Anastasia & Sandman

Larry Levis

 
The brow of a horse in that moment when
The horse is drinking water so deeply from a trough
It seems to inhale the water, is holy.
I refuse to explain.
When the horse had gone the water in the trough,
All through the empty summer,
Went on reflecting clouds & stars.
The horse cropping grass in a field,
And the fly buzzing around its eyes, are more real
Than the mist in one corner of the field.
Or the angel hidden in the mist, for that matter.
Members of the Committee on the Ineffable,
Let me illustrate this with a story, & ask you all
To rest your heads on the table, cushioned,
If you wish, in your hands, &, if you want,
Comforted by a small carton of milk
To drink from, as you once did, long ago,
When there was only a curriculum of beach grass,
When the University of Flies was only a distant humming.
In Romania, after the war, Stalin confiscated
The horses that had been used to work the fields.
"You won't need horses now," Stalin said, cupping
His hand to his ear, "Can't you hear the tractors
Coming in the distance? I hear them already."
The crowd in the Callea Victoria listened closely
But no one heard anything. In the distance
There was only the faint glow of a few clouds.
And the horses were led into boxcars & emerged
As the dimly remembered meals of flesh
That fed the starving Poles
During that famine, & part of the next one--
In which even words grew thin & transparent,
Like the pale wings of ants that flew
Out of the oldest houses, & slowly
What had been real in words began to be replaced
By what was not real, by the not exactly real.
"Well, not exactly, but. . ." became the preferred
Administrative phrasing so that the man
Standing with his hat in his hands would not guess
That the phrasing of a few words had already swept
The earth from beneath his feet. "That horse I had,
He was more real than any angel,
The housefly, when I had a house, was real too,"
Is what the man thought.
Yet it wasn't more than a few months
Before the man began to wonder, talking
To himself out loud before the others,
"Was the horse real? Was the house real?"
An angel flew in and out of the high window
In the factory where the man worked, his hands
Numb with cold. He hated the window & the light
Entering the window & he hated the angel.
Because the angel could not be carved into meat
Or dumped into the ossuary & become part
Of the landfill at the edge of town,
It therefore could not acquire a soul,
And resembled in significance nothing more
Than a light summer dress when the body has gone.
The man survived because, after a while,
He shut up about it.
Stalin had a deep understanding of the kulaks,
Their sense of marginalization & belief in the land;
That is why he killed them all.
Members of the Committee on Solitude, consider
Our own impoverishment & the progress of that famine,
In which, now, it is becoming impossible
To feel anything when we contemplate the burial,
Alive, in a two-hour period, of hundreds of people.
Who were not clichés, who did not know they would be
The illegible blank of the past that lives in each
Of us, even in some guy watering his lawn
On a summer night. Consider
The death of Stalin & the slow, uninterrupted
Evolution of the horse, a species no one,
Not even Stalin, could extinguish, almost as if
What could not be altered was something
Noble in the look of its face, something
Incapable of treachery.
Then imagine, in your planning proposals,
The exact moment in the future when an angel
Might alight & crawl like a fly into the ear of a horse,
And then, eventually, into the brain of a horse,
And imagine further that the angel in the brain
Of this horse is, for the horse cropping grass
In the field, largely irrelevant, a mist in the corner
Of the field, something that disappears,
The horse thinks, when weight is passed through it,
Something that will not even carry the weight
Of its own father
On its back, the horse decides, & so demonstrates
This by swishing at a fly with its tail, by continuing
To graze as the dusk comes on & almost until it is night.
Old contrivers, daydreamers, walking chemistry sets,
Exhausted chimneysweeps of the spaces
Between words, where the Holy Ghost tastes just
Like the dust it is made of,
Let's tear up our lecture notes & throw them out
The window.
Let's do it right now before wisdom descends upon us
Like a spiderweb over a burned-out theater marquee,
Because what's the use?
I keep going to meetings where no one's there,
And contributing to the discussion;
And besides, behind the angel hissing in its mist
Is a gate that leads only into another field,
Another outcropping of stones & withered grass, where
A horse named Sandman & a horse named Anastasia
Used to stand at the fence & watch the traffic pass.
Where there were outdoor concerts once, in summer,
Under the missing & innumerable stars.
 
From Elegy by Larry Levis. Copyright © 1997 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

Poems by This Author

In a Country by Larry Levis
My love and I are inventing a country, which we can
Readings in French by Larry Levis
Looking into the eyes of Gerard de Nerval
The Clearing of the Land: An Epitaph by Larry Levis
The trees went up the hill
The Map by Larry Levis
The Widening Spell of the Leaves by Larry Levis
Once, in a foreign country, I was suddenly ill.
Those Graves in Rome by Larry Levis
There are places where the eye can starve,


Further Reading

Poems for Summer
Tempest, Act V, Scene I [Where the bee sucks, there suck I]
by William Shakespeare
A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky
by Lewis Carroll
A Boy and His Dad
by Edgar Guest
A Green Crab's Shell
by Mark Doty
A Lesson for This Sunday
by Derek Walcott
A Path Between Houses
by Greg Rappleye
After Reading Tu Fu, I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard
by Charles Wright
Aftermath
by Tony Connor
Alice at Seventeen: Like a Blind Child
by Darcy Cummings
And You Thought You Were the Only One
by Mark Bibbins
Arms
by Richard Tayson
August
by Algernon Charles Swinburne
Back Yard
by Carl Sandburg
Bed in Summer
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Daffy Duck In Hollywood
by John Ashbery
Fall Parties
by Becca Klaver
Fat Southern Men in Summer Suits
by Liam Rector
Fishing on the Susquehanna in July
by Billy Collins
For Once, Then, Something
by Robert Frost
Ground Swell
by Mark Jarman
I know I am but summer to your heart (Sonnet XXVII)
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I see the boys of summer
by Dylan Thomas
I, Up they soar
by Inger Christensen
Idyll
by Siegfried Sassoon
If You Get There Before I Do
by Dick Allen
In Summer
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
In Summer Time
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
In the Mountains on a Summer Day
by Li Po
Jack
by Maxine Kumin
Jet
by Tony Hoagland
June Light
by Richard Wilbur
Let Birds
by Linda Gregg
Long Island Sound
by Emma Lazarus
Making the Bed
by Burt Kimmelman
Midsummer
by William Cullen Bryant
Mint
by Elaine Terranova
Miracles
by Walt Whitman
Muffin of Sunsets
by Elaine Equi
My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer
by Mark Strand
On 52nd Street
by Philip Levine
On Summer
by George Moses Horton
On the Grasshopper and the Cricket
by John Keats
Poem at Thirty
by Michael Ryan
Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets
by David Young
Psychoanalysis: An Elegy
by Jack Spicer
Rhode Island
by William Meredith
Sally's Hair
by John Koethe
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? (Sonnet 18)
by William Shakespeare
Solstice
by Ellen Dudley
Sonnet 7 [The soote season, that bud and bloom forth brings]
by Petrarch
South
by Jack Gilbert
Summer
by Amy Lowell
Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina
by Jack Gilbert
Summer Holiday
by Robinson Jeffers
Summer Images
by John Clare
Summer in the South
by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Summer Night, Riverside
by Sara Teasdale
Summer Nights and Days
by Rachel Hadas
Summer Past
by John Gray
Summer Song
by William Carlos Williams
Summer Stars
by Carl Sandburg
Summer X-Rays
by Nina Cassian
Swimming in the Presence of Lurid Opposition
by Sawako Nakayasu
The Abduction
by Stanley Kunitz
The Family Photograph
by Vona Groarke
The Fishermen at Guasti Park
by Maurya Simon
The Fly
by William Blake
The Idea of Order at Key West
by Wallace Stevens
The Last Slow Days of Summer
by Phillip Lopate
The Magpie's Shadow
by Yvor Winters
The Philosopher in Florida
by C. Dale Young
The Summer House
by Tony Connor
The White Room
by Charles Simic
They'll spend the summer
by Joshua Beckman
This Lime Tree Bower My Prison
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Three Songs at the End of Summer
by Jane Kenyon
Vacation
by Rita Dove
Vertumnal [excerpt]
by Stephen Yenser
Vespers
by Louise Glück
Warm Summer Sun
by Mark Twain
Wildflower
by Stanley Plumly