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

About this poet

Dana Levin was raised in Lancaster, California. She received a BA from Pitzer College in 1987 and an MFA from New York University in 1992.

She is the author of Banana Palace (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), Sky Burial (Copper Canyon Press, 2011), Wedding Day (Copper Canyon Press, 2005), and In the Surgical Theatre (Copper Canyon Press, 1999), which was selected by Louise Glück to receive the APR/Honickman First Book Prize.

About her debut, In the Surgical Theatre, which also received the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award, Glück writes, “Sensuous, compassionate, violent, extravagant: what an amazing debut this is, a book of terrors and marvels.”

In an interview with The Kenyon Review, Levin says, “I’ve come to see that I compose many poems as dramas, enactions. Therefore, pace and volume must be attended to, for essentially I am trying to render the sound of feeling (and/or the pace of thinking).”

Levin has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the Whiting Foundation, among others. She has previously taught at the University of New Mexico, Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and the College of Santa Fe. She currently serves as a distinguished writer in residence at Maryville University. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.


Bibliography

Banana Palace (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
Sky Burial (Copper Canyon Press, 2011)
Wedding Day (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
In the Surgical Theatre (Copper Canyon Press, 1999)

In the Surgical Theatre

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.

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 Banana Palace (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) and Sky Burial (Copper Canyon Press, 2011), among others. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

by this poet

poem

              Thirty seconds of yellow lichen.

Thirty seconds of coil and surge,
            fern and froth, thirty seconds
                         of salt, rock, fog, spray.

                                                               Clouds
moving slowly to the left―

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
2
poem
You put a bag around your head and walked into the river.
You

walked into the river with a bag around your head and you were
never dead 

game on the banks of your
mental styx

for the double
audience

of smoke—


               —


You pressed a coin into his palm and stepped across the water.
You

stepped