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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)

  • Nature
  • Relationships
  • 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. See More By This Poet

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