Larry Levis

(1946 - 1996 / California / United States)

In 1969

Some called it the Summer of Love, & although the clustered,
Motionless leaves that overhung the streets looked the same
As ever, the same as they did every summer, in 1967,
Anybody with three dollars could have a vision.
And who wouldn’t want to know what it felt like to be
A cedar waxwing landing with a flutter of gray wings
In a spruce tree, & then disappearing into it,
For only three dollars? And now I know; its flight is ecstasy.
No matter how I look at it, I also now know that
The short life of a cedar waxwing is more pure pleasure
Than anyone alive can still be sane, & bear.
And remember, a cedar waxwing doesn’t mean a thing,
Qua cedar or qua waxwing, nor could it have earned
That kind of pleasure by working to become a better
Cedar waxwing. They’re all the same.
Show me a bad cedar waxwing, for example, & I mean
A really morally corrupted cedar waxwing, & you’ll commend
The cage they have reserved for you, resembling heaven.

Some people spent their lives then, having visions.
But in my case, the morning after I dropped mescaline
I had to spray Johnson grass in a vineyard of Thompson Seedless
My father owned—& so, still feeling the holiness of all things
Living, holding the spray gun in one hand & driving with the other,
The tractor pulling the spray rig & its sputtering motor—
Row after row, I sprayed each weed I found
That looked enough like Johnson grass, a thing alive that’s good
For nothing at all, with a mixture of malathion & diesel fuel,
And said to each tall weed, as I coated it with a lethal mist,
Dominus vobiscum, &, sometimes, mea culpa, until
It seemed boring to apologize to weeds, & insincere as well.
For in a day or so, no more than that, the weeds would turn
Disgusting hues of yellowish orange & wither away. I still felt
The bird’s flight in my body when I thought about it, the wing ache,
Lifting heaven, locating itself somewhere just above my slumped
Shoulders, & part of me taking wind. I’d feel it at odd moments
After that on those long days I spent shoveling vines, driving trucks
And tractors, helping swamp fruit out of one orchard
Or another, but as the summer went on, I felt it less and less.

As the summer went on, some were drafted, some enlisted
In a generation that would not stop falling, a generation
Of leaves sticking to body bags, & when they turned them
Over, they floated back to us on television, even then,
In the Summer of Love, in 1967,
When riot police waited beyond the doors of perception,
And the best thing one could do was get arrested.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

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