Those groans men use passing a woman on the street or on the steps of the subway to tell her she is a female and their flesh knows it, are they a sort of tune, an ugly enough song, sung by a bird with a slit tongue but meant for music? Or are they the muffled roaring of deafmutes trapped in a building that is slowly filling with smoke? Perhaps both. Such men most often look as if groan were all they could do, yet a woman, in spite of herself, knows it's a tribute: if she were lacking all grace they'd pass her in silence: so it's not only to say she's a warm hole. It's a word in grief-language, nothing to do with primitive, not an ur-language; language stricken, sickened, cast down in decrepitude. She wants to throw the tribute away, dis- gusted, and can't, it goes on buzzing in her ear, it changes the pace of her walk, the torn posters in echoing corridors spell it out, it quakes and gnashes as the train comes in. Her pulse sullenly had picked up speed, but the cars slow down and jar to a stop while her understanding keeps on translating: 'Life after life after life goes by without poetry, without seemliness, without love.'
From Poems: 1960-1967 by Denise Levertov. Copyright © 1966 by Denise Levertov. Originally appeared in The Sorrow Dance by Denise Levertov. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.