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Best Famous David Lehman Poems

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by David Lehman |

The Gift

 "He gave her class.
She gave him sex.
" -- Katharine Hepburn on Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers He gave her money.
She gave him head.
He gave her tips on "aggressive growth" mutual funds.
She gave him a red rose and a little statue of eros.
He gave her Genesis 2 (21-23).
She gave him Genesis 1 (26-28).
He gave her a square peg.
She gave him a round hole.
He gave her Long Beach on a late Sunday in September.
She gave him zinnias and cosmos in the plenitude of July.
He gave her a camisole and a brooch.
She gave him a cover and a break.
He gave her Venice, Florida.
She gave him Rome, New York.
He gave her a false sense of security.
She gave him a true sense of uncertainty.
He gave her the finger.
She gave him what for.
He gave her a black eye.
She gave him a divorce.
He gave her a steak for her black eye.
She gave him his money back.
He gave her what she had never had before.
She gave him what he had had and lost.
He gave her nastiness in children.
She gave him prudery in adults.
He gave her Panic Hill.
She gave him Mirror Lake.
He gave her an anthology of drum solos.
She gave him the rattle of leaves in the wind.


by David Lehman |

The Difference Between Pepsi And Coke

 Can't swim; uses credit cards and pills to combat
 intolerable feelings of inadequacy;
Won't admit his dread of boredom, chief impulse behind
 numerous marital infidelities;
Looks fat in jeans, mouths clichés with confidence,
 breaks mother's plates in fights;
Buys when the market is too high, and panics during
 the inevitable descent;
Still, Pop can always tell the subtle difference
 between Pepsi and Coke,
Has defined the darkness of red at dawn, memorized
 the splash of poppies along
Deserted railway tracks, and opposed the war in Vietnam
 months before the students,
Years before the politicians and press; give him
 a minute with a road map
And he will solve the mystery of bloodshot eyes;
 transport him to mountaintop
And watch him calculate the heaviness and height
 of the local heavens;
Needs no prompting to give money to his kids; speaks
 French fluently, and tourist German;
Sings Schubert in the shower; plays pinball in Paris;
 knows the new maid steals, and forgives her.


by David Lehman |

Big Hair

 Ithaca, October 1993: Jorie went on a lingerie
tear, wanting to look like a moll
in a Chandler novel.
Dinner, consisting of three parts gin and one part lime juice cordial, was a prelude to her hair.
There are, she said, poems that can be written only when the poet is clad in black underwear.
But that's Jorie for you.
Always cracking wise, always where the action is, the lights, and the sexy lingerie.
Poems, she said, were meant to be written on the run, like ladders on the stockings of a gun moll at a bar.
Jorie had to introduce the other poet with the fabulous hair that night.
She'd have preferred to work out at the gym.
She'd have preferred to work out with Jim.
She'd have preferred to be anywhere but here, where young men gawked at her hair and old men swooned at the thought of her lingerie.
"If you've seen one, you've seen the moll," Jorie said when asked about C.
"Everything she's written is an imitation of E.
" Some poems can be written only when the poet has fortified herself with gin.
Others come easily to one as feckless as Moll Flanders.
Jorie beamed.
"It happened here," she said.
She had worn her best lingerie, and D.
made the expected pass at her.
"My hair was big that night, not that I make a fetish of hair, but some poems must not be written by bald sopranos.
" That night she lectured on lingerie to an enthusiastic audience of female gymnasts and gin- drinking males.
"Utopia," she said, "is nowhere.
" This prompted one critic to declare that, of them all, all the poets with hair, Jorie was the fairest moll.
The New York Times voted her "best hair.
" Iowa City was said to be the place where all aspiring poets went, their poems written on water, with blanks instead of words, a tonic of silence in the heart of noise, and a vision of lingerie in the bright morning -- the lingerie to be worn by a moll holding a tumbler of gin, with her hair wet from the shower and her best poems waiting to be written.


by David Lehman |

Examples (August 27)

 The last Campbell's tomato soup can 
of the twentieth century is going to 
the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh 
That is an example of a sentence 
Another is this from a CEO in Fortune 
"You die in either case, but this way you get 
to do it proactively," where the adverb 
makes the sentence I'm walking amid 
the tourists on Bleecker Street the riffraff 
the students with backpacks the bums and 
a good old-fashioned New York feeling 
hits me from head to toe a misanthropic snarl 
the urge to kick a stranger in the pants, 
and if you don't smoke you feel as if you do


by David Lehman |

When A Woman Loves A Man

 When she says Margarita she means Daiquiri.
When she says quixotic she means mercurial.
And when she says, "I'll never speak to you again," she means, "Put your arms around me from behind as I stand disconsolate at the window.
" He's supposed to know that.
When a man loves a woman he is in New York and she is in Virginia or he is in Boston, writing, and she is in New York, reading, or she is wearing a sweater and sunglasses in Balboa Park and he is raking leaves in Ithaca or he is driving to East Hampton and she is standing disconsolate at the window overlooking the bay where a regatta of many-colored sails is going on while he is stuck in traffic on the Long Island Expressway.
When a woman loves a man it is one-ten in the morning, she is asleep he is watching the ball scores and eating pretzels drinking lemonade and two hours later he wakes up and staggers into bed where she remains asleep and very warm.
When she says tomorrow she means in three or four weeks.
When she says, "We're talking about me now," he stops talking.
Her best friend comes over and says, "Did somebody die?" When a woman loves a man, they have gone to swim naked in the stream on a glorious July day with the sound of the waterfall like a chuckle of water ruching over smooth rocks, and there is nothing alien in the universe.
Ripe apples fall about them.
What else can they do but eat? When he says, "Ours is a transitional era.
" "That's very original of you," she replies, dry as the Martini he is sipping.
They fight all the time It's fun What do I owe you? Let's start with an apology Ok, I'm sorry, you dickhead.
A sign is held up saying "Laughter.
" It's a silent picture.
"I've been fucked without a kiss," she says, "and you can quote me on that," which sounds great in an English accent.
One year they broke up seven times and threatened to do it another nine times.
When a woman loves a man, she wants him to meet her at the airport in a foreign country with a jeep.
When a man loves a woman he's there.
He doesn't complain that she's two hours late and there's nothing in the refrigerator.
When a woman loves a man, she wants to stay awake.
She's like a child crying at nightfall because she didn't want the day to end.
When a man loves a woman, he watches her sleep, thinking: as midnight to the moon is sleep to the beloved.
A thousand fireflies wink at him.
The frogs sound like the string section of the orchestra warming up.
The stars dangle down like earrings the shape of grapes.


by David Lehman |

September 22

 It's the day of the ram
and the head of the year
Rosh Ha'Shanah at
services I sat next to
Mel Torme who outshone
all comers with his bar
mitzvah heroics while on
my left is Barnett Newman
big talker whose favorite
subjects include the horses
and the stock market he
knows the odds the women
are seated upstairs this is
an orthodox congregation
very serious I make
eye contact with the wife
of Menelaus who runs off
with Paris confident I'm Paris.


by David Lehman |

June 6

 No two are identical though
they begin from the same
point in time the same point in
the dream when the radio shuts
itself off in the middle of
"Just in Time" (Sinatra version)
the curtains are blowing in
and the driver of the hearse
outside looks up and says "Room
for one more" and now you
know what kind of hospital you're in
and you must escape from it
by acting "normal" pretending there isn't
a conspiracy against you as Dead of Night
shifts into Shock Corridor
there are a dozen versions of this dream
I keep thinking of what Ashbery said
about escapism he said we need
all the escapism we can get
and even that isn't going to be enough


by David Lehman |

January 24

 I was about to be mugged by a man 
with a chain so angry he growled
at the Lincoln Center subway station
when out of nowhere appeared a tall
chubby-faced Hasidic Jew with peyot
and a black hat a black coat white shirt
with prayer-shawl fringes showing 
we walked together out of the station
and when we got outside and shook hands 
I noticed he was blind.
Goodbye, I said, as giddy as a man waking from an anesthetic in the recovery room, happy, with a hard-on.
The cabs were on strike on Broadway so beautiful a necklace of yellow beads I breathed in the fumes impossibly happy


by David Lehman |

Sexism

 The happiest moment in a woman's life
Is when she hears the turn of her lover's key
In the lock, and pretends to be asleep
When he enters the room, trying to be
Quiet but clumsy, bumping into things,
And she can smell the liquor on his breath
But forgives him because she has him back
And doesn't have to sleep alone.
The happiest moment is a man's life Is when he climbs out of bed With a woman, after an hour's sleep, After making love, and pulls on His trousers, and walks outside, And pees in the bushes, and sees The high August sky full of stars And gets in his car and drives home.


by David Lehman |

December 14

 This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere,
The tarnished, gaudy, wonderful old work
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
That never touch with inarticulate pang
Those dying generations-at their song.
The One remains, the many change and pass The expiring swan, and as he sings he dies.
The earth, the stars, the light, the day, the skies, A white-haired shadow roaming like a dream Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines, Think not of them, thou hast thy music too- Sin and her shadow Death, and Misery, If but some vengeful god would call to me, Because I could not stop for Death, Not to return.
Earth's the right place for love.
My playmate, when we both were clothed alike, Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Suffer my genial spirits to decay Upon the bridal day, which is not long? I thought that love would last forever; I was wrong.