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About Face and Sculpture Garden

About Face
(A Poem Called "Dover Beach")
by Mark Levine

It's dead out here. The sea is calm tonight.
Just me, the sea, the sand-like
things, wriggling like wet pockets.
I cover my eyes with some fingers; I have fingers
to spare. I open my mouth and hear the medicine
splashing on my tongue. The cliffs of England stand.

Behind enemy lines? Yes. Toujours. The Sea of Faith
was once, too, at the full.
The barricades are stacked
like empty chairs after tonight's performance.
Is tonight's performance over?
I'm dragging bodies along as decoys, a dozen
well-dressed bodies, greasy, glazed with red sauce. Tonight's menu:
Peking duck. My stench is making me hungry.
Commander, may I have a body too?

Is someone quaking in my boots? To fear? Perchance, to flee.
Out here "advance" looks a lot like "retreat."
My wheels kick up sand as they spin.
Listen! you hear the grating.
My gears are caught. No use hurrying.
Time's nearly up. And I have
thoughts to collect, faces to grow.

My instructions read: "Come as you
were, leave as you are." Only, from the long
line of spray—

Commander, can you hear me?
I'm waiting for my answer.

Come to the window. Sweet is the night air.
My guests are here, clamoring to be let in.
I am here, clamoring to be let in.
In. Where is that? Come to the window.
Knocking twice, I greet myself at the door and am

Oh naked shingles of the world. My enemy's skin is bad
from eating boiled soap and scrubbing with potatoes.
My enemy's parts are detachable.
He is having a reaction to his medicine:
pain-free, confused. Am I

my enemy's enemy? My enemy's keeper? My
enemy? Ah, love, let us be true.
We're all a bit tired
to be killing so much, but we continue.
The tickets were bought through the mail long ago so why not.
No time to save face.

Action. Action.
A cardboard bomber flies by with its flaming nets.

We are here as on a darkling plain.
Make me an offer. I'm going fast.
The theater is so crowded no one can be sure
if the fire is in their hair
or in their wigs. Sculpture Garden
by Mark Levine


I won't speak for everyone. But my father, not
sleeping for six weeks, turns
into the crumbling Czar-on-horseback
statue in the central square of his birthplace.
He just stands there, life-like.
Didn't he listen? He wasn't supposed to look

back while escaping. Everyone died.
The bodies spread around the statue like linked cobblestones.
They died. He didn't. It wasn't his fault.
Why am I looking at him like this?


This is the house my father tried to build.
That patch of dirt raked
in geometric planes is a Japanese garden.
Those gaps the pigeons roost in are French windows.
The step-ladder, a spiral staircase, a helix. My father hasn't

slept in six weeks. There is a crack in the living-
room wall. There is an icy roof.
He is watching the plaster.
Certain the house will collapse.
Should I talk to him when he doesn't talk back?
His tongue coated white.
Should I touch him? He is dirty.


I can't help it.
When I think of that house I think of—.
The wreckers taking it down in ten minutes.
Neighbors carrying off faucets and two-by-fours.
My mother in drugged sleep with a ten-syllable disease.
A galloping disease.
My father next to her, his cracked lips the only moving thing in sight.


What did they find with their shovels,
the Americans?
Was the thing stacked very high? Was the thing
visible from a single angle?
Did they have to walk around it,
the thing?


Hold still, my father says. The shutter clicks.
And again. My mother and I blink.
Pose after pose around the sickbed. White spots.

Once in a dream I made love to my mother.
It did no good.


I sit in my room hands blackened with newsprint.
Why not believe the papers.
Things turning wrong.
Gets in the dirt gets in the water.


Gets in the dirt gets in the water.

January 1, 2000 in Poems | Permalink