Treasure Island

Larry Levis

(1946 - 1996 / California / United States)

As It Begins With A Brush Stroke On A Snare Drum


The plaza was so still in that moment two years ago that
everything was clear,
As if it had been preserved beneath a kind of lacquered
stillness, &, for a while,
I did not even notice the pigeons lifting above the sad tiles
of churches,

Or how they must have sounded like applause that is not
meant for anyone;

I must not have noticed that blind woman on the corner who
begged coins
For a living, who had one eye swelled shut entirely while
the other, a thin film
Of glaucoma over it that had taken on the lustreless sheen
of a nickel,

Was held wide open to witness spittle on the curb. And soon
the band
In their sun-bleached military uniforms were tuning up beneath
the blossom of rust
Covering the gazebo, its eaves festooned with the off-white
spiderwebs of unlit Christmas lights.

And that girl, Socorro, her smile surfacing voluptuously as
an unspoken thought

Again, was selling gardenias—their petals already beginning
to appear
Faintly discolored around the edges—from a basket she carried
on her head
In an unwobbling stillness; Martin was selling chicklets but
no one bought

Chicklets anymore; no one bought the little squawking birds
or the cheap stone
Animals turned out on a lathe in Veracruz, either; no one
wanted his shoes shined.
By then the band was playing show tunes from My Fair Lady
& South Pacific & was

Interrupted only once because of a routine demonstration by
the Communists, who,
Mostly, were demonstrating because it was Sunday & because
that is what they did,
On Sundays. After a while I started walking vaguely away
beside some fading stonework,

Which in fact is not called Our Lady of Perfect Solitude nor
even Our Sister
Of Perpetual Solitude, but simply Santo Domingo. I do not
know why I walked near it then,
& passed without entering.

*

Still, in the painting the children kept skating, & the others
are probably
Walking home from school at this moment in their yellow
raincoats, with
The stale smells left on wax paper locked in their lunch pails.
That woman

Keeps brushing her hair, & so somewhere it is still 1970 &
the riot police
Are spilling Out of their buses. On the marsh above the
Sound there were egrets,
There were black swans nesting in the rushes; the canal was
warm, & salty.

There was a cabin filling with so much moonlight I almost
believed I could
Dissolve in it if I sat very still, & I sat very still. I watched
my son
Skating at the edge of a pond in his sleep. It was summer
by the time

I finally saw the painting in Brussels & counted each one of
the children as if
To make sure they were still there, & then gradually
lost count, & in the dream
Of the plowman on the hill there must have been the face
of an English poet

Looking as lined as a maple leaf pressed between the pages
of a book. Beneath it
The Danube is gliding, & I am just holding his book now,
not even needing to read it
Anymore as I cross into the frontier—green wheat, alfalfa, a
feeling of distance

In it all like sleep or rain reclaiming some lost, rural Missouri
slum town until
It no longer exists—& now the Hungarian checkpoint, where
guards with stars
The shade of American lipstick on their caps will enter &
seem proud of the unchipped,

Deep blue enamel on their machine guns. Most of them are
just poor teen-agers
From the surrounding villages & farms . . . & innocent, &

The only glamour that is left
On the Orient Express
Is a soiled, torn doily on an armrest.
Rhyme then, rhyme & dream, but in the other painting,
which is not a painting,
They are trudging home from school in the rain which is like
a kind of sleep
When one of them thinks the mind is not the mind in the
unbewitched, meticulous,

First shaping of numbers on a blackboard; it is only the
shadow of a skater over
A white pond. There is a sea beyond it, roughened by
whitecaps, & the mind
Moves first one way, then another, then both ways at once,
& then one long

Glide past the pines that look black from this far away, but
aren't black.
The boy's friend is saying he 'hates school, but only sort
of.' But the child's
Not listening, he is thinking that something he painted was
something he dreamt,

And then some of the dream got mixed in with the paint,
& then with recess,
The afternoon, this long walk in the rain, & now he will
never get it sorted
Out . . . In the story, the boy, falling, must have thought his
father had wings

Unlike his own, & real. That is why the myth is so clear,
& so cruel,
And why we survive it. Yellow rain gear. Black woods. Gray
sky. Home
Is where you can forget some things, the boy is thinking,
because he is

Tired from having to walk for so long & because he has left
his galoshes
At school & his shoes are wet as he unthinkingly turns his
back to me now,
Goes up the worn, slick steps of a front porch, & the door
closes. And,

Because I am not allowed to see it, there is a glass of milk
on the table,
The stairs behind it are dark, & from a narrow upstairs
window there is
A glimpse of the sea, & later, in his dream, there is sometimes
a father,

And then it is more like a story about a father, & then it is
the hush of ice
Over a pond's surface. In spring, when it begins to thaw,
there is a little
Noise underneath it like steel sighing, if steel could sigh as
it seems to,

Sometimes—when you are walking home alone on a trestle
above a river & there
Is a broken pattern of geese above it, a vee decomposing, a
sky mottled with blue
And some clouds. It is like a father dissolving, & setting you
free, & what

Has the father ever achieved that will outlast his own
vanishing? And so
The boy spits over the raillng & watches the silvery web
of it falling
And thinning until it is gossamer, a filament untying itself
forever & saying

Exactly what forever always meant to say—that this long pull
of spring tide in the river
Needs nothing, nothing except its one momentary witness,
a boy pausing

Above it all on a bridge.
*
In Oaxaca, after the bomb went off, there were nevertheless
a few seconds . . .
A pure stillness in which I could hear the fountain in the
plaza, distant traffic,
The sudden silence of birds. Then everyone was rushing
through the streets

Toward a place where sound had been, a place that wasn't
there. It is funny,
But the sound of a bomb, a few seconds after it has gone
off, is no longer even
Surprising. In a little while it seems only right, & sad. I sat
in the balcony of a restaurant

Overlooking it all, & read a poem by Alberto Blanco in the
magazine edited by Paz,
And waited for the place to open, & in the next hour watched
the plaza
Gradually fill with the usual crowds . . . those who love, or
those who think they love,

Novelty; & change.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

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