Poetry by Robert Levy: Wanting to Scream; Respect; The Weeping Woman

Poetry by Robert Levy
Published July 28th, 2016

Wanting to Scream

Say you are hung over, noxious, fragile,
and your truculent, recalcitrant eye
finds itself magnetized to the minor,
inconsequential detritus of morning:
tarry remains of yesterday’s coffee
still clumped at the bottom of the French press,
insolent sludge; adhesive egg-yolk glue
cementing the sink’s crockery cascade;
and the dog, bright and yappy, cavorting
at your ankles, ignorant of the pain
that stabs stiletto-like through your skull down

into your heels. It’s then you want to scream
at minutiae—rail at the background thrum
of machinery whirring everywhere,
the fridge compressor cycling on and off
with a heartbeat’s dour regularity—
and damp down the whoosh of Broadway traffic,
(or pretend, at least, it’s the ocean’s drone
outside your window at 4 a.m.), but
you cannot finally turn away from
the ugliness of the daily. It dogs you
as you try to make amends for the night

before the night before, still evident
from broken glasses, half-eaten sandwiches
splayed on the coffee table, reminders
of pointless conversations about, say,
the state of modern music that cadenced
with a clatter of dishes and tense, fraught
accusations (my Coltrane flung against
your Dylan like a Molotov cocktail
that merely sputtered against the baseboards)
that left us weeping/laughing at ourselves
for fools. It’s on such mornings you would scream

for the sake of screaming. Being human
and fallible is so tender and sad
it hurts to merely acknowledge the world
isn’t half what you’d hoped for years ago,
that the small, inconsequential details,
meaningless and vague, are what loom so large
in retrospect, that all the grand gestures
you believed would come to define your days
dwindle, and everything you had dreamed of
is no more than window dressing for dust
that accrues over your best intentions,

a gray patina discoloring desire
and lust. It’s then you want to scream, but don’t
because you never do, because the light
of morning illuminates the minuscule
indulgences of every endless day,
puts paid to the notion that the cosmos
is there to be plumbed by your intentions,
that your hope to unearth the large in the small
is nothing more than beating on a drum,
which is quite hollow, but booms nonetheless,
with a deep, empty thrum that sounds no note.





Reading Neruda, I stumble across
the phrase, the wasted honey of respect,
which means little at first, though it’s sticky

and sweet, and I find myself saying it
over and over, savoring it
on my tongue, its cloying viscosity,

the warm, thick syrup of its refusal
to yield easily to sense. Deference
paid out promiscuously is sugar

to the soul, I suppose, a shiny glaze
on the already-cloying sweetmeat
of acclaim. Wasted? I imagine such

largesse being all-too-often squandered
on flattery of the underserving,
bereft of nutrition, caloric

in contempt of genuine sentiment
and applause. I remember all the times
those to whom I paid the compliment

of my regard dispensed small coin
in return, reminding me how,
at best, we’re all merely human, renown

only substantial as a shadow
that trails one like a sullen dog. Esteem’s
engine must be stoked with the coal of awe

and admiration, but as time passes
the machine of veneration grinds down,
and we are left with ourselves, a fleshly void

devoid of regard. What can we do but
hope to venerate ourselves, lick
the last beads of honey from our own lips?



The Weeping Woman

Imagine the afternoon as a rune
and evening the unraveling of a glyph
that thwarted you all day. Imagine
night as a partial elucidation
of the Big Questions you asked that morning
which tracked you, heavy-booted, into dark,
cozening your calm with unresolved
impasses that left you dim and speech-worn,
wanting more than anything to caress

the arm of the pale woman who draws away
repeatedly, who always has something
better to do than be comforted by you.
Your empty hand, left with a lingering
sensation of sleekness and soft, blonde down,
draws itself back, insurgent, indignant,
and the woman—plain and desirable
in T-shirt and jeans—is wholly absorbed
in her several anguishes, her lament

for the self she once was back in a time
when possibilities flickered in her breast
like fireflies. Imagine what it is like
to know with startling certainty you have
botched her dreams, left her beached within herself
like an empty conch shell buried in sand,
the good time you’d spent together
a sponge squeezed dry, simulacrum
of itself. Imagine you are not

just imagining this, that it’s too real,
too flesh-enabled to be anything but
the mangled substance of your latter days,
that you’ve arrived at a place with no redress
for the ache that overwhelms you, as you
watch the sorrowing, pale woman recede
further and further away from you,
a dream of love forever sunsetting,
always famished, never culminating

in a soft, revivifying word. You
can imagine so much that defies
logic—and how beautiful to do so,
to fall endlessly forward into bliss
unmitigated by the certainty
that blunts and damages the enlivening
and bracing indecisions that lash
your days. Imagine, too, the pale woman
weeping out the length of her sadness,

the way she cups her downturned face as though
it were an immaculate fruit shedding
nectar into her upturned palms. There is
nothing so small it cannot be revived
by a perfect and unyielding phrase,
nothing so inanimate it cannot live
through a fitting word that finds a warm heart
beating there inside its hollow chest;
and, tonight, with you intermittently

sobbing over all that is lost, lovely
and irredeemable, I would tell you
to imagine, for a moment, that this
is how the world moves through us, a zephyr
chaotic and oblique, and all the words
are only specks of sand tossed by a wind
that we can never hope to understand.
Imagine, at last, the tears engulfing
your hours are no more than a gentle rain

blithely indifferent to the human chord,
a mere effusion, a kind of dumb show
of emotions for which you have no language
but a sigh, and all the hopes you have hoped
are as pointless as the pain you feel,
meaningless as the kiss I would bestow
on your brow tonight as you drift to sleep
and dream of everything you’ve never had,
while all I want to do is stroke your arm.

Robert J. Levy’s work has appeared in Poetry, Paris Review, Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, Boulevard, Southern Review, Southwest Review, North American Review, Gettysburg Review, Threepenny Review and Alaska Quarterly Review among others. He has won an NEA Fellowship, fellowships at Yaddo and The MacDowell Colony, and multiple awards from the Poetry Society of America. He has published three full-length books: Whistle Maker (Anhinga Prize, 1988), In The Century Of Small Gestures (Defined Providence Prize, 2000) and All These Restless Ghosts (FutureCycle, 2015) as well as seven chapbooks, the latest of which is “Drift,” forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. 

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