i.m. Larry Levis
This life & no other so says the news.
So says upright in the darkness my friend.
In his chair in the dark in his terrible year.
So the sage-green spurge we called blackbird,
discovered first as a sport, out of red wing,
Euphorbia blackbird, that has spread its brume
carpet like shadow beyond the barn, is the life
of the grass, though my three deer won’t
go there, not until quietly the shadows grow
long enough to nibble or lie down in.
I would lie down to show him, even here.
Mice bones melting in downfall, in leaf-
mulch—I would tell him I did as he said.
Uprooted. Left to find this life & no other,
like flesh that has stepped out of its flesh.
It’s got flowers, come spring, yellow-green
in bracts. It’s got red stems. And it weeps,
says the book, a white sap, rather like latex.
And the lives in a book of extinct birds
seem clearer than my own, as he says—.
Today a band of ranchers, we are not
a militia, let’s call them what they are, little
terrors, it’s getting dark, it’s freezing,
overtook, armed, a sanctuary for birds.
To protest, what? Flesh so innocent it walks
along the road, believing it, & ceases
to be ours? Listen. The average lifespan
of a species is ten million years, give or take.
Is the snowy egret extinct by now?
Or does it only sound as if it is?
The sedges were full of birds, the waters were
full of birds: avocets, stilts, willets, killdeers,
coots, phalaropes, rails, tule wrens, yellow-
headed black birds, black terns… 1914.
Dallas Lore Sharp went down to Lake Malheur.
Farallon cormorants, great white
pelicans, great glossy ibises, California gulls,
eared grebes, Western grebes—clouds of them,
acres of them, square miles—one hundred
and forty-three square miles of them!
This song and no other. Listen.
Staccato call of the greater sandhill crane.
It spreads its notes like shadow over the arms
of men. I would lie down, even there, if I could—.
If my friend would sit up suddenly, again—.
If the blackbird spurge, once a sport
out of red wing—. If the lonely polygamists—.
If the common blackbird—Turdus merula—.
I think we’re in this for the long haul. That’s
what someone always says, at the end.
DAVID BAKER is poetry editor of The Kenyon Review and teaches at Denison University in Ohio. His new book is Swift: New and Selected Poems (Norton, 2019).