Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol.21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview

Elegy for Poe with the Music of a Carnival Inside It

There is this sunny place where I imagine him.
A park on a hill whose grass wants to turn
Into dust, & would do so if it weren’t
For the rain, & the fact that it is only grass
That keeps the park from flowing downhill past
Its trees & past the slender figures in the statues.
Their stone blends in with the sky when the sky
Is overcast. The stone is a kind of rain,
And half the soldiers trapped inside the stone
Are dead. The others have deserted, & run home.
At this time in the morning, half sun, half mist,
There are usually three or four guys sprawled
Alone on benches facing away from one another.
If they’re awake, they look as if they haven’t slept.
If they’re asleep, they look as if they may not wake. . . .
I only imagine it as a sunny place. If they’re
Awake, they gaze off as if onto a distant landscape,
Not at the warehouses & the freeway the hill overlooks,
Not onto Jefferson Avenue where, later, they’ll try
To score a little infinity wrapped up in tinfoil,
Or a flake of heaven tied up in a plastic bag
And small as their lives are now, but at a city
That is not the real city gradually appearing
As the mist evaporates. For in the real city,
One was kicked in the ribs by a night watchman
Until he couldn’t move. Another was
A small time dealer until he lost his nerve,
And would have then become a car thief, if only
The car had started. And the last failed to appear,
Not only for a court date, but for life itself.
In these ways, they are like Poe if Poe had lived
Beyond composing anything, & had been kicked to death
And then dismembered in this park, his limbs
Thrown as far away from what was left of him
As they could be thrown. And they are not like Poe.
The three of them stare off at a city that is there
In the distance, where they are loved for no
Clear reason, a city they walk toward when
They are themselves again, a city
That vanishes each morning in the pale light.
Poe would have admired them, & pitied them.
For Poe detested both the real city with its traffic
Crawling over the bridges, & the city that vanishes.


In autumn the rain slants & flesh turns white.
The tents go up again on the edge of town, &,
In the carny’s spiel, everyone gets lost,
And Poe, dismembered, becomes no more than the moral
In the story of his life, the cautionary tale
No better than the sideshow where the boy
With sow’s hoofs instead of hands, taps the glass—
Some passing entertainment for the masses.
In the carny’s spiel, everyone lost comes
Back again. Even Poe comes back to see
Himself, disfigured, in another. That is what
He’s doing here, longing to mingle, invisibly,
With the others on the crowded midway as they lick
Their cotton candy, & stare expressionlessly
At one another. He wants to see the woman
Who has fins instead of arms, & the man without
A mouth. He wants to see the boy behind glass
And his own clear reflection in the glass.
The carnival’s so close, only a few blocks,
That he can hear the intermittent off key music
Wheezing faintly out of the merry-go-round. . . .
It might as well be music from the moon.
The traffic never lets him cross. The weeks pass,
And then the months, & then the years with their wars
And the marquees going blank above the streets
Because no one comes anymore. And the crowd,
Filing into the little tent, watches suspiciously,
For the crowd believes in nothing now but disbelief.
And therefore, at the intersection of radiance
And death, the intersection of the real city
And the one that vanishes, Poe is pausing
In the midst of traffic, one city inside the other.
The rain slants. The flesh is a white dust.
The cars pass slowly through him, & the boy keeps
Tapping at the glass, unable to tell his story.  

“Elegy for Poe with the Music of a Carnival Inside It” from Elegy by Larry Levis, © 1997. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

return to top