Author’s Note: It’s been some 16 years now since the passing of Larry Levis, and he is missed. He wasn’t just an extraordinary wordsmith. He was—as are we all—an uncanny event, “an unfinishable agenda of the stars.” What I’ve admired about his poems is his amazing ability to point at the uniqueness, the singularity, of the existential moment and the people in it. A very precise example of this is the poem “Photograph: Migrant Worker, Parlier, California, 1967” in the collection Elegy. Here, we are invited to dwell upon the utter facticity of Johnny Dominguez, his individual, transient, and profoundly irreplaceable being-there. In so doing, Levis reminds us all of our own such being. “The New God is a Revolver in the Sun” and “So Death Blows His Little Fucking Trumpet” are thus a kind of pointing as well, an homage, a reminder of a man and his very special talent.
Huitzilopochtli is what we shall call him. Blue Hummingbird Warrior Of The South Brought Back From The Dead. This time as a gun. Each bullet wobbling in the inferno, fire-sky becoming fate. Nothing left, not even an atom of Shakespeare. Eons away, yes, though the hourglass evacuates relentlessly, like sand dragged to the sea. But this is not a poem about oblivion or myth. Or resuscitation. This is a poem about Larry Levis, maker of poems, and bright hummingbirds brought back from the dead in the quick wings of his words. Or not that either. Not that. This is a poem that points at Larry Levis. The way Aztec priests pointed at the sun. Singularly. The way they knew it would flame itself out after so many years of service to the beat of blood boiling in the heart. They knew their god was dying. They knew. And they never stopped, weeping then in the rain. Stand back. This is a shard of sunlight on an empty altar. This is a poem that points at Larry Levis.
for Larry Levis
It doesn’t matter who. He’s anyone. He never thought of Death as a musician. Not with the band up all night, every night, and all that jazz. Riffs for the dying. Music only they can hear. A few notes. Not like taps. No. Not like that. More like Bourbon Street in the rain. Late. Nothing left but a horn. An old man blowing blues. The song halfway gone, like a threnody. Something thin, something leaning softly on the wind.
John Valentine teaches philosophy at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia. His poems have appeared in various journals, including The Sewanee Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, The Adirondack Review, and Rock Salt Plum Review. He has had five chapbooks published with Pudding House Publications, and one chapbook with Big Table Publishing.