no last words

by Ingrid Swanberg


        ". . . part of the problem is that the other shore IS HERE, NOW
        & we are someplace else." –d.a.levy,
        introduction to The 18th Dynasty
        Egyptian Automobile Turnon

            by D. r. Wagner

Several days, perhaps a week or more, after d.a.levy's suicide, packages he had mailed via third class rate to various friends around the country began arriving, like the raining down from a huge explosion. My envelope contained eight pages of color prints torn from a magazine or book on Buddhist Tantric art from 12th to 16th century Bhutan and Ladakh monasteries, three black-and-white movie stills from Cannes 1955, another black- and-white still (without an annotation) of Buddha giving teachings to a group of white-robed and bejeweled young women in a grove of bodhi trees, a photocopy of a cartoon from the Daily Express, dated March 8th 1966, and depicting two teachers pulling a kid with an opium pot and pipe out of the line, an Internationale situationniste comic strip, a nude photography magazine, and a large reflective silver foil card, on the surface of which are cat paw prints in what looks like clay slip. Looking through these things today, I discovered for the first time, tucked into the skin magazine, a note to levy from Aileen Goodson responding to The Buddhist 3rd Class Junkmail Oracle #13, saying it was "first class in our opinion," and promising to send ANKH #5 soon. Finding this, as I read the salutation, "dear d.a.levy," I experienced an echo of what I felt when I pulled the package out of the mail long ago. The manila envelope had been used before. The original postal stamp reads, "SAN BRUNO, CALIF.," and is partially obscured by brown paper tape applied to mask the prior address and to give a fresh surface for mine. We all re-used envelopes in those days. My name is written in lower case letters; the rest is in caps, except "Apt B" and the "o" of SACRAMENTo." (The address adds my old apartment number to the address of the house next door, into which I had moved the previous spring.) There is no return address. Four six-cent Chief Joseph stamps have a cancel mark indicating "CLEVELAND." It was seeing this that set my heart racing. I tore the envelope open in the vain hope of finding a letter. Lost on me at that moment was the realization that levy had already said everything he was going to say and that this package was simply intended as a gift, as materials to be used for collage. The absence of the slap-in-the-face direct Zen communication that made levy's letters, for me, unforgettable events, gave the envelope and its assembled contents an aura producing the same effect. I puzzled over the foil card, seeing the faint reflection of my own face, and then lay the package aside. As he was always saying, words really cannot say.

Early on in levy's correspondence with me, as with others, he sent me a mimeographed copy of Harold S. Schroeppel's Lessons in Advanced Perception. I don't know who printed this. There is no press name; only the title, author and date (1960) are given. It is stapled into plain, lightweight yellow paper covers, and has the look and feel of much of the mimeo stuff of the time. Like others who received the Lessons, which focus on telepathy, I tried the first few lessons and then slowed down when I began to get results that were unsettling (Schroeppel continually advises the practitioner to 'take it easy'). Lesson 7 takes up the dream technique for seeing and knowing the future. There are instructions for recording clear and vivid dreams characterized by images from the real world, for checking these later on for accuracy regarding events that were predicted in the dream, and for recording daydreams. There are exercises for people working as a team. There is also advice on coping with knowledge of the future and on the importance of sorting-out standard illusions about the future (which are often actually images of past events) from genuine future visions, and so on. Schroeppel adds that knowledge of the future may be contained in sensations, emotions or opinions about something, and not only in dream images. Other lessons take up the completion of cycles of desire, "genetic memory" (sometimes called remembrance of past lives), control of the future, and so on.

In a letter postmarked 2 March 1968, levy responded to a letter of mine that had expressed anxiety about something I had felt about the immediate future:


rjs confronts draft
john scott two years in the workhouse

yes, tell don it is coming sooner than
we expected. . . . .i don't have time to feed
yr hallucination

don't write to me from yr mind or yr eye
write from yr box

                                the change will do you
                                good/ if you cant do it
                                stop writing


It was a slap that woke me up enough to think about my writing, but not enough for me to really hear the words, "i dont have time. . ." It was not that I was trying his patience, as in 'i dont have time for this'; it was that his actual time was running out and that he saw this clearly: "i dont have time" 'Part of the problem is due to the nature of language itself, and levy was keenly aware of this.

last night I couldnt sleep
& took some sodium amytal


sailors wear
blue jackets & read
the Blue Jacket Manual
in boot camp

that's not quite the
same thing, but
you can easily
see how communication
becomes difficult

such as
if i say

"last night i took a blue jacket
(pause) to sleep
period, question mark
or exclamation mark?

Now/ some half-fruit cop
in Poughkeepsie thinks the
first lines in my poem
are obscene because i
i sleep with guys
& sodium amytal is
french for sum
dirty act

- "praps(I) two"

The irony is that levy was trying, in every way, to be heard clearly. But people were not really hearing him. He writes in Kibbutz in the Sky:

one political poet
soon dressed in ivy league
pin-stripped overalls
laying on a bed in the
poorly-lighted county jail
not waiting GOING

a few hours later
cash bond posted by a
nuclear physicist
& now i am on my way
home / legs & arms
still numb

no one seems to want to
understand that
not waiting, THAT DAY
i made a direct call
to death & he answered

We need to ask ourselves, what home was he now on his way to, "GOING" to? In The North American Book of the Dead, he had written, "my loneliness is only to return / to an ancient home." levy wrote of his intention to commit suicide again and again. In Suburban Monastery Death Poem:

The mailman tells me he was a writer
but he decided he likes to eat
so much for how America keeps her
writers in line
if i have any courage
next week ill kill myself
every week i tell myself that
& find something new to write about
or find a new way to say what i sed
last week

Yet when the news of his suicide came, people were stunned and disbelieving. Many didn't think he would really do it. Why? Because the promise to do this was in a poem.

people used to be afraid of poets
now they don't listen anymore

- Suburban Monastery Death Poem

For levy, poetry was life. In a poem describing moving into the world at the age of 17 or 18, he writes

i skipped the surface

& read books

—"praps i [three]"

The mind is the true field of action, not the apparent world. The poem, for levy, is the means of communication. And that is a big problem because of language, the word on the page, "words that mean nothing" :

Oh sad unhappy country where all the religious priests/ where all the old reborn holy men/ are forced to become poets. [. . .] When i get on the wind at night it is time to move on again soon, they are murdering the children we did not have the time to become. And we are sitting there with the words that are as abstract as napalm burning children, its not really happening, we're sitting here with our poems of love, pointing to the moon for a thousand years. . they are still watching our finger [. . .] "Assassins wanted" PSYCHOlogical Warfare, someone wants it in words & i dont want to be the one to say it. . .because they can only understand it on a word level/ on a material level/ forms of energy/ let them be blinded, it has been declared in simple terms / its the wind we ride, white horses painted black, lasers!? some men go mad seeing the light! others return to tell you about it Poems get written during the day, but at night we ride white horses painted black [. . .]

-introduction to The 18th Dynasty Egyptian Automobile Turnon by D.r. Wagner

In Tibetan Buddhism, the white wind horse of the mind is called the Longda. "Since the horse of the mind is wind (that is to say, since the mind rides on currents of energy), Buddhaguhya's Commentary on the 'Concentration Continuation' speaks of holding the wind, referring to its being easier to hold the mind to one object when the wind is held:

The mind - the king - surrounded by a retinue of mindfulness, meditative stabilization, mental engagement, and so forth is considered as being mounted on the horse of vitality (prâna). When the horse of vitality [wind] is held, the mind – the king – as well as the retinue will definitely be held [. . .]"

In the prose-poem above, levy is wrestling with the insuffiency of poetic language to convey the experience of the "light," and with the awareness that there is no other recourse besides poetic language for one returning from the "other shore." levy's greatness lies in that, despite this understanding (or perhaps because of it), his commitment to poetry is a complete one. Everything else is secondary for him, and it is this that sets him apart. It sets him apart from the poetic and political movements of his time (and this is not to say that levy was not influenced by or did not influence these movements) that tried to make the poem serve something else, and it sets him apart from the ideological trends that followed that try to make the figure of the poet feed their hallucinations. levy was unwilling that the poem serve anything. He was shouting through deaf walls as it was.

can you imagine
a poet with a bloody handkerchief
around his fist / returning home
each night to write the same poem
over & over for five thousand years

- "praps i/7"

During his lifetime, d.a.levy contended with the herd mentality that wanted to turn him into a cult figure or a martyr, and since his death the trend has continued. As a friend of mine likes to say, "A poet's worst enemies are often his friends." This is not to point to any ill intent, but it is in the poem that the poet lives and speaks and not in what is said about him. In the poems one finds levy's wit and his laughter, and these are so often missing in the idealizations of him.

In "lettre to cleveland" (Kibbutz in the Sky, Book 5) levy writes, addressing the city,

there are rules to the game
you haven't learned

1000 ways to destroy the
monopoly you think you have
on limited thought processes

tell me about your reality
and ill tell you
There Is No Security
in the universe

Who In The Hell
Do You Think You Are?
attempting to control god?
to stop motion!

cleveland if you think
you can corner a piece of time -
move to another galaxy
and keep pretending
but even there
we'll move over you
in a few million

cleveland I gave you
poems that no one else had time
to write
& you arrested me


in the days unborn
you will find my brothers
ARMED with words you haven't
even dreamed of
& if you insist on arresting
There Are Other Ways
you havent even dreamed of

These lines sound levy's dedication to poetry, his dedication to the brotherhood of poets, his dedication of many lifetimes to the realization of the poetic vision. In the last stanza cited above, d.a.levy is already gone. But I don't want to fall into a myth about the poet–a temptation levy playfully declines in Kibbutz in the Sky, writing, while in hiding and just before turning himself in to the police, about all the media attention he had been receiving:

[. . .] HANDS OFF
were printed; Newspaper articles
appeared–& i was trying to
discover who this levy kid was

As for the newspapers, there it was not a matter of not hearing levy, but of wild and deliberate distortion and sensationalism – oppressive, shameful, and absurd --being piled on top of the day-to-day experience of enduring "the nothingness of / being a poet in america" ("Jaywalking Blues"). The dreams of the poet, the dreams that keep our deepest feelings alive, also threaten the structure supported by the lies of the politicians, authorities, corporations, newspapers, television, "the military-industrial complex," ourselves–our whole nihilistic, materialist culture. levy realized this and understood well the danger it entailed. And so, the white wind horse in the prose-poem is painted black: so as to be able to work unseen.

grow a new mind
& do it quietly
if you can

- Tomb Stone as a Lonely Charm, Part 3

levy writes not just in reaction to the culture–but with the awareness of his own true legacy, a poetic continuum of six millennia, a continuum in which the poet, denied any place in the modern time of spiritual death, remains the bearer of light. From The Rectal Eye Visions:

R. E. Vision #8 / part II – for art kleps

an exodus in autumn/the white tiger has returned
the thunder & lightening is a shock for 100 miles

AK of the AdriondAKs : the SPINing concepts frighten me
it is sad to be a dreamer, unable to dream
a lover unable to love
a builder denied materials All Three rowed out to sea in a sieve
gone, gone, gone to the other shore/
landed on the other shore, SVAHA!


oh well/ if the government wants to live on a war economy
i guess we can give them a war---------i feel a dream
death approaching, the anxiety is a bitch.
if you knew the price you will pay for this                                      small
WAR ECONOMY NATION OF DEATH                                        prophecy
Worse than worshiping the golden calf you
are killing for it
consider the weight of yr possessions
america, twice this weight you will
carry when you die
for the innocent and pure of heart
i am raising the flags/ a warning of storms
Be Prepared to GO HOME LAMBS

i do not have the courage to say
this may be your last sacrifice

they will not weep on wall street
until it is too late & the tears have no meaning

there is no reason to play with death
this is not your country
when i smelled love burning/ i cried
& NOW i smell the horse of the Angel of Death

go home lambs

you are trying to build
a temple in a graveyard
YOU/have years to plan, my days are numbered
LAUGH at my fears and ignore my love
yet love & fear are the only wings to move on

when you have visited your own death
every day is the last
let yr children be born in the sun
"this country is insane"
in the world of the spirit one does not
lose what he has gained.

This "warning of storms" is from the lexicon of the sailor of Lake Erie, of oceans, of dreams, of reality, of words, of time. In a poem-painting, levy inscribes the words, "is that a candle in all this darkness? ride the brain waves." He is a sailor of the mind returning from the other shore, from HERE, hailing the lighthouse, riding the waves.

At the close of his Lessons Schroeppel writes about love:

There is only one force which can be applied in large quantities without causing an equally large imbalance which somehow must be compensated; and that is the force of love. But love does not control the future. Love permits it; love admires it; love lets it happen. The minute that you try to cause or alter some particular event, you are no longer using in its fullest that force which is called love, because love is a force which does not bend or alter events, but brings them to flower in their own natural way.

levy makes the question about the need for poets in our time the question of his whole being. He accomplishes this, in part, by loving his death, by bringing it to flower. Such is his affirmation of poetic being in the present time. levy sees the vastness of the modern abyss and responds to this question, as in his visual poem in which the word "SOMA" appears above a vibrant ink drawing:

can i recall
the millennium
instead of

can i be the millennium ?

When he writes, "AND I DONT EVEN CARE" in the lines quoted from Suburban Monastery Death Poem, above, it is with the shrug of someone who knows his resolve to be unshakable. To truly be a poet is to "be the millennium." And so, levy writes for the future, and it is from the future that we begin to hear him.

i know my dreams are unreal
but they are my dreams



In time I did use some of the things in the package from levy in my collages, though sparingly. I used them because I felt that this was levy's intention: to share materials for making poetry and art the way he gave away his books after reading them. But I used them also so that they could not become reliquary. Some of the Tantric prints were posted on the walls of different rooms, including the one I write from today. I cut out and then did not use the photo of the beautiful young witch from one of the movie stills. In one of my collages a nude from the skin magazine was transposed onto a crucifix. A cartoon bubble over her head reads, "We have to stop meeting this way." I gave to my teacher, who hid it in his desk.



1 D. r. Wagner.

2 "it is always the same / / i end up at home / with words that mean nothing" ("praps i/7").

3 Tsong-ka-pa, The Yoga of Tibet: The Great Exposition of Secret Mantra: 2 and 3, trans. and ed. Jeffrey Hopkins (London: Allen & Unwin, 1981), 112. The Longda appears on the Tibetan flag carrying the Three Jewels of Buddhism, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, on its back.

4 The long-standing antagonism between poetry and journalism was acute, in levy's case.

5 The words "GATE GATE GATE / PARAGATE PARASAMGATE / BODHI SVAHA / gone gone gone / to the other shore / landed on the other shore / SVAHA" appear on a painting of levy's (another translation of the Sanskrit gate gate gate paragate is "proceed proceed proceed beyond" [S.R. Petersen, letter to the author, November 2001]). See the d.a.levy homepage for an image of this painting.


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