"Primo Levi's Poems," "a wall," and "White Dragon"

Primo Levi’s Poems       

                (Primo Levi, 1919-1987)


Levi’s poems waked in him

and separated noble from ignoble

sadness on the one hand, and dispassionate

embrace.  I on the one hand

breathe in what rises,

and on the other, what drops into the cold sea.



a wall


I put a simple wall between

myself and the world outside that says:

I am or: I am not.


whether there is or never will be

an “other” (writer, reader, mother

if no one pays attention to what I write)

to that one other I write:


if no one reads books

but hates and disdains them

they can yell their own poems


I will still write

and if no one reads and no one listens

(and I’ve got no reason to talk)

& I must whisper

I will still listen


this is something I have to make myself do

to be honest



The White Dragon


Someone has to witness even to a just war

because millions drink poison in its hands

walk over dead cattle & die in a heap


in the middle of the parades somebody

should march in stone manacles


not everybody who dies will be guilty

not everybody

who dies will be coward

nor deserves

to be ground up and roasted


The poet who spits white dragons

has love in her eyes


In a room full of hatred the air

is not fit for poetry.  But

spit at it and take away its best weapons

the silent undecided

who see no way out


Remember the reality

of death, its contagion pollutes equally

the just and the damned

and the white dragon


Take away their best weapons, the

reasonable people, who make hatred

almost explainable, convert them,

if not with logic then with the fragrance

of the white dragon


Take away the words of the people who

make hatred as plausible as toast

or a necktie or their own hands

washing themselves after a good meal


Take away their hatred, take away

their sorrow, bury the thing that

stands between us, that infects the white dragon

with poison


Isolate, insulate, you will never

kill them off, just make them embarrassed

to be themselves


Let the breath of the white dragon blow through

the room, if you have nothing to add

shut up. You were here to witness

the brilliance of the dragon


you are lucky

you can put that in your memoir someday,

like “I was there. I saw the dragon, it was real”


Tender are the bones of Arab fever

and tender are the American bones


Tender are the graves of confederate generals and tender

are the graves of the great great great grandchildren of slaves.


Take away the thing that comes between us, take down the wall

take down that flag that put the gun in your heart


If the white dragon cannot speak poetry to hate

she embarrasses its friends, makes

its relatives think he’s crazy, send him back home

to mow his lawn. Give his children some ammunition

for their teenage rebellion.  Make

his wife want to leave him, his buddies wish he would just

cut out early, the people at the job site, the office, the church,

school or industry wish he would quit, fail, drop out or convert

to a quietist sect of professional blood donors who simply live

so that others will not die.


If somebody kills me, I’ll be dead indefinitely. The white dragon

will see me go.



Dennis Formento

Dennis Formento lives in Slidell, LA, USA, near his native New Orleans. His books of poetry include Spirit Vessels (FootHills Publishing, 2018), Cineplex (Paper Press, 2014,) Looking for An Out Place (FootHills Publishing, 2010.) Dennis edited Mesechabe: The Journal of Surregionalism 1990-2001. He is the St. Tammany Parish organizer of poetry events for 100,000 Poets for Change, a network of poets for peace, sustainability and justice world-wide. His recent publications include translations out of Italian of poems by Florentine poet Cristina Campo (1923-1977), soon out from BlazeVOX, and a few of his own poems translated into Italian in the bioregional publication, Lato Selvatico.  


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Friday, August 5, 2016 - 20:36