Elegy With Chimneysweep Falling Inside It

By Larry Levis

Those twenty-six letters filling the blackboard
Compose the dark, compose
The illiterate summer sky & its stars as they appear
 
One by one, above the schoolyard.
 
If the soul had a written history, nothing would have happened:
A bird would still be riding the back of a horse,
 
And the horse would go on grazing in a field, & the gleaners,
 
At one with the land, the wind, the sun examining
Their faces, would go on working,
 
Each moment forgotten in the swipe of a scythe.
 
But the walls of the labyrinth have already acquired
Their rose tint from the blood of slaves
Crushed into the stone used to build them, & the windows
 
Of stained glass are held in place by the shriek
 
And sighing body of a falling chimneysweep through
The baked & blackened air. This ash was once a village,
 
That snowflake, time itself.
 
But until the day it is permitted to curl up in a doorway,
And try to sleep, the snow falling just beyond it,
 
There’s nothing for it to do:
 
The soul rests its head in its hands & stares out
From its desk at the trash-littered schoolyard,
 
It stays where it was left.
When the window fills with pain, the soul bears witness,
But it doesn’t write. Nor does it write home
 
Having no need to, having no home.
In this way, & in no other
 
Was the soul gradually replaced by the tens of thousands
Of things meant to represent it—
 
All of which proclaimed, or else lamented, its absence.
 
Until, in the drone of auditoriums & lecture halls, it became
No more than the scraping of a branch
Against the side of a house, no more than the wincing
 
Of a patient on a couch, or the pinched, nasal tenor
Of the strung-out addict’s voice,
 
While this sound of scratching, this tapping all night,
Enlarging the quiet instead of making a music within it,
 
Is just a way of joining one thing to another,
 
Myself to whoever it is—sitting there in the schoolroom,
 
Sitting there while also being led through the schoolyard
Where prisoners are exercising in the cold light—
 
A way of joining or trying to join one thing to another,
So that the stillness of the clouds & the sky
 
Opening beneath the blindfold of the prisoner, & the cop
Who leads him toward it, toward the blank
 
Sail of the sky at the end of the world, are bewildered
 
So that everything, in this moment, bewilders
 
Them: the odd gentleness each feels in the hand
Of the other, & how they don’t stop walking, not now
 
Not for anything.
 
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