Poetry: Michael Levine


The horn kept her up, she said,
        “Hooting,” like it was whoring,
                 But I was fingering magic. The notes

I leave out say more than what I play
        And, when I play them fast enough,
                 The logic emerges, up and down,

The side-to-side brush of the archaeo-
        Logist dusting the Rosetta Stone before
                 He realizes what he’s touching, in E flat,

In 4/5-hard bop, à la Max Roach, Kansas
        City Style, and I bring the scales up
                 And up until, to anyone else, they’re

Just trills wonking at the top register.
        The mathematician sees equations, the musician
                 Keys and modes, transposing proof

Into “x” note, the note inside
         The note, in and out
                 Of Greek columns, each a structure

That houses divinity as it builds and divides.
        What is left out stands as a more permanent
                 Structure. The notes I drop

Give God a space to fill and grow into
        Until the music inhabits all the light
                 In the world and all the light in the world

Cries out His name and He plays
                 The world like I play this horn.

Ignorance and Experience

Memory spins out, warps, wefts, looms. Threads fray,
Tear and re-twine. I am born again and living
Again in a night as I left it ten, fifteen years past.
Time’s slurry chorus sings me awake

To a knocking outside. It’s January.
It’s three o’clock in the morning and drunk
O’Reilly’s hammering the door like it’s a roof.
I raise the window to tell him to fuck off.

But it’s not O’Reilly. It’s my friend’s girlfriend.
She’s pounding on the door. She’s scared.
I call her name. I walk down the stairs
To let her in. The way she touches my hand

Is every other time she’s touched my hand,
Only my friend’s not there, not watching us now.
Her arms tighten around my neck. She tells me
Just how wasted she is, that she has the hiccups

And wants me to surprise them out of her.
The spool rolls. I’m afraid of my friend.
I’m afraid of getting hit in the face
(And he’d do it, too), of fighting, if I could

Call it that. I’ve wanted her since I met her.
When she held my hand and how she showed me the crystal,
It could have been a song, a movie, a line
In a poem, but it’s made tangible,

Made rock in her hand, her other hand instructing
My hand how to feel it. She hiccups again
And tells me to make them stop. I tell her to close
Her eyes and she closes them, her mouth open,

Sighing, and as I step backward, my hands
Apart and then clap-shot together, almost
A face slap, almost a gun kick. “I’m surprised,
All right,” she slowly says, and I know now again

The moment’s past. No matter how I pull on it,
It’s knotted in place and I’ll never get it back.

Pianissimo Fugue

A great calm settled
        The blizzard, once
                An absence of calm.

No color. In the windows
        And streetlights, darkness
                Held. Snow

Fell like relief.
        When it wouldn’t stop
                Falling, I pulled on

My boots and coat,
        Stepped through the door
                Into the calm. Snow fell.

Cold fell. The wind,
        Once risen over trees,
                Wires, and buildings,

Had fallen, too. And left
        Behind, in its silence, only
                Snow’s pianissimo fugue

Falling upon snow. I wanted
        Something beautiful, descending
                Like a kiss to pull me

Into it, out of silence
        And calm falling,
                Falling like snow. I know

I will die. I know I can
        Walk into the populated
                World and glide through

Unscathed. The snow falls
        Around me, the past,
                And I could live in it, but

You could lift me from it.
        I have scars on my legs
                Where I have fallen. Scars

On my fingers and chin.
        You could lift me. I could
                Remake myself in the image

Of snow. And leave
        In the snow what is
                Left of my skin.

MICHAEL LEVINE teaches English at Gann Academy in Waltham, MA. He has received master’s degrees in Creative Writing from Washington University and Boston University and has poems appearing and forthcoming in Natural Bridge, North American Review, and Poet Lore.

(c) copyright 2005, Michael Levine; author retains all rights.