A Genesis Text for Larry Levis, Who Died Alone

by Norman Dubie


It will always happen – the death of a friend
That is the beginning of the end of everything
In a large generation of sharing
What was still mistakened
For the nearest middle of all things. So, by extension

I am surely dead, along with David, Phil, Sam,
Marvin, and, surely, we all stand
In a succession of etceteras
That is the sentimental, inexhaustible
Exhaustion of most men. It’s like

That rainy night of your twenty-eighth birthday.
A strip-joint stuck in the cornfields
Of Coralville, Iowa.
Big teddybear bikers and pig farmers who were
Not glad to see us: my long hair,
Your azure, Hawaiian blouse, and David
_______ordering gin – first in blank verse
And then in terza rima with an antique monocle.

The exotic dancer with “helicopter tits,” or was
It “tits on stilts,” was not coming – a flat on the interstate
From Des Moines; her breasts probably sore,
She sat out the storm in the ditch
Feeding white mice to the boa constrictor
Who shared her billing.

So you jumped up onto the jukebox and began
A flamenco dance – all the sharp serifs showing a mast,
An erectness that was a happy middle finger
To all those unhappy gentlemen
Seated there in the dark with us.

I walked over to you, looked up –
Begged you to get down before they all
Just simply kicked the shit out of us. You smiled, sweetly gone.
The song, I think, was called “Pipeline”
And the platform glass on the jukebox cracked.

I said that if you didn’t get down
I’d kill you myself. You smiled again
While I aged. I said
The elegy I would write for you would be riddled with clichés!
You giggled.

So now you are dead. Surely, Larry, we’ve always
Thought the good should die young. And life is a bitch, man.
But where was that woman and her snake when we needed them?


From The Mercy Seat: Collected and New Poems, 1967-2001, Copper Canyon Press, 2001

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