Larry Levis (1946–1996)

This was the year drought autumn never ended.
Rivers couldn’t float their barges, prairies
burned in a sulphurous caul, dead blossoms and clots

of cloud hung bloodshot, strung out over the west
horizon . . . I remember headlights lost in
miles of afternoon, peninsulas

of dustpall rolling off the failed fields, glare-swept
freeways sliding into a waning city
of streetlamps and smokestacks and billboards and Baptist spires.

And this was the year they renovated, gutted
wholesale blocks of downtown—brickheaps and tangled
fire escapes—and staked out naked saplings

next to the rubble. Not that it mattered much
to me. The Cheers was always the same inside—
its gestures left unfinished, monologues

that looped back over and over. Always the same
few regulars just getting warmed up—forearms
pressed against the marble bartop—trembling,