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Kevin Cantwell
POEMS
 

Epistle

I write to remind you that a mourning dove in flight makes the exact sound of a Chevy truck's water-pump pulley about to go, & to say that if that dove were a mimic thrush I would swear that Nature imitated complaint itself.

I write to remind you that the frost on the hood of that truck is shaped exactly like a white moth & that it too goes up into the sun.

We met at a party & you told me the bear-poem story you were telling that year: the story from Gary Snyder, who wanted to go bear hunting, said this after some lines on the bear as Native-American spirit wanderer: yet admits, Snyder,

rube of his own wit, that he wanted to shoot one—then to be told by a man on his logging crew that he couldn’t hit—& now I paraphrase—a millpond with a handful of gravel.

We laughed at the story, which I would hear twice more at the same table & at the same bar. You were thirty-five, fifteen years before you would rise from your desk in Richmond, Virginia, struck by how the world was, as never before, so strangely lit;

& quickly you stood, as if death were something you forgot to do--head gate left open & the field poured to stone . . .

One morning, in that valley of the San Joaquin, the ice crown of the Sierras floating in spring over the airborne, glittering dust of the fields, your father had begrudged you permission to bush-hog the grassy aisles between the sapling plums

& so you slouched–in the studied nonchalance of those men who would come up each year from Mexico. You began that day to learn how close you could come and still not get it right, close enough to knock one down, easy as a whipping stick would take the ruby crown from a pokeweed, so that the small tree dropped behind you, dead already, although it would flower before the others, as in the dream of the often-told.

You hoped your father would not notice & so you stubbed it back in, shorter, slightly out of line, planted again until the dried purple leaves fell in the night.

Years later, driving through Peach County, Georgia, you talked orchards, nights spent during freezes ungating the irrigation sloughs to move water through the trees & draw the cold away.

You spoke at length of the two insomniacs of the Civil War, Whitman & Lincoln, walking the summer nights of the capital city.

We agreed that minnows on the rise are goose bumps on the skin. We talked pens, how a nib can tell the left from the right hand & how the poems are in the pen & how you can dip your face to the legal pad & smell the next line.

I have heard that the pen is the tongue of the hand.

I saw a man in a Levis jacket on a dirt road. He had a grape knife in his back pocket. He had stopped to toss a dead bird into the grass. This was a dream.

The next morning the first leaves of autumn flecked the cut lawn like rust.

I have been asked if you had children. Yes. A boy. What was his name? Nicholas. Had I met him? Once. The boy had had surgery & his eyes were bandaged yet he looked up nonetheless. This was not a dream.

You were leading him by the hand, into a building dazzled by the glass plates of its amazement. You led him through the summer alcove of its shade—& the cold air poured past you.

Larry Levis
1946-1996



   
   
   

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