The Selfishness of the Poetry Reader
Sometimes I think I'm the only man in America
who reads poems
and who walks at night in the suburbs,
calling the moon names.
And I'm certain I'm the single man who owns
a house with bookshelves,
who drives to work without a CD player,
taking the long way, by the ocean breakers.
No one else, in all America,
quotes William Meredith verbatim,
cites Lowell over ham and eggs, and Levertov;
keeps Antiworlds and Ariel beside his bed.
Sometimes I think no other man alive
is changed by poetry, has fought
as utterly as I have over "Sunday Morning"
and vowed to love those difficult as Pound.
No one else has seen a luna moth
flutter over Iowa, or watched
a woman's hand lift rainbow trout from water,
and snow fall onto Minnesota farms.
This country wide, I'm the only man
who spends his money recklessly on thin
volumes unreviewed, enjoys
the long appraising look of check-out girls.
How could another in America know why
the laundry from a window laughs,
and how plums taste, and what an auto wreck
feels like -- and craft?
I think that I'm the only man who speaks
of fur and limestone in one clotted breath;
for whom Anne Sexton plunged in Grimm;
who can't stop quoting haikus at some weekend guest.
The only man, in all America, who feeds
on something darker than his politics,
who writes in margins and who earmarks pages --
in all America, I am the only man.
from The Café Review
The guy picked me up north of Santa Fe
where the red hills, dotted with piñon,
loop down from the Divide into mesas and plain.
I was standing out there
-- just me, my pack, and the gila monsters --
when he hauled his Buick off the road
in a sputter of cinders and dust.
And got out, a gray-bearded, 6-foot, 300-pounder,
who stretched and said, "Do you want to drive?"
So I drove and he told me the story of his life.
How his father was a Russian Jew
who got zapped by the Mob during Prohibition,
how he quit school at fifteen
and got a job as a DJ in Detroit,
how he sold flatware on the road and made a mint,
how he respected his wife, but didn't love her,
how he hit it big in radio and TV, how he fell in love,
how he found himself, at 50, in intensive care
with his wife, his kids, his girlfriend, and rabbi
huddled in silence about his bed
when his doctor came in and whispered
that maybe he ought to ask the wife,
and the girlfriend, to alternate visits
"because it wasn't too good for his heart."
"What about your kids?" I asked. "What do they do?"
"My daughter runs our store. My son is dead."
He studied the Rockies and didn't continue.
"What did he die of?"
"He died of suicide.
No, that's not right....Nixon killed him.
My son was a sweet kid, hated guns and violence
and then, during that fucking war, he hijacked a plane
and flew it to Cuba. He shot himself in Havana."
He watched the road, then grinned and said,
"Brave little fucker, wasn't he?"
Bill Matthews Coming Along
They say the best French wines have terroir, meaning the taste of the lay of the land that works through and gets held in the wine, the bouquet of a particular hillside and of the care of those who work there.
When I see Bill Matthews coming along, I see and taste the culture of the world, a lively city, a university campus during Christmas break, a few friendly straggling scholars and artists. I taste the delight of language and desire and music. I see a saint of the great impulse that takes us out at night, to the opera, to the ballgame, to a movie, to poetry, a bar of music, a bar of friends.
When I see Bill Matthews stopped at the end of a long hall, I see my soul waiting for me to catch up, patient, demanding, wanting truth no matter what, the goofiest joke, the work with words we're here to do, saying how it is with emptiness and changing love, and the unchanging. Now I see his two tall sons behind him.
Bill would not say it this way; he might even start softly humming Amazing Grace if I began my saying, but I go on anyway: god is little g, inside out, a transparency that drenches everything you help us notice: a red blouse, those black kids crossing Amsterdam, braving the cabs, a nun. You sweet theologian, you grew new names for god: gourmet, cleaning woman, jazz, spring snow.
What fineness and finesse. I love Bill Matthews, and I did not have near enough time walking along with him, talking books and ideas, or sitting down to drink the slant and tender face of Provence.
Copyright © 1999 by David Lehman
Foreword copyright © 1999 by David Lehman
Introduction copyright © 1999 by Robert Bly