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About this Poem 

“I wrote ‘Axis Mundi’ when I was going for a run while in residence at the Vermont Studio Center and it started to rain. Rain saturated me, but also it was my experience of being isolated and alone in a new place. I wrote the whole poem in my head—which accounts for its short stanzas and its division into strophe and antistrophe. I write most of my poems in my head, running, like this one, or walking around or even while I’m driving which I think results in a more simple form and, of course, in more repetition, because I have to memorize the poem word by word as I go along.”
Harriet Levin

Axis Mundi

Where in the church of the mind,
the mind’s sawn down trees,

where hardwood’s stacked up,
quartered and milled where under the nave

the painting is placed,
in the left-hand side aisle,

the viewpoint from which one approaches the altar
do the putti recover us and give us wings?

The figures are over life size,
their heart beats thump through the church

in the direction of the brushstroke,
drift at the edge of fields left to the shape it takes.

Sometimes it’s rain the reach of rain. 
Sometimes it’s purer, less mixed. Jubilance.

I feel it running down the hill in the rain
running so as not to get wet but getting wet. 

Pause to tie my shoelace,
as if, tying it, I might actually pull together—finding it undone.

Copyright © 2015 by Harriet Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2015 by Harriet Levin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 23, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Harriet Levin

Harriet Levin

Harriet Levin was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to first-generation Eastern European Jewish immigrants. She received her BA in English and Russian at Temple University and her MFA from the University of Iowa, where she also translated works for writers in the International Writing Program.