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.

Larry Levis, “The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.” from Elegy. Copyright © 1997 by Larry Levis. All rights are controlled by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with the permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press, www.upress.pitt.edu.

Source: Elegy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997)

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