asked sayer of seer
--Phantastical forests, lascivious lawns?
I tell you with candor, my speech caught a cancer
Discerning your dim sound. Good word, you’ve been warned.

O where was the hand, said singer to stranger, 
Strewing its shells on that pathless pasture
Where one would go missing, if one would go musing? 
Now follow, and find the moraine in your matter.

Do carry me off, pled writer of reader,
Having emptied that till, that the gamer guarded,
He, who had burrowed where keener hands borrowed. 
That rime on the ridge is a woe, rewarded.

Off to my landing--said father to feather.
Let me your slave--said seer to sayer.
Whose voice is this--said stranger to singer
As the rider veered off with his name, written air.




BIRD


That day I was reliving
The elements with my fellow residents
Of the aged tenement
On Rue Clement, somewhat submerged
In cement, still setting.
It was the former neighborhood
Forevermore.
Reliving was the living thing
Stirring a wheel or two on the ward
Where words once were.
The window guards had silenced me
With strains of battered light;
Such was daily tenancy
Annually for a decade.
But don’t you worry, mockingbird,
Soon I will have slept.

And such was truancy
For it was true the shadows had grown longer
Without my showing up in the keeper’s ledger.
And I had rather had
(I told my hind)
My punishment, weathered board
Across my barrenness,
Than not. “No one has died of it yet”
Though one (Miss Chaffinch)
Died trying.
And it was furthermore once said
I could fill a pair of pants
On my own, both openings,
Without devices.
--But now, winged breed,
I need a change,
Or don’t, sitting in my stuff
In a drying breeze.

Sirrah, that day I was relieving
Myself of elemental wardrobe,
Blouses, sensible shoes, horsehair underthings,
Zippers, trusses, hat bands,
Tourniquets.
I’d no idea I had held on so long
Until he (Mr. Bohbot) pulled me from
The pyre, girl that I loved. Only
Instinct lives on like a
Sad tree.

It’s not that I am not content
With this hostel or trench
With its grassy amenities
Though the eminent local fireflies
Flocking in my garments
Taste like incendiary jelly
(Dew).
And you and I are but
A single hyperkinetic heartbeat
Lighting a jar
Until the muscle gives out 
As it must, as it ought. 
But do not
Tremble, firebird;
We were only passing through.




DRESS UP


You must don your hat 
Else spillage occur 
From your heat source, 
Fanning a draft.
            Don your hat, Sir!

You must dab you eye. 
Your duct issue
Gives you away, if you 
Must know why
            You must wield a tissue.

Your muffler is knotted 
Improperly, Mister, 
Emitting a guttural whisper. 
Or is that honking not it?
            You want a proper duster.

I don’t take well to
Your jagged muffs.
Good man, these ragged cliffs 
Shall bid old dressings adieu.
            Take them off.

Your zipper is caught
You say? You might try 
The crowbar nigh.
True, it’s roughly wrought,
            As are we.

Button your collar,
Old boy, be a good noose, 
Don’t refuse.
You were born a bawler,
            What. Is that news?

Such shame to freeze a digit, 
Uncle, or two, when you 
Are already shy a few.
You must not drop your mitt 
            In this utter zero.

My woe, your sled
Has a loose slat.
Many have pierced a belly like that 
Or dented a head.
            Then what?

Buckle up, elder child. 
Secure your suspenders, 
Restrain your tender 
Parts, prepare for wild
            Surrender.

And if you must empty 
Your bladder or sac, 
Turn down the block 
Seek out the sea
            Quick, turn back.

Turn back, my lord, you must 
Once more.
It’s winter.
You’ve not yet crossed
            The World entire.

You’ll need your heavy socks. 
The toes are crucial.
This chill is unusual.
I’ve lost your tracks
            In the flowery fuel.

You must lace up your boot. 
You’ve a thing to find
In the wind.
You must be dressed for it.




FIVE


Just five minutes more.
Please. I’d disturb your air no more.

As it were, I used not to bear the use of “just” 
In myself, fearing it unjust

To plead; uneasy, too, with the overuse of “please” 
Which I abused as a child, if you please.

But I find myself running short of vowels 
And of expertise in the remission of vows.

So I ask for more, as a child asks for 
What he does not want for.

Indeed I had a child once, or two. 
And was one and will be one yet, unto

The hour my use is satisfied
Five minutes hence. “You must satisfy

Your own self,” my councillor ministered, so I did. 
Well, I’m not being completely candid.

I stood on a stranger’s lawn rubbing myself for warmth 
Because that is what I asked of warmth

And still do, as a light-deficient living entity. 
--It is curious such a phrase should end with my

Expelling it, like a child sleeping it off 
With his dear toy he knows nothing of.

That child again! enough. I am not at rest. 
I fear the next five minutes, then the rest

Uncounted; as one fears oneself, without seeing oneself; 
As per the satisfaction of the short-lived self.




FOOD


 I don’t owe anyone.
I spent my better days working 
the kind of work my kind does,
 I’m told I did.
I moved rocks from one side
 of a pen to the next.
   I cleared burnt wood away.
I gouged ground.
 I worked for food, I’m told I did,
  I never did enough to have. 
   That was fear.
 I packed my clothes with it 
            with food.
 I slept with it, what sleep it was, 
for I had to keep it from others
 asleep. I hoarded
  I’m told I did. None of it
 was too bitter or gone
for me to feed on and no casing 
too sere for me to work
 cold anxious fingers
 and teeth and sordid tools
  for the yield of a few seeds.
 What I ate sometimes sickened me.
That was risk. I had rather 
   been sick from food
    than starving.
  I haven’t starved in ages.
    I’ve had no bleeding cramps. My teeth 
  Are gone replaced with other fine ones.
 I’ve got no cancer.
 I can move. Why am I here?
You tell me.




HOMER


I’m a little muddy today. I slipped in the mud.
My feet came out from me. I know I should 
Throw off these antique cleats, but it’s good
To grind unwieldy things down beneath one’s tread 
To a fine film. As it stands, I wonder what you’d 
Call the goop dribbling from my mouth and head 
Alongside these self-described “thoughts”--blood? 
No, that comes from the ass, where flowers bud
In the fertile loamy waste-dream in the sod.
Men hie there when they’re done looking for bed,
Ever to compete for droppings with stone-colored
Birds who walk among them, pitiless--one made
Off, just now, with my pacifying hook-shaped rod.
How then am I to summit the limey ledge?
Let’s change the subject. I saw a fine film, Hud,
The other sleepless night, and though in truth I would 
Choose not to recall it, not a jot, I recall it had
A father--an old rancher dude called Homer--his maid
Alma, and a bad kid, Hud, name symbolizing naught,
Who might have been the illegitimate
Bastard child of the brother (Norman) he took out.
Said Hud: “My Mama loved me then she died.”
Such things are true. And there were fist fights, theft,
Fast driving, threats, laziness, a fondness for sluts.
Nature itself was branded by the handsome seamy cult
For it seemed some low rent Mexican cows had spread 
Foot-and-mouth disease, and soon the herd
Was dropping off, and those still upright quarantined. 
Someone burned. Someone tripped on glass. Or was fucked 
In the shed by a relative (Norman), or shot up, or was fed
To the dogs like table scraps, or otherwise fled,
Had a concussion, a clot, got blind, got demented.
That was the plot. That was what happened.
It was based, as are all things, on the Iliad.
Ending with the repatriation to fairer fields
Of our dying cattle, which had been hastily interred,
On unholy ground, with a stolen spade,
Having lingered a long night in no-man’s land,
If cattle we were, my friend, if this were mud.




PARASITE


I sent my rat out to find me that word or two to get him through the noon 
For I was through with potato peelings and kneeling to my maker
On original knees. My rat (my what?) has needs I must defame
Homo erectus, “pointy spine,” down on all fours, boosted by my tail.

Then I was down to four rats, knockoffs, one floater per retinal corner
He has multiplied his concession, holy one, and lives for toil
In the moldy grain for profit. “Man” is a disgrace for lolling
As I do, spilling this on myself (pauper’s soup), a blister, a condemnation.

This I bereave. The wicked candle in me auto-extinguishes
In the set sun on the nub of the freeway swiping out, pronoun, 
Glimpsing a farmer in my coveralls stamping the vermin down 
Like an infant mountaineer sledding up Calvary.

It’s a vista. The heart regards the maker’s lands and would return, my rat, 
With all my heart, to you my designated hole.




WILES


What’s first? First is not having 
Enough in one’s gullet, so
Go peck around in the ice chip pail. 
What’s “enough”? It’s a made up cry. 
It sounds real enough, a fluffy wrapping 
To keep the pits from freezing
On the mount with soldiers watching.
I recall that shroud, the one he pissed.
We hung it from the widow like a flag
And beat the scent out of it a thousand years
Til the body had decamped, good dander.
What’s “descent”? What’s a word for “good”?
First we lunched on the rock, then lay behind it,
Then beneath, then we were the rock,
Promontory to make speeches from while standing on 
While fronting the sea. What’s an ocean?
“Wiles” were wits in a desperate camp, strained to a pulp, 
Then corruption set in. What’s an ocean?
He was the name of a boy I knew
Who moaned, sinking, as the old boat watched.
The sun does not reach him in his deeps (moan).
No respiratory straw is long enough for him (grunt). 
He sliced his sac on (snort) coral. Indeed he is become 
A fine fossil (sigh), fine-boned boy was he.

What’s second? Removal from the ministry at once. 
What’s third? We fear its name, saver.
What’s forth? We shall be staying put
Til the refurbishing of the temple
For we need a thinking wall, for we’ve 
Been clocked by a rain of leaden shot.

Ask not. First you pluck your ides. 
Then you wake among the walkers 
Who go in and out without feeling. 
That way you can get your errands done 
Without wasting air.
MARK LEVINE
AFTER
BIRD
DRESS UP
FIVE
FOOD
HOMER
PARASITE
WILES
I
A
A
A
F
S
S
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