Monday

May 11, 2009

The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.

by Larry Levis

At Wilshire & Santa Monica I saw an opossum
Trying to cross the street. It was late, the street
Was brightly lit, the opossum would take
A few steps forward, then back away from the breath
Of moving traffic. People coming out of the bars
Would approach, as if to help it somehow.
It would lift its black lips & show them
The reddened gums, the long rows of incisors,
Teeth that went all the way back beyond
The flames of Troy & Carthage, beyond sheep
Grazing rock-strewn hills, fragments of ruins
In the grass at San Vitale. It would back away
Delicately & smoothly, stepping carefully
As it always had. It could mangle someone's hand
In twenty seconds. Mangle it for good. It could
Sever it completely from the wrist in forty.
There was nothing to be done for it. Someone
Or other probably called the LAPD, who then
Called Animal Control, who woke a driver, who
Then dressed in mailed gloves, the kind of thing
Small knights once wore into battle, who gathered
Together his pole with a noose on the end,
A light steel net to snare it with, someone who hoped
The thing would have vanished by the time he got there.

"The Oldest Living Thing in L.A." by Larry Levis, from The Selected Levis. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2003. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of songwriter Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline in Eastern Russia (1888). He wrote more than 1,500 songs, including the classics "Blue Skies," "Puttin' on the Ritz," "God Bless America," "White Christmas," and "There's No Business Like Show Business."

It's the birthday of surrealist painter Salvador Dali, born in Figueras, Spain (1904). He was influenced by the theories of Sigmund Freud, and he made what he called "hand-painted dream photographs." He painted distorted human figures, limp pocket watches, and burning giraffes. He was a born performer who relished an audience, and he found that audience when he moved to America in 1940. He had a perfectly waxed, upturned mustache, and he wore a cape and carried a cane. He said: "In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob."

It's the anniversary of the printing of the first known book. In the year 868, Wang Chieh printed the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist scripture, on a 16-foot scroll using wood blocks. It was discovered in 1907 in Turkestan, among 40,000 books and manuscripts walled up in one of the Caves of the Thousand Buddhas.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

 









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