The Mutes by Denise Levertov

I love this. Read this poem at the library the other day, and since I can’t borrow any more books (my load is full), I had to copy it. On tissue paper, because it’s the only blank thing left in my bag. Everywhere has scribbles. Posting here in case I lose things again, which I often do.

The Mutes
Denise Levertov

Those groans men use
passing a woman on the street
or on the steps of the subway

to tell her she is a female
and their flesh knows it,

are they a sort of tune,
an ugly enough song, sung
by a bird with a slit tongue

but meant for music?

Or are they the muffled roaring
of deafmutes trapped in a building that is
slowly filling with smoke?

Perhaps both.

Such men most often
look as if groan were all they could do,
yet a woman, in spite of herself,

knows it’s a tribute:
if she were lacking all grace
they’d pass her in silence:

so it’s not only to say she’s
a warm hole. It’s a word

in grief-language, nothing to do with
primitive, not an ur-language;
language stricken, sickened, cast down

in decrepitude. She wants to
throw the tribute away, dis-
gusted, and can’t,

it goes on buzzing in her ear,
it changes the pace of her walk,
the torn posters in echoing corridors

spell it out, it
quakes and gnashes as the train comes in.
Her pulse sullenly

had picked up speed,
but the cars slow down and
jar to a stop while her understanding

keeps on translating:
‘Life after life after life goes by

without poetry,
without seemliness,
without love.’

From Naked Poetry: Recent American Poetry in Open Forms, edited by Stephen Berg and Robert Mezey, published by The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1969.

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