Poetry from Stephen Levine

stephen-levineMy dear friend Stephen Levine, before his own passing, kindly offered pieces of his prose and poetry to be posted here on the Living/Dying Project website. Stephen, who was best known for his work on death and dying, was the founder of the Hanuman Foundation Dying Project which in the mid 1980s metamorphosed into the present Living/Dying Project. Stephen died in his quiet northern New Mexico home, leaving behind his wife, Ondrea, and son, Noah. We are honored to be able to share Stephen’s wise and luminous words with you.

The body is hard to shed.
Resists with pain, disintegrating
one nerve at a time,
breaking free of the
peripheries to settle
at last in the heart.
Becoming being,
becoming ends.
Yet I grieve its perfection.
© Stephen Levine

Growing older I love the quiet that used to
disturb me. I have distance on my life.
The boast and pity of self-regard
have mostly fallen behind.
Heading home, the home I carry with me,
I settle into the clouds. On the mountain
I sit quietly in a sage meadow
visited by the same bees that make lovers
of flowering bushes
all that will be left of me
part of the golden comb hidden
in the hive humming with delight.
© Stephen Levine

Half Life

We walk through half our life
as if it were a fever dream

barely touching the ground

our eyes half open
our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are
we watch the ghost of us drift
from room to room
through friends and lovers
never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean
or meaning half we say
we dream ourselves
from birth to birth
seeking some true self.

Until the fever breaks
and the heart can not abide
a moment longer
as the rest of us awakens,
summoned from the dream,
not half caring for anything but love.
© Stephen Levine

Painting 4

There are no still-lifes
in Chinese painting
those 4 peaches, those
seven nectarines
will outlive us all.

A dry brush over light wet strokes
create a momentary mountainside,
seasons turning in the ink.

Near the bottom of a long scroll
a river turns toward two men,
one in robes and an odd hat
the other in thin cotton, bare-headed,
discussing how a painting might
without moving a hair
translate the living Tao
passing through.

They do not know who
will sense that timeless river,
but they know it crosses
through their dreams.

By the brushwood gate
the old hermit’s lonely doe
waits to be found.
The world alive in her belly.

Evening like a thin wash
blends everything.
a split of land
a cloud-filled river,
a hermit’s hut,
an empty boat.
© Stephen Levine