The Gods Are in the Valley

Dana Levin

The mind sports god-extensions.

It's the mountain from which
        the tributaries spring: self, self, self, self—

        rivering up
                on curling plumes
        from his elaborate
                head-piece

                of smoke.

His head's on fire.

Like a paleolithic shaman
        working now in the realm of air, he

        folds his hands—

No more casting bones
        for the consulting seeker, this gesture

        seems to mean.
                Your business, his flaming head suggests,

                is with your thought-machine.

        How it churns and churns.

        Lord Should and Not-Enough,
                Mute the Gigantor, looming dumb

                with her stringy hair—

                Deadalive Mom-n-Dad (in the sarcophagi
                of parentheses

                you've placed them)—

He's a yogi, your man
        with a hat of smoke. Serene, chugging out streams

        of constructed air...

Mind's an accident
        of bio-wiring, is one line of thinking.

We're animals that shit out
        consciousness, is another.

The yogi says:
        you must understand yourself

        as projected vapor.
                Thus achieve your

                superpower.


About this poem:
"The poem was sparked by a drawing accompanying an 8th Century Chinese alchemical text, The Secret of the Golden Flower. To me, the drawing makes an argument for the multiplicity of self, the projected self, the vaporous, ever-changing nature of self: self as smoke. Something of continuous interest to me."

Dana Levin

More by Dana Levin

Styx

You put a bag around your head and walked into the river.
You

walked into the river with a bag around your head and you were
never dead 

game on the banks of your
mental styx

for the double
audience

of smoke—


               —


You pressed a coin into his palm and stepped across the water.
You

stepped across the water with a hand on his arm and he was
silent and kind as you
               shoved off, toward the smoky coils

of the greek-seeming dead—
You’d been trying to sleep.

Found yourself here
in the mythocryptic land—

The river


               —


had widened to a lake. You were anchored
in the shallow boat 

by his faceless weight—
And on the green shore you could see their vapored

residue, how they could
smell it, those two―if you 	

slit your wrist you could make them speak.

If you


               —


slit your wrist you might be able to sleep.

Grief. 
Grief. 
Handing you back

your coin.

Ars Poetica (cocoons)

Six monarch butterfly cocoons
      clinging to the back of your throat—

      you could feel their gold wings trembling.

You were alarmed. You felt infested.
In the downstairs bathroom of the family home,
      gagging to spit them out—
            and a voice saying Don’t, don’t—

Letter to GC

I say most sincerely and desperately, HAPPY NEW YEAR! 

Having rowed a little farther away from the cliff

Which is my kind of religion

Adrift in the darkness but readying oars

How can there be too many stars and hands, I ask you

                               —

I would be disingenuous if I said "being understood" were not important to me 

Between the ceiling of private dream and the floor of public speech 

Between the coin and the hand it crosses

Mercantilists' and governors' and preachers' alike

The imagination and its products so often rebuff purpose

And some of us don't like it, and want to make it mean

I would never shoot you, even if you were the only meat around

                               —

Anyway, I empathize with your lower division semester (which sounds
         kinda Dante, to me)

Snow-bound sounds gorgeous and inconvenient

Like the idea of ending on the internal rhyme of psychics and clients

Though I too privilege the "shiny" 

And of course, I want to be approved of, so much 

Despite the image I've been savoring, the one of the self-stitching wound
 
Yes, I want to write that self-healing wound poem, the one with
         cocoon closed up with thorns

We are getting such lovely flourishes from our poets

Fathomless opportunities for turning literacy into event

It's the drama of feeling we find such an aesthetic problem, 
         these days

Related Poems

Our Valley

We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August 
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I'm nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you're thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn't your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.