A Poem By Harriet Levin And Ravi Shankar

by Mark Bibbins, Editor

Love and Decay

Graze on the face like a fly on honeydew,
bend over toward someone so that your entire body alights
imperceptibly, on the cusp of action, afternoon fretted
in long lines of light through a near-drawn shade.
Between what you do and what you don’t do, what you can’t
(but could) or haven’t (again) but have imagined,
fates hang suspended in the whirl of motes
over sugar, over a piece of fruit, over an orb
smashed on the ground. The bride walked out
of church with her bouquet, then seeing it
still in her hand, she dropped it. The airplane running low
on fuel cannot circle back. Hear its continual roar.
Then reconsider the buzz of a fly viewed from below.
Or try the fly-by buzz of reconsideration, the rush
of remembering the alighted upon body, wing and engine
too close to sun to cast a shadow. Before banking
hard towards any strip of land or water, the moist interior
of fruit cannot be inferred. Not even on radar.
The interior is always hidden in folds.
Skin is never tell-tale, only an obstruction, as in flight,
something to go around. So much to discard, to peel away.
What if there are wormholes, brown spots, bruises?
And because of this chance, because a honeydew
left out in sun will eventually seethe with maggots,
its brain-skin teeming until its folds disappear
in a blizzard of winged consumption fresh from a puparium
grown beneath a dirt clod, one of a few hundred eggs
laid at once to lap up sap with fleshy mouthpart?
Say as infant who didn’t have an appetite, no bloated
stomach most desirous of the lush
sweetness of juice? Not only juice. Sun, wind, motion.
That it started with rocking and always being carried.
There was no difference then between those arms
and one’s own, so that the earth was perceived
as one body, all in motion, an entire swarm
circling, warmth more tidal than a Ferris wheel.
This was before in a mirror, reflection stared
back at you in a kind of dare, before you worried
you might break the honeycomb of your disappointments
against the bark of your mother’s breastless back
but did nothing instead, hiding away with flyswatter in the hamper.
This mirror, its flat glass in which everything is seen
in reverse — remember how the carney stopped the Ferris wheel
and we rocked up there a spinning cage,
then lurched forward in the skipped beat — into the quiet
of a room of no birds, not even a shadow
of a muscle gone slack or the torn limb of a tree branch,
sprung from reaching.

Harriet Levin’s debut book of poetry, The Christmas Show (Beacon Press) was chosen by Eavan Boland for the Barnard New Women Poets Prize and also won the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award. Her second book, Girl in Cap and Gown (Mammoth Books) was a 2009 National Poetry Series finalist. She directs the program in writing and publishing at Drexel University.

Ravi Shankar’s essay on the poetics of collaborative practice will be out in the AWP Writer’s Chronicle this spring; in the meantime, check out Drunken Boat.

You will find more poems here. You may contact the editor at poems@theawl.com.