For Zbigniew Herbert, Summer, 1971, Los Angeles
No matter how hard I listen, the wind speaks
by Larry Levis
One syllable, which has no comfort in it--
Only a rasping of air through the dead elm.
Once a poet told me of his friend who was torn apart
By two pigs in a field in Poland. The man
Was a prisoner of the Nazis, and they watched,
He said, with interest and a drunken approval . . .
If terror is a state of complete understanding,
Then there was probably a point at which the man
Went mad, and felt nothing, though certainly
He understood everything that was there: after all,
He could see blood splash beneath him on the stubble,
He could hear singing float toward him from the barracks.
And though I don't know much about madness,
I know it lives in the thin body like a harp
Behind the rib cage. It makes it painful to move.
And when you kneel in madness your knees are glass,
And so you must stand up again with great care.
Maybe this wind was what he heard in 1941.
Maybe I have raised a dead man into this air,
And now I will have to bury him inside my body,
And breathe him in, and do nothing but listen--
Until I hear the black blood rushing over
The stone of my skull, and believe it is music.
But some things are not possible on the earth.
And that is why people make poems about the dead.
And the dead watch over then, until they are finished:
Until their hands feel like glass on the page,
And snow collects in the blind eyes of statues.