Jim Levy grew up in Taos and Los Angeles, the son of a Freudian
psychoanalyst. He worked in executive positions for nonprofit organizations for
forty years while writing a variety of books. He was married for eight years to
the woman who became Pema Chodron, the Buddhist teacher and author. Jim has
published memoirs, essays, poetry, travel journals and a book about two
dogs. His most recent books are Those Were the Days, Life and Love in 1970s New
Mexico, written with his partner Phaedra Greenwood; Chekhovís Mistress, literary
essays; and Of All the Stars, the Evening Star, real and fictional
Roman women poets. He lives in the village of Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico.
The poet said Death is Great.
Did he mean great as ants coursing
over the earth, great as the sunrise,
great as the creak of a boat
as it drifts without sails?
There is a message in the pattern of a flight
of swallows and the creases in the hand,
women shifting grains in the quarries of the teacup,
tiny bones upon a cloth,
readings over viscera and dreams.
There is meaning in the pulse that fire
paints upon the wall and in the flows of fish
in water and spiders that defy the air.
We listen to the voice of voiceless things:
the metal leaves of silent Chinese chimes
outside the window, in the southern olive,
the speech of stainless hands,
the utterance of careful hair.
The table has a tongue,
the walls a patterned speech.
We read the signature of things, the signs
of aspens, seasons, faces
and the light that shines from stars.
And I said, oh place
Excerpt from a poem by Zuhayr bin Abī Sūlmā
Does the blackened ruin in the stony ground between Durraj and Mutathallam
belong to the tribe of Ummi Awfa? If so, why, when I address it,
doesnít it speak to me? Wasnít this their dwelling in the grassy meadows
where wild cows wandered, their young springing up at birth?
I stood again by their encampment Ė itís been twenty years Ė
and knew it slowly, recognized three stones blackened
by the fires where kettles used to hang. And I said, oh place,
good morning, have you been safe from danger?
And I saw women traveling on camels, covering the high ground
above the stream of Jurthum. They had sheltered their howdahs
with cloth of high value, with tassels of red like dripping blood.
for Edwin Muir
Come on, donít sting me.
Itís February and too soon for you.
The frozen mud has no odor,
the grasses and the apple trees
arenít fooled by the brightness of the day.
They know the sky will gulp
earthís warmth and the temperature
will dive tonight the way Muirís
late wasp dove down through marmalade
and darkness and despair.
This is dying winter; all is dead;
yet you, abroad, a solitary tramp in yellow rags,
are deluded by the glowing air.
The Queen survives
but worker males are meant to die.
I donít mean to pry but did you mate
or did you flee the deadly nest
to seek a better life? Are you marking me
for later? Are you late or early?
Where have you been, in what crevice,
in what service since the summer?
The fractured air will freeze
and turn to zero or below
but you will seek some secret place.
Itís the purest month
and you wonít sting me, gentle being.
Weíll meet again in spring
and cross our sweet brief lives again.
Listening to Bach
The suites for cello.
They taste like nothing earthly.
They taste like love.
A smoky village.
Small black olives cloak the ground.
We sweep the wooden planks
of pinewood worn down
by us for fifty years.
The celloís sound from deep
within our house of innocence
and purpose swells to something darker
than deathís rattle, something deeper
than the echoes of our joy.
The ocean paces to and fro,
its hidden currents colder than the surface
then fireworks, a dance,
a holiday of cakes and spirits,
meals on wooden tables,
men and women dancing
in potato fields.
A track through aspens,
golden leaves and flashing butterflies.
We sail beyond the dazzle of the ship lanes
to the leaping mammals Ė
quick, before the celloís music disappears
I can taste it . . .
The Proper Distance
About suffering, the Old Masters
may never have been wrong
but they didnít always agree.
Ovid for instance says the fisherman,
ploughman and shepherd looked up
and wondered what specks those were,
men or gods, flying through the sky,
while Bruegelís fisherman is fishing,
ploughman ploughing and shepherd herding.
It is Auden, modern master,
who says they see the falling boy
and turn away, having better things to do.
Ovidís is a full account,
of a fruitful island of bulls and acrobats,
a boy laughing while he thumbs the soft wax
and a father, fabulous inventor,
scolding the boy and kissing him
and saying donít fly too low
or the waves will soak the wings
and weigh you down
or too high, the sun will melt the wax.
Sailors sail on but look
who stopped to see:
Ovid borrowing from old myths,
Bruegel with palette and brush
overlooking field and sea,
and Auden, in a tweed jacket,
gazing at a painting in the Musťe des Beaux Arts.
And I am writing about them
and you are reading this.
Where do we stand?
What is the proper distance from the suffering
of the boy who staggered in the sky
and from the father who heard his boyís cry
smothered by the sea
and wept in anger/love
and circled helplessly
and finally flew on to Sicily
to his labyrinth of grief.
The Sea Route
Herennius suggests the sea route to Paccia
She is scared to make the passage by boat,
afraid of the sea and seasickness,
even in summer when the sea slides
serenely beneath the sky,
through the straits, five days over water to Sicily
and up to Ostia.
She thinks to take the land route,
north to Cartagena
and from there along the coast to Gaul
and over the Alps and down to Rome
to dance before senators
and high-born poets for gold.
But I tell her, donít take the coastal road,
there are bandits and renegade legionnaires on the loose.
I say: take the sea route, it is safer.
I hope she drowns.