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Jeffrey Levine: Three Poems
Expulsion | Salt to Harar, Roses to Nod | Orange Birds at Tulum


Fact is, she was mad with boredom.
Adam, too, though less so. You know how it is with men.
He could have stayed longer, a few years anyway, but still,
he found himself imagining Eve with clothes,
maybe some lingerie or a black dress, and too,
he wondered how the lamb might taste slow roasted on a spit
over a rhododendron fire, basted with red wine,
and he had no red wine. None. And Eve.

Well. There was the brook just beyond the Garden.
She could hear it. It sang to her close up like the willow ptarmigan,
it lowed from far away like the caribou.
She wanted to bathe in it, had to, though in truth,
water enough flowed through the Garden, some below ground,
like the caves of the Baja, and some above,
catching in deep pools where it teased Eve with her reflection
and the reflection of distant clouds.

It was there she named so much she was denied,
though she knew denial to be a cavil.
Who would not want to see looms and Greenland parrots,
puffins and Mother Carey's chickens, Leach's storm-petrels,
black guillemots, and maybe an Arctic sky suffused with swallows?
And what about the bottomless Norwegian sun,
and the northern people: Yup'ik and Inupiat?

What of them? Given time, even something vast appeals,
even something barren.

Salt to Harar, Roses to Nod

Disengaging from the garden tour, Adam finds a rose just in from Ireland. Though not in his Wayside catalog or J&P supply, he's got to have it for himself. The lone supplier's slumbering, but a scent for the rose will not be denied, and so Adam orders a custom propagation—the Courvoisier—even though it takes two years to come! Flushed with the fruits of re-creation on his tongue, he orders more—six dozen each of seven seas, white cap and elysium, a gross of alba ordorata, famed old climber. Wild with dreaming about the scents and nods of the garden-his garden, his flowers—he thinks maybe some herbs this year—just the thing to bring these other dreams around. Faint as to be echoless, shadowless, blest, Oh faith, order of orangutans to go, if you please, with three herons and one Bonaparte's gull, thus the heartsick shall be cured! Near—crazed with the power of his powers—woman, come see what I've undone! Adam plants his plants—mows of corn cockles by the row, a kingdom of kangaroo's paw. Blue dicks there for strength, of course, and just for you, sweet Eve, breath of heaven and love lies bleeding, side by side.

Orange Birds at Tulum

And what's more, I went on, ready to commit any number
of improprieties for the sake of filling that awkward silence,
you're left-handed, aren't you? I asked my Eve. I watched you filling
page after page with that Palmer-method script.

My Eve's lips curl at the corners, but her gaze remains
distant, remote, circumspect, filled with irreducible resolve.
I offer her a glossary of new poses: a drop-dead glance,
arms wrapped snugly about her knees. Or a trial phrase.

There's one now, tattering midair, and there again.
I'd dream entire episodes for her, I promise, whole glossy
sequences that unreel like film and last out small eternities.
But she wants only salt and birds with pretty names.

As for me, I'd run out of words surely as our late summer
thunderstorms gave over to unabated blasts of mistral.
My garden will dry, earth's surface cracked. Within days,
the topsoil grows parched as a desert floor.

But I read this as a signal to return with a handful
of barley seeds, back to those abandoned terraces,
following the line between the dead oak woods on one side,
orchards of almond, cherry, and apricot on the other.

I'll scatter barley seed and soon the early-autumn rains efface
each crusted-over rut, choked their small crevices running
with fast with silt. Thin pennants of rose-gold spikes
will point to what's beneath.

Poet's Biography:
Jeffrey Levine, a graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA for Writers Program, is an award-wining poet. His book, Mortal, Everlasting, won the 2001 Transcontinental Poetry Award from Pavement Saw Press. Among other distinctions, he has won the Larry Levis Poetry Prize from the Missouri Review, the Kestral Prize, and the first annual James Hearst Poetry Award from North American Review and Mississippi Review Prize. He is Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press.

© 1999 - 2003, by the poets featured herein.