In between class breaks from my creative writing intensive I decided to hit the library for some more inspiration. Being at the library is a bit of a guilty pleasure. I have dozens of great books at home that I haven’t read yet and really should before my “To Read” list hits a critical mass and there are some great local used bookstores that give me access to print journals and some rare out-of-print books. But the library’s special, it’s one thing to be published but to be published and in a library is some real wonder to me. And that’s why I love hanging out in the library, it reminds me that I need to work harder and keep pushing to get to the other side. (A point that was reinforced in a recent library pick-up, Seth Godin’s The Dip, you should check it out.)
Yesterday’s random poetry pick was Larry Levis’ Winter Stars. I first heard about Levis from Rich and then again when I started reading up on Fresno poets a year or so back. I’ve picked up and put back his book a couple of times already but yesterday I went the whole nine and took Mr Levis’ book out for a spin. So here it is, Father’s Day, and I’m reading some of the best father poems I’ve ever read. The man Levis describes full of life, violence, tenderness, soft-spoken, uncommunicative, who’s always been there, then left, then is back again, the shadow, the measuring stick, the contradiction. I know this man and have seen him take on a whole block of rowdy teenagers armed only with a dozen eggs. I’ve also seen him buckle and fold under the weight of whiskey and a picture of my mother. Yeah, the man in Levis’ poems sure does feel an awful lot like my own father.
Pops jokes that I owe him some mean commission for the number of times he appears in my work, the translation help he’s given me and for all the stories I’ve borrowed from him. I tell the ole man that there’s no money in poetry. Pops laughs at me. He’s still looking for some payback. I intend to give it to him in the form a library card and hope he can use it to checkout a book with a poem that he’s in. One day, I hope that’s my book but for now it’ll be Levis’ book.
- Winter Stars
by Larry Levis
My father once broke a man’s hand
Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father
With a sharpened fruit knife, & he held
The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first
Two fingers, so it could slash
Horizontally, and with surprising grace,
Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,
And, for a moment, the light held still
On those vines. When it was over,
My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,
Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.
He never mentioned it.
I never understood how anyone could risk his life,
Then listen to Vivaldi.
Sometimes I go out into this yard at night,
And stare through the wet branches of an oak
In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars
Again. A thin haze of them, shining
It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them,
In California, that light was closer.
In a California no one will ever see again,
My father is beginning to die. Something
Inside him is slowly taking back
Every word it ever gave him.
Now, if we try to talk, I watch my father
Search for a lost syllable as if it might
Solve everything, & though he can’t remember, now,
The word for it, he is ashamed…
If you can think of the mind as a place continually
Visited, a whole city placed behind
The eyes & shining, I can imagine, now it’s end—
As when the lights go off, one by one,
In a hotel at night, until at last
All of the travelers will be asleep, or until
Even the thin glow from the lobby is a kind
Of sleep; & while the woman behind the desk
Is applying more lacquer to her nails,
You can almost believe that the elevator,
As it ascends, must open upon starlight.
I stand out on the street, & do not go in.
That was our agreement, at my birth.
And for years I believed
That what went unsaid between us became empty,
And pure, like starlight, & that it persisted.
I got it all wrong.
I wound up believing in words the way a scientist
Believes in carbon, after death.
Tonight, I’m talking to you, father, although
It is quiet here in the Midwest, where a small wind,
The size of a wrist, wakes the cold again—
Which may be all that’s left of you & me.
When I left home at seventeen, I left for good.
That pale haze of stars goes on & on,
Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape
On a black sky. It means everything
It cannot say. Look, it’s empty out there, & cold.
Cold enough to reconcile
Even a father, even a son.
from Winter Stars