The brow of a horse in that moment when The horse is drinking water so deeply from a trough It seems to inhale the water, is holy. I refuse to explain. When the horse had gone the water in the trough, All through the empty summer, Went on reflecting clouds & stars. The horse cropping grass in a field, And the fly buzzing around its eyes, are more real Than the mist in one corner of the field. Or the angel hidden in the mist, for that matter. Members of the Committee on the Ineffable, Let me illustrate this with a story, & ask you all To rest your heads on the table, cushioned, If you wish, in your hands, &, if you want, Comforted by a small carton of milk To drink from, as you once did, long ago, When there was only a curriculum of beach grass, When the University of Flies was only a distant humming. In Romania, after the war, Stalin confiscated The horses that had been used to work the fields. "You won't need horses now," Stalin said, cupping His hand to his ear, "Can't you hear the tractors Coming in the distance? I hear them already." The crowd in the Callea Victoria listened closely But no one heard anything. In the distance There was only the faint glow of a few clouds. And the horses were led into boxcars & emerged As the dimly remembered meals of flesh That fed the starving Poles During that famine, & part of the next one-- In which even words grew thin & transparent, Like the pale wings of ants that flew Out of the oldest houses, & slowly What had been real in words began to be replaced By what was not real, by the not exactly real. "Well, not exactly, but. . ." became the preferred Administrative phrasing so that the man Standing with his hat in his hands would not guess That the phrasing of a few words had already swept The earth from beneath his feet. "That horse I had, He was more real than any angel, The housefly, when I had a house, was real too," Is what the man thought. Yet it wasn't more than a few months Before the man began to wonder, talking To himself out loud before the others, "Was the horse real? Was the house real?" An angel flew in and out of the high window In the factory where the man worked, his hands Numb with cold. He hated the window & the light Entering the window & he hated the angel. Because the angel could not be carved into meat Or dumped into the ossuary & become part Of the landfill at the edge of town, It therefore could not acquire a soul, And resembled in significance nothing more Than a light summer dress when the body has gone. The man survived because, after a while, He shut up about it. Stalin had a deep understanding of the kulaks, Their sense of marginalization & belief in the land; That is why he killed them all. Members of the Committee on Solitude, consider Our own impoverishment & the progress of that famine, In which, now, it is becoming impossible To feel anything when we contemplate the burial, Alive, in a two-hour period, of hundreds of people. Who were not clichés, who did not know they would be The illegible blank of the past that lives in each Of us, even in some guy watering his lawn On a summer night. Consider The death of Stalin & the slow, uninterrupted Evolution of the horse, a species no one, Not even Stalin, could extinguish, almost as if What could not be altered was something Noble in the look of its face, something Incapable of treachery. Then imagine, in your planning proposals, The exact moment in the future when an angel Might alight & crawl like a fly into the ear of a horse, And then, eventually, into the brain of a horse, And imagine further that the angel in the brain Of this horse is, for the horse cropping grass In the field, largely irrelevant, a mist in the corner Of the field, something that disappears, The horse thinks, when weight is passed through it, Something that will not even carry the weight Of its own father On its back, the horse decides, & so demonstrates This by swishing at a fly with its tail, by continuing To graze as the dusk comes on & almost until it is night. Old contrivers, daydreamers, walking chemistry sets, Exhausted chimneysweeps of the spaces Between words, where the Holy Ghost tastes just Like the dust it is made of, Let's tear up our lecture notes & throw them out The window. Let's do it right now before wisdom descends upon us Like a spiderweb over a burned-out theater marquee, Because what's the use? I keep going to meetings where no one's there, And contributing to the discussion; And besides, behind the angel hissing in its mist Is a gate that leads only into another field, Another outcropping of stones & withered grass, where A horse named Sandman & a horse named Anastasia Used to stand at the fence & watch the traffic pass. Where there were outdoor concerts once, in summer, Under the missing & innumerable stars.
From Elegy by Larry Levis. Copyright © 1997 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.