Sorry to be so long in writing a response to this poem. (End of term flurry has kept me away.) There are so many things I could say about how this poem works, but will stick with one thing I notice, for now. The trees. I love how Levis uses not only the image of trees as wisdom or knowledge, maybe also as harbingers of death, but how he threads the trees through the whole poem. First they are seen:
At night, these huge trees, rooted in such quiet,
Arch over the tombstones as if in exultation,
As if they inhaled starlight.
Their limbs reach
Toward each other & their roots must touch the dead.
Then, after a spell, they become tranformed into a reminder of his shame:
I remember looking off
In embarrassment at the woods behind his house.
The woods were gray, vagrant, the color of smoke
And then they are menntioned again in his dream of romance, the narrator as savior:
And if, later, we had let them
Graze at their leisure on the small tufts of spring grass
In those woods...
Then they are dead:
and the trunks
Of fallen trees...
Then, when his wife enters the dream they become:
The trees shine without meaning more than they are, in moonlight...
Then,when the romantic dream dies and is replaced by reality, they become lumber:
Maybe nothing would have happened, but I heard that
Her father died, a year later, in a Sierra lumber camp.
Then, the lumber reappears as a chair that when his heart stops, kicks:
him back so hard its wood snapped.
(By the way, I dropped a line about the chair in my quick typing of this poem and will insert it in the original post of the poem.)
We then circle back to this image:
If I stand here long enough in the stillness I can feel
His silence (the father's silence/death)involve, somehow, the silence of these trees,
Until we are left with the final image of the father/gambler under a single, named tree:
a Ponderosa pine...
If you wanted to get really compulsive about how the image of trees transforms, not only does wood become lumber become chair, but also a deck of cards-- paper made from lumber's leavings.
I'm still trying to figure out the use of the tree as a transforming image in this poem, but I think it's pretty clear that it has something to do with that last line, which implies that death will take all of us and eventually cover over even memory and love. What's wonderful about this image is that it isn't obvious until you really read the poem a number of times, and yet the subtle use of the image helps to underscore his pervasive sense of loss and love's mortality. Do others have ideas about this?