Denise Levertov


The authentic! Shadows of it 
sweep past in dreams, one could say imprecisely, 
evoking the almost-silent 
ripping apart of giant 
sheets of cellophane. No. 
It thrusts up close. Exactly in dreams 
it has you off-guard, you 
recognize it before you have time. 
For a second before waking 
the alarm bell is a red conical hat, it 
takes form. 

The authentic! I said 
rising from the toilet seat. 
The radiator in rhythmic knockings 
spoke of the rising steam. 
The authentic, I said 
breaking the handle of my hairbrush as I 
brushed my hair in 
rhythmic strokes: That’s it, 
that’s joy, it’s always 
a recognition, the known 
appearing fully itself, and 
more itself than one knew. 

The new day rises 
as heat rises, 
knocking in the pipes 
with rhythms it seizes for its own 
to speak of its invention— 
the real, the new-laid 
egg whose speckled shell 
the poet fondles and must break 
if he will be nourished. 

A shadow painted where 
yes, a shadow must fall. 
The cow’s breath 
not forgotten in the mist, in the 
words. Yes, 
verisimilitude draws up 
heat in us, zest 
to follow through, 
follow through, 
transformations of day 
in its turning, in its becoming. 

Stir the holy grains, set 
the bowls on the table and 
call the child to eat. 

While we eat we think, 
as we think an undercurrent 
of dream runs through us 
faster than thought 
towards recognition. 

Call the child to eat, 
send him off, his mouth 
tasting of toothpaste, to go down 
into the ground, into a roaring train 
and to school. 

His cheeks are pink 
his black eyes hold his dreams, he has left 
forgetting his glasses. 

Follow down the stairs at a clatter 
to give them to him and save 
his clear sight. 
Cold air 
comes in at the street door. 

The authentic! It rolls 
just out of reach, beyond 
running feet and 
stretching fingers, down 
the green slope and into 
the black waves of the sea. 
Speak to me, little horse, beloved, 
tell me 
how to follow the iron ball, 
how to follow through to the country 
beneath the waves 
to the place where I must kill you and you step out 
of your bones and flystrewn meat 
tall, smiling, renewed, 
formed in your own likeness. 

Marvelous Truth, confront us 
at every turn, 
in every guise, iron ball, 
egg, dark horse, shadow, 
of breath on the air, 

in our crowded hearts 
our steaming bathrooms, kitchens full of 
things to be done, the 
ordinary streets. 

Thrust close your smile 
that we know you, terrible joy.