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.



Dana Levin
Buddhist temple, Tokyo

         One cry from a lone bird over a misted river
is the expression of grief,
         in Japanese. Let women
do what they need.
         And afterwards knit a red cap, pray—

In long rows, stone children in bibs and hats, the smell of pine and cooled

It was a temple
         for the babied dead. I found it via the Internet.

Where they offered pinwheels
         and bags of sweets
for the aborted ones, or ones who'd lived
         but not enough…

Moss-smell, I can project there.

         pinking the water.

When her lord asked her again how it died, she said
         As an echo off the cliffs of Kegon.ukiyo: in Japanese it sounds like "Sorrowful World"

winds trying to hold each other
         in silken robes

what in English sounds like "Floating World"

a joke on the six realms in which we tarry

what they called the "Sorrowful World": 
         wheel made of winds
trying to cling to each other


         A child didn’t jell until the age of seven,
in his body.
         Was mizuko, water-child, what in English sounds like
"don't understand"...
         He was a form of liquid life, he committed

         slowly to the flesh—

and if he died or gestation stopped, he was offered 
         a juice box and incense sticks, apology and Hello Kitty...		

In Japanese, souls spin red-n-pink
         rebirth wheels: whole groves whrrrr-tik-tik behind the temple 

         at Zozo-ji...


Sad World. Pleasure World. In some minds
         they sounded the same—

It was a grief aesthetic.

         another lit visitor considering a tour,
before finding that it
         needs to start over—

Over the misted river.

Where a banner hangs, saying,
         You Are The 10,056th Person To Visit This Site

and you are the You
         who keeps disembarking.

Copyright © 2008 by Dana Levin. First appeared in Kenyon Review. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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

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
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,
You don't have to break it. Just give it a little 

tap tap. See,

there's the crack. And if you pry it a little
         with the flat end of that spoon,

you'll be able to slip yourself through.


To the woods where you're walking. Crushed ice above you