1.
Every day is a fight to the surface.

2.
Ask me the whys and I have no answer. I really don’t.

3.
At the dinner table, C. pokes me and pokes me like a child picking at a scab, and I stare back at her with nothing to say. I don’t know why I’m sad. I don’t even know if I’m sad. I don’t know if I can even be sad.

4.
Every day is a fight to the surface.

Living
Denise Levertov

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

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Woke up with a sadness I can’t explain. Went to a bookstore and walked around to make it go away. It usually works, but not today. Went home, took a nap. Dreamt I was underwater again. My lover was drowning. He has no face. I couldn’t save him. I woke up with a woman’s voice in my head: your sadness, it’s chemical. Had dinner at nine. Lying on my bed now, feeling my way around my body that I can’t seem to recognize tonight.

A Woman Alone
Denise Levertov

When she cannot be sure
which of two lovers it was with whom she felt
this or that moment of pleasure, of something fiery
streaking from head to heels, the way the white
flame of a cascade streaks a mountainside
seen from a car across a valley, the car
changing gear, skirting a precipice,
climbing…
When she can sit or walk for hours after a movie
talking earnestly and with bursts of laughter
with friends, without worrying
that it’s late, dinner at midnight, her time
spent without counting the change…
When half her bed is covered with books
and no one is kept awake by the reading light
and she disconnects the phone, to sleep till noon…
Then
self-pity dries up, a joy
untainted by guilt lifts her.
She has fears, but not about loneliness;
fears about how to deal with the aging
of her body—how to deal
with photographs and the mirror. She feels
so much younger and more beautiful
than the looks. At her happiest
—or even in the midst of
some less than joyful hour, sweating
patiently through a heatwave in the city
or hearing the sparrows at daybreak, dully gray,
toneless, the sound of fatigue—
a kind of sober euphoria makes her believe
in her future as an old woman, a wanderer
seamed and brown,
little luxuries of the middle of life all gone,
watching cities and rivers, people and mountains,
without being watched; not grim nor sad,
an old winedrinking woman, who knows
the old roads, grass-grown, and laughs to herself…
She knows it can’t be:
that’s Mrs. Doasyouwouldbedoneby from The Water Babies,
no one can walk the world any more,
a world of fumes and decibels.
But she thinks maybe
she could get to be tough and wise, some way,
anyway. Now at least
she is past the time of mourning,
now she can say without shame or deceit,
O blessed Solitude.

A headache the size of the earth this afternoon. I can’t believe how slow this week has been. I want to be near the sea. But you’ll laugh: I still don’t know how to swim.

To the Reader
Denise Levertov

As you read, a white bear leisurely
pees, dyeing the snow
saffron,

and as you read, many gods
lie among lianas: eyes of obsidian
are watching the generations of leaves,

and as you read
the sea is turning its dark pages,
turning
its dark pages.


May 10, 1997 – September 3, 2006

Talking to Grief
Denise Levertov

Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.

I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.

You think I don’t know you’ve been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
my own dog.

I woke up today only to be told that my dog of nine years died while I was asleep.

This sense of loss – I’m still crying since seven in the morning. How do we deal with this exquisite pain? He was more to me, of course, than just a dog. All I could think of now was all those times that I wasn’t there, what could have been.

But do we cry because our loved ones has been through terrible pain, or because we are left alone now? This selfishness, this gaping emptiness. He was the only one who can sit beside me all those midnights when I can’t seem to quite handle myself, and nuzzle closer to me while I’m smoking and crying and listening to my other sad neighbor play Bach.

Nine years. I never realized how much a part of my life he has been, and maybe this is why I am crying so hard today. The regret. It’s always in the end, as they always say, always in the last of things, the familiar tinge.

All that I love.

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.