A Poem by Larry Levis

During the interview with Austin Smith, he mentioned that one of his favorite poets is Larry Levis. Therefore, I did some research on the poet, and found this particular poem that seems very interesting to me.

The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.

At Wilshire & Santa Monica I saw an opossum

Trying to cross the street. It was late, the street

Was brightly lit, the opossum would take

A few steps forward, then back away from the breath

Of moving traffic. People coming out of the bars

Would approach, as if to help it somehow.

It would lift its black lips & show them

The reddened gums, the long rows of incisors,

Teeth that went all the way back beyond

The flames of Troy & Carthage, beyond sheep

Grazing rock-strewn hills, fragments of ruins

In the grass at San Vitale. It would back away

Delicately & smoothly, stepping carefully

As it always had. It could mangle someone’s hand

In twenty seconds. Mangle it for good. It could

Sever it completely from the wrist in forty.

There was nothing to be done for it. Someone

Or other probably called the LAPD, who then

Called Animal Control, who woke a driver, who

Then dressed in mailed gloves, the kind of thing

Small knights once wore into battle, who gathered

Together his pole with a noose on the end,

A light steel net to snare it with, someone who hoped

The thing would have vanished by the time he got there.

This is a poem in Larry Levis’ book Elegy. In this poem, Levis talks about a situation in which the nature and urban settings try to harmonize. The poem begins with a trigger, the opossum, and then Levis shifts the focus and give a detailed description of the narrative function of the opossum. “The reddened gums, the long rows of incisors,/ Teeth that went all the way back beyond/ The flames of Troy & Carthage, beyond sheep/ Grazing rock-strewn hills, fragments of ruins/ In the grass at San Vitale.” After the lines that describe the firmness and uniqueness of the opossum, Levis incorporates the present and the past to the final lines. Levies describes the officer of Animal Control as a knight in mailed gloves, and concludes the final scene as “who gathered/ Together his pole with a noose on the end,/ A light steel net to snare it with, / someone who hoped/ The thing would have vanished by the time he got there.”

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1 Response to A Poem by Larry Levis

  1. thequill says:

    Nice reading of the Leavis poem, Zhiyuan. Does it “read”/sound/seem like an Austin Smith poem? What do you think Austin “gets” from Levis?

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