Lexical Legacy
by Donald Levering


The word flows into our lush language from
Middle-English aboundaunce, an overflowing,
like a storm surge swamping subways,

comes down from the time
when white storks
still stalked Britain’s river banks

People always sing about the rain
as sympathy from above
over love betrayed

Today we could say the clouds
are dumping record downpours
for other than jilted lovers

We could say they weep for white storks,
that their tears are for sea turtle nests
wrecked by monster hurricanes

Extinctions abound
Hopelessness washes over us
Still, the abundance

of what persists
awes us,
the infinitesimal

pollen and spore in the wind,
the staggering census of beetles and ants,
the metamorphoses of moths,

the countless gallons of water
moved through
one willow’s capillary roots

up through its trunk
out to its branches and leaves
into the clouds

How We Came to Speak Succinctly

                                               Findhorn, Scotland
Twice a day the North Sea’s rising
clatters pebbles on the strand beneath our skiffs.
It used to jostle long boats beached by Picts,
who raised huge monoliths on overlooking ridges.

Into those looming Standing Stones they carved
runes of serpent, sea horse, and thunder bird
telling elemental stories.

Later came utopians who turned the dunes
of prickly gorse to fruitful gardens—
beds of luminous flowers,
redolent herbs, melons big as belugas.

By our backyards, runway slabs were laid
for the new Inverness airport,
near whose blue-lit corridors I was born.

Every ninety seconds people hurtle forward
and lift above the Standing Stones
in jumbo jets that rattle our china
and buzz our bones, booming over the bay.

Dwelling in this clockwork din,
we’ve learned to bundle pithy words,
reading lips beneath the roaring birds.

Last Speakers of a Language

Youthful ears are absent, as are
supple hands to learn to lash the hafts
on tools that used to carve their gods

into the canoes. Myths are missing parts,
but persevering from the gone lexicon
is the word for a kind of jellyfish

they see in rippling plastic bags
caught in sea grasses. After that one,
there are sounds no longer coming

from the back of the throat, glottal stops
concluding several nouns for ways the water
folds with wind and tide and current.

There are omitted fricatives
for half-hitches that no more cinch the sails,
there are verbs that will go nowhere,

sails that have become as slack
as old men’s lungs. There are rusty puns,
lost labials, ungrasped sexual

innuendos, there are diphthongs
grandmothers used to growl
in terms of disapproval.

Splashed by a Bus

                          after Robert Bly’s “Growing Wings”
It’s all right if the bus runs over the sky in a puddle
and your shoes come home heavy with mud.

It’s all right that the wasp wants your french fries.
Maybe one day you’ll wake as a wasp. 

It’s all right to say your fountain is drained.
To claim your turn for a massage is okay.

The mortgage on worry can never be paid.
Take the day off to fingerpaint.

It’s fine if the wind swipes your hat.
Maybe next time you’ll come back as a sax.

Nothing can be denied. The moon setting,
the dew rising, your mother dying.

It’s time to stop digging and tend to your blisters.
It’s time to go down to the river.

Donald Levering’s recent books include Any Song Will Do (2019), Coltrane’s God (2015), and The Water Leveling with Us (2014), all of them from Red Mountain Press. Levering, a former NEA Fellow, has won the 2018 Carve Magazine Poetry Contest, the 2017 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize, and the 2014 Literal Latté Poetry Award. You can find out more about him and his work by visiting his website at donaldlevering.com.

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