poem index

December 21, 2008 Santa Fe, New Mexico From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Dana Levin is the author of Sky Burial (Copper Canyon Press, 2011). She teaches at Santa Fe University of Art and Design and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

In the Surgical Theatre

Dana Levin
In the moment between
the old heart and the new
two angels gather at the empty chest.

The doctors flow over them as winds, as blurs, unnoticed but as currents
around this body, the flesh of the chest peeled back
as petals, revealing

a hole.
In it

the layers are fluttering—the back muscle, the bone, the chrome
         of the table,
the tiled floor with its spatters of blood—

—fluttering as veils over the solid,
                  fluttering—

The angels, gathering. Small, and untroubled, perched quietly
         on the rib-cage, its cupped hands trying
to keep in.
	Around them the hands of the doctors,
hurrying—white flaps, 
         white wings—
the clicks and whirrs of the lung machine…

Do you want it to be stars, do you want it to be a hole to heaven,
         clean and round—

Do you want their hands, dipping and dipping, flesh sticking like jelly
         to the tips of their gloves—

Hovering at the edge of this
         spot-lit stage,
loathe to enter, loathe to leave, is it terror,
         fascination,
the angels too occupied to turn their gaze to you?
         Go down,

go in.
         The angels perch on either side of the hole like handles
round a grail.
         The bleeding tissues part, underneath the solid shimmers
black, like a pool.
         The lights above the table enter and extinguish,
the light of your face

         enters,
is extinguished,
         is this why you’ve come? The frigid cauldron
that is life without a heart?
         I know,
I'm tired of the battle too, the visible and invisible clashing together, 
         the hands with the scalpels

flashing and glinting like flags and standards,
         fighting,
fighting to the death—
         When they cut you down the middle you fled.
The angels descended.
         You came up here with me,
with the voiceless 

         thousands at the edge of the curtain, hearts beating
with ambivalence.
         Do you know if you want it? Is that jumble of spit and bone
so worth it
         that you would go down again and be
a body
         raging with loss, each beat of the heart

like the strike of a hammer, 
         spiking the nails in, to feel, to feel—
I learned this from you, Father, all my life
         I've felt your resign to the hurt
of living,
         so I came up here, to the scaffolding above
the surgical theatre

         to watch you decide.
Can you go on with this mortal vision? To the sword rearing up now
         in orange fire, the angels turning
to face you poised at the hole's
         brink, their eyes in flames, in sprays of blood
their wings beating
         against the steel wedge prying open the rib cage, is it 

         for you? Are they protecting
you?

         But you bend down, you look in, you dip in
a finger, Father,
         you bring it to your mouth and you taste it,
and I can feel the cold that is black on my tongue, it is bitter,
         it is numbing, 
snuffing the heart out, the heat,
         the light,
and when will they lift the new heart like a lamp—

         and will you wait—

the doctors pausing with their knives uplifted, the rush of wings
         stirring a wind—

From In the Surgical Theatre by Dana Levin, published by the American Poetry Review. Copyright © 1999 by Dana Levin. Reprinted with permission of the American Poetry Review.

Dana Levin

Dana Levin

Dana Levin is the author of Sky Burial (Copper Canyon Press, 2011). She teaches at Santa Fe University of Art and Design and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 

by this poet

poem
Six monarch butterfly cocoons
      clinging to the back of your throat—

      you could feel their gold wings trembling.

You were alarmed. You felt infested.
In the downstairs bathroom of the family home,
      gagging to spit them out—
            and a voice saying Don’t, don’t—
poem
Through shattered glass and sheeted furniture, chicken
wire and piled dishes, sheared-off doors stacked five to a
wall, you're walking like cripples. Toward a dirty window,
obstructed by stacks of chairs.

And once you move them, one by one, palm circles through
the grime and cup your hands round your faces,
poem
I say most sincerely and desperately, HAPPY NEW YEAR! 

Having rowed a little farther away from the cliff

Which is my kind of religion

Adrift in the darkness but readying oars

How can there be too many stars and hands, I ask you

                               —

I would be disingenuous if I said "being