Today's poem is by Jeffrey Levine


The bad men want nothing to do with me,
neither do the women, nor their sons and daughters.
I am an insurance policy, mortgage, rampart, last defense.
Perimeter prepared, I set out armed patrols,
but my children move through my defenses like soft brie.

You should hear what I hear—gunmetal groaning
blue-black along the trenches as a holy incandescence lifts.
You'd think it theater, a parody of fair play.
Your child will want something more concrete from me,
less this distant trail of dust.

Our emphemera who art in ephemera,
ephemera be thy name.
That's what I hear, prophet.
Is that how it sounds to you down there?
Maybe I should have devised a fresh excuse
before creating humans, pretended illness,
made some better account of my principles,
but in the end, one trains eons for this position,
admires all his life the sculpted figure of restraint,
dazzles invincibly with powers, speed and grace;
he cloaks himself with loyalty to his biographers.

Resistance ends with close readings of the too-real stars,
a shadow boxer dropped by the double-cross,
while his sorry shorts hang short-shrifted at his ankles.

I promised I wouldn't forsake love, and my people laughed,
one hand upon my Word, the other at their daggers' hilts,
shanks gleaming and cackling like crows.

Picturing me as a kindly man, old,
with a snow-white beard was contrived,
don't you think? Such ideas cause nothing
so much as a useless kind of yearning.

There have been the briefest of rewards,
and so I've let you and the others hear the gypsy's violins,
though even they haven't fared so well.
I permit you to splash into this river or that
like a Rhine maiden with a mission.

Submerged, I watch you rise, burnished
golden ringlets, bullion, fleece, and spouting Greek,
not raving but the ancient thing, your skin
a diagram of phosphors.

But now, when I look down into my streams
something drunken, wild and aching stares back at me.
Well, my prophet, you are there because the box is open,
so soon the evils loosed, buzzing around your campsites,
hunting something soft to bite with their long snouts.

Do you mind a brisk hard-bitten truth?
You can drink up at the Café Elysium, pose naked for Monet,
tease the satyrs, but I hear crying.
I hear it in Geez, in Urdu, in Farsi, in Japanese.
But no. Not you. Not yet.
You'll hear nothing this night but bullfrogs
as they groak their drunken basso,
that warted sad redundancy out across the river
and through the nodding hills,
ibid . . . ibid . . . ibid . . .

Copyright © 2006 Jeffrey Levine All rights reserved
from Diner
Reprinted by Verse Daily® with permission

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