Winter Stars by Larry Levis
Winter Stars by Larry Levis stories

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My father once broke a man’s hand Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,
By pneumantric

Winter Stars by Larry Levis

by pneumantric

My father once broke a man’s hand

Over the exhaust pipe of a John Deere tractor. The man,

Ruben Vasquez, wanted to kill his own father

With a sharpened fruit knife, and he held

The curved tip of it, lightly, between his first

Two fingers, so it could slash

Horizontally, & with surprising grace,

Across a throat. It was like a glinting beak in a hand,

And, for a moment, the light held still

On those vines. When it was over,

My father simply went in & ate lunch, & then, as always,

Lay alone in the dark, listening to music.

He never mentioned it.

I never understood how anyone could risk his life,

Then listen to Vivaldi.

Sometimes, I go out into this yard at night,

And stare through the wet branches of an oak

In winter, & realize I am looking at the stars

Again. A thin haze of them, shining

And persisting.

It used to make me feel lighter, looking up at them.

In California, that light was closer.

In a California no one will ever see again,

My father is beginning to die. Something

Inside him is slowly taking back

Every word it ever gave him.

Now, if we try to talk, I watch my father

Search for a lost syllable as if it might

Solve everything, & though he can’t remember, now,

The word for it, he is ashamed…

If you can think of the mind as a place continually

Visited, a whole city placed behind

The eyes, & shining, I can imagine, now, its end—

As when the lights go off, one by one,

In a hotel at night, until at last

All of the travelers will be asleep, or until

Even the thin glow from the lobby is a kind

Of sleep; & while the woman behind the desk

Is applying more lacquer to her nails,

You can almost believe that elevator,

As it ascends, must open upon starlight.

I stand out on the street, & do not go in.

That was our agreement, at my birth.

And for years I believed

That what went unsaid between us became empty,

And pure, like starlight, & that it persisted.

I got it all wrong.

I wound up believing in words the way a scientist

Believes in carbon, after death.

Tonight, I’m talking to you, father, although

It is quiet here in the Midwest, where a small wind,

The size of a wrist, wakes the cold again—

Which may be all that’s left of you & me.

When I left home at seventeen, I left for good.

That pale haze of stars goes on & on,

Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape

On a black sky. It means everything

It cannot say. Look, it’s empty out there, & cold.

Cold enough to reconcile

Even a father, even a son.

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