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Unread 06-20-2001, 11:14 AM
dorianne laux dorianne laux is offline
Distinguished Guest
Join Date: May 2001
Location: raleigh, nc. usa
Posts: 45

Dear Jim-- Thanks for your response, and thanks for the poem about Levis. I've tried to write a poem for him and have failed and failed. My husband, Joseph Millar, is working on one as well-- we're both great Levis fans. His also takes up the gambling theme, and combines one of his favorite movies with one of his favorite poets.

For Larry Levis

"It's all in the wrist," she said, and I said
"I can't lose," which is what Paul Newman said
to Jackie Gleason and George C Scott
before the bums at Arthur's Roadhouse broke
both his thumbs in Robert Rossen’s "The Hustler".

I was trying to close the screen door in the gloom
of a power outage, warning the kids about the downed wires
spraying sparks behind the garage, and my girlfriend was reading
by candlelight curled up on our second-hand couch. It was May
and the broken stars of Christmas lights my neighbor Cruz
refuses to unwind from the cracked eaves of his porch
lay scattered underfoot. Cottonwood limbs fallen everywhere,
schools closed, roads flooded out. We could hear the children
whooping through the dusk before bedtime, the outlaw's
hubris flaring their nerves, as they ran through the fringe
of black grass by the dumpster.

Larry Levis had died, three thousand miles to the east,
alone in a house with no furniture, so someone said. Astonished,
we had watched for years as the gray vineyards vanished,
ploughed under each spring in the desolate spells of his poems,
the Malaga vines stacked, burned, and the horses with Spanish names
standing still in the valley’s thin shade. We had watched
the abandoned towns transform into hushed vagrant theaters
where men played cards in a yellow café, their women listening
to autumn’s soft dusk falling slowly inside them.

I never met him, but I think he would have liked this film,
circa 1963, black and white, the Ames
pool hall window’s dusty lens, tall cues standing
along both walls, the checkered tiles of the train station,
or the cafeteria's smudged light blotching the table
where Newman and Piper Laurie meet.
Most of us are afraid to disappear into the void pressing down
on the world, the skein of pale web fluttering over the door
where the house flies are trapped. Levis studied
these diminishing struggles, his rapt gaze undimmed
by grief or cruelty, compelled like Blake by the husk
of the infinite oozing its plasma just under the surface.

When the camera finally pans in tight on the gangster faces
lining the bar, it’s easy to think he might have sat down, admiring
the way the games simply continued after the violence was done,
the racked wedge of balls lined up on its spot,
tense figures hunched over the felt. Or the picnic scene
where Newman with casts on both wrists
explains how a man can be an artist at anything,
sunlight redemptive on his young face and arms,
offering the white plaster up to the air.

It's a movie you might someday watch from frayed velour seats
in a town like Duluth, where one taxi sleeps at the curb. Across
the square squats a dim casino you might stop in later,
the mauve fleur-de-lis on its men’s room walls
varnished with ancient cigar smoke and laughter.
The croupier's cuff links glint like blue ice.
And over the bar in the Gold Room, a young horse
painted the colors of daybreak grazes a field of dark flowers.

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