Treasure Island

Larry Levis

(1946 - 1996 / California / United States)

The Future Of Hands

All winter
The trees held up their silent hives
As if they mattered.
But on one main street of bars and lights,
I watched a woman who had begged for days
Throw all the coins back, insulted,
Into the crowd,
And then each cheap stone on her necklace,
As if they were confetti
At a bitter wedding,
And then her stained blouse.
I smiled, then, at her dignity.
But when the night came
With only its usual stars to show,
She was applauded and spat on,
Or those passing stepped around her,
Avoiding her body
As if it had become private, or pure.
When the police arrived,
Sniveling about the cold day she had chosen
To strip,
Her face was a brown jewel,
And I knew the hands
Of the police would have to close now,
On this body abandoned to wind,
Just as her hands closed, finally,
On wind that would have nothing
To do with her,
And never had.


I know that wind
Had nothing to do with longing.
I have seen that, even in the eyes
Of girls across a lunch counter--
A desire to be anywhere that wasn't
Texas, and waiting on tables--
Their eyes making a pact
With the standing, staring wheat
About to be turned back into the black soil
That spreads everywhere when no one is watching.

And writing this,
I stare at my hands,
Which are the chroniclers of my death,
Which pull me into this paper
Each night, as onto a bed of silk sheets,
And the woman gone.

After two hours of work,
I do not know if there ever was a woman.

I watch the flies buzz at the sill.


Or, if I sleep,
I must choose between two dreams.

In one of them, my hands move calmly
Over a woman's waist, or lift
In speech the way birds rise or settle
Over a marsh, over nesting places.

In the other dream,
There are no nesting places,
The birds are white, and scavenging.
They lift negligently over the town in wind,
Like paper, like the death of paper.
They dip and rise
As if there had never been a heaven.
Beneath them, it is summer.
It is the same town I was born in.
And in its one bar
The man selling illegal human hair from Mexico,
The hair of brides mixed
With the hair of the dead,
Argues all day over the price.

Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

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