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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.


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)


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.

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

by this poet


The mind sports god-extensions.

It's the mountain from which
        the tributaries spring: self, self, self, self—

        rivering up
                on curling plumes
        from his elaborate

                of smoke.

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,
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—