The World Recast by Flash Cards

By Donald Levering

            The landscape of Craters of the Moon in Idaho was formed
            by overlapping lava flows over thousands of years.
And when I came to
in that blasted wilderness
blurry and paralyzed
I had no words for who or where I was
            ≈      ≈      ≈
A portent the night before I’d ignored—
            That old kachina doll on the mantle,
            its head fell off in my hand
And that vague malaise and headache
as I loaded my pack viewing the plume
from a lightning strike in the Bitteroots
            ≈      ≈      ≈
The trail meanders among basalt boulders
and islands of cedar and bitterbrush
into Blue Dragon Flow
Pitted cinders scatter at our feet
like gently clinking xylophone keys
We skirt fissures and prickly pear
our talk spare as the spirea
clinging to black rock
Bare shins stinging from scorpion weed
I wander off from my companions         craving solitude
Wire lettuce snags my sleeves
Solo I trek with a small canteen
into hardened memory
of Earth’s molten core
The broken lava—
shattered saucers and teacups—
clatters with every step

I roam into mirage
            thirsty              stumbling        alone
thrombosis headache among spatter cones
Suddenly weightless,          floating
            before the ax blow of the stroke
            ≈      ≈      ≈
I wake beside black blood clotted on clinkstone
face feels cleaved in two          one eye blind
            lifeless arm                   limp leg
Without words I cast about the scorched terrain 
                        crawl in circles
                        jab flesh on sharp edges
Hardly are there words
            for being          without thoughts
                        for missing words
                                    to perch them on
With frazzled synapses           blood-starved brain
            an "I" no more prescient than a lizard
            drags itself to shade and waits
            adrift in simmering obsidian sea
            ≈      ≈      ≈
absent locomotion       vision eclipsed 
            thinking occluded       without focus
lacking center              groping for a "me"
     mouthing slurred                garbled sounds
              growling vowels
                                                  cracked strains
                                    meaning mangled
            ≈      ≈        ≈

After rescuers' flashlights—
After the whapping medivac
retrieves my remnants
from the moon’s dark side
After surgery
After reclamation of my limbs and eye
                        the world is renewed                        
                        one flash card at a time                        
                        repeated numberless times
                        Pictograph equals word equals
                                        fragment of the world
                        Fragments pieced together
to make phrases
          Phrases spliced
to regions that were spared
Through cycling phases of the moon
constant consonant cluster practice—
            fresh fruit float             bleached black bloomers
Word games night and day
Thumb stains imbue the card decks
            ≈      ≈        ≈

          Fix the Phrases
He’s as fit as a riddle.
Cats in your belfry.
Close the barn door after the cows have bled.
          Pick One

Drag the (phone / comb / tomb) through your hair.
He (cried / died / tried) over his father’s death.
The (cow / sow / owl) flew overhead.
          Make It Rhyme

A frog hops             A housewife   _______.
Lightning strikes       A walker _______.
A river bends         Memory _______.
            ≈      ≈      ≈

I go back to Craters of the Moon
to link my healing to this land
as memory mends between fragments of black glass
Here now                    as here before
            a rattler whispers through a lava tube
            wild mustangs ripple in the wind
            I find the bobcat petroglyph once more
Resting in an ice cave’s cool quiet
I am whole again
            ≈      ≈      ≈

If I hadn’t isolated                  lacking water
            If I hadn’t floated weightless
If my father hadn’t hemorrhaged in his brain
If on waking every day
landscape can re-splay itself
            across the baked horizon
            in layered hues of extrusion
                        pitch     silver       olivine       smalt
                            oxblood     ruddy       blue-black
If I could crank the clock hands back
            exactly to before I took that fork
            in the clinker trail
                        You can’t rewind your wounds
If the lizard can regrow its tail
                        Perhaps lapsed synapses…
If grasses can come back after cattle are fenced off
                                    The world recast by flash cards
If words are porous stones
and thoughts
                                    lava streams aflow in moon gleam

for Mike Medberry

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About Donald Levering

Former NEA Fellow Donald Levering’s 12th poetry book, The Water Leveling With Us, was published in 2014 by Red Mountain Press. He has worked as a groundskeeper, teacher on the Navajo reservation, and human services administrator. Featured in the Academy of American Poets Forum, the Ad Astra Poetry Project, and the Duende Poetry Series, he won the Quest for Peace contest in rhetoric. His poems have appeared in The Alembic, Atlanta Review, Blue Rock Review, Bloomsbury Review, Columbia, Commonweal, Harpur Palate, Hiram Poetry Review, Hunger Mountain, Poet & Critic, Poet Lore, Quiddity, Southern Poetry Review, Water~Stone, and Yemassee. He volunteers as a species preservation and human rights activist. He is married to the artist Jane Shoenfeld and lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Visit


  1. Janice K.
    Posted March 2015 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    Donald Levering’s poem is deeply personal yet profoundly relatable. A moving and exquisitely crafted ode to the natural wonders of the immense landscapes of the human mind and the world around us all.

  2. Posted March 2015 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Terrific poem — evocative and penetrating and pacing that lets thoughts and images sink in, but drives one on to find out the outcome.

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