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TO A WREN ON CALVARY / Larry Levis "Prince Jesus, crush those bastards ..." —François Villon, Grand Testament It is the unremarkable that will last, As in Brueghel's camouflage, where the wren's withheld, While elsewhere on a hill, small hawks (or are they other birds?) Are busily unraveling eyelashes & pupils From sunburned thieves outstretched on scaffolds, Their last vision obscured by wings, then broken, entered. I cannot tell whether their blood spurts, or just spills, Their faces are wings, & their bodies are uncovered. The twittering they hear is the final trespass. And all later luxuries—the half-dressed neighbor couple Shouting insults at each other just beyond Her bra on a cluttered windowsill, then ceasing it when A door was slammed to emphasize, like trouble, The quiet flowing into things then, spreading its wake From the child's toy left out on a lawn To the broken treatise of jet-trails drifting above—seem Keel scrapes on the shores of some enlarging mistake, A wrong so wide no one can speak of it now in the town That once had seemed, like its supporting factories That manufactured poems & weaponry, Like such a good idea. And wasn't it everyone's? Wasn't the sad pleasure of assembly lines a replica Of the wren's perfect, camouflaged self-sufficiency, And of its refusal even to be pretty, Surviving in a plumage dull enough to blend in with A hemline of smoke, sky, & a serene indifference? The Missouri Review · 272 The dead wren I found on a gravel drive One morning, all beige above and off-white Underneath, the body lighter, no more than a vacant tent Of oily feathers stretched, blent, & lacquered shut Against the world—was a world I couldn't touch. And in its skull a snow of lice had set up such An altar, the congregation spreading from the tongue To round, bare sills that had been its eyes, I let It drop, my hand changed for a moment By a thing so common it was never once distracted from The nothing all wrens meant, the one feather on the road. No feeding in the wake of cavalry or kings changed it. Even in the end it swerved away, & made the abrupt Riddle all things come to seem . . . irrelevant: The tucked claws clutched emptiness like a stick. And if Death whispered as always in the language of curling Leaves, or a later one that makes us stranger, "Don't you come near me motherfucker"; If the tang of metal in slang made the New World fertile, Still ... as they resumed their quarrel in the quiet air, I could hear the species cheep in what they said . . . Until their voices rose. Until the sound of a slap erased A world, & the woman, in a music stripped of all prayer, Began sobbing, & the man become bystander cried O Jesus. In the sky, the first stars were already faint And timeless, but what could they matter to that boy, blent To no choir, who saw at last the clean wings of indifferent Hunger, & despair? Around him the other petty thieves With arms outstretched, & eyes pecked out by birds, reclined, 272 · The Missouri Review Larry Levis Fastened forever to scaffolds which gradually would cover An Empire's hills & line its roads as far As anyone escaping in a cart could see, his swerving mind On the dark brimming up in everything, the reins Going slack in his hand as the cart slows, & stops, And the horse sees its own breath go out Onto the cold air, & gazes after the off-white plume, And seems amazed by it, by its breath, by everything. But the man slumped behind it, dangling a lost nail Between his lips, only stares at the swishing tail, At each white breath going out, thinning, & then vanishing, For he has grown tired of amazing things. Larry Levis The Missouri Review · 273 LABYRINTH AS THE ERASURE OF CRIES HEARD ONCE WITHIN IT OR: (MR. BONES I SUCCEEDED. . .'LATER) /Larry Levis —for John Berryman —Is dog eat dog out dere'—Big Business, Mr. Bones. You know what I'm doing now? I'm watching the Complete Poems of Hart Crane as they are slowly fed Into a pulping machine in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 171-182
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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