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By Larry Levis

So that the truant boy may go steady with the State,

So that in his spine a memory of wings

Will make his shoulders tense & bend

Like a thing already flown

When the bracelets of another school of love

Are fastened to his wrists,

Make a law that doesn’t have to wait

Long until someone comes along to break it.


So that in jail he will have the time to read

How the king was beheaded & the hawk that rode

The king’s wrist died of a common cold,

And learn that chivalry persists,

And what first felt like an insult to the flesh

Was the blank ‘o’ of love.

Put the fun back into punishment.

Make a law that loves the one who breaks it.


So that no empty court will make a  judge recall

Ice fishing on some overcast bay,

Shivering in the cold beside his father, it ought

To be an interesting law,

The kind of thing that no one can obey,

A law that whispers “Break me.”

Let the crows roost & caw.

A good judge is an example to us all.


So that the patrolman can still whistle

“The Yellow Rose of Texas” through his teeth

And even show some faint gesture of respect

While he cuffs the suspect,

Not ungently, & says things like ok,

That’s it, relax,

It’ll go better for you if you don’t resist,

Lean back just a little, against me.


Source: Poetry (February 2014)

  • Living
  • Social Commentaries

Poet Bio

Larry Levis
The son of a grape grower, Larry Levis was born in Fresno, California, where he spent his early years doing farm work, an experience he writes about in “The Poet at Seventeen.” He attended Syracuse University and the University of Iowa, where he received his Ph.D. After school, Levis began to teach English and creative writing, in addition to writing poetry. He is noted for using strong, concrete images to explore various ideas in a fresh, original way.

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