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An interview with David Lehman

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Poems from by David Lehman appear courtesy of Simon & Schuster. To order from www.simonsays.com

The Last Avant-Garde from www.randomhouse.com along with author comment

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At bn.com, a complete list of titles by David Lehman

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To visit David's page, with sample poems, at the Academy of American poets

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For more Poetry




A selection of poems from Evening Sun coverThe Evening Sun


by David Lehman David Lehman


January 3


There's an astronaut named David Lehman
an authority on South American politics
and at least one soldier who died in Vietnam
I saw his name on the Vietnam Memorial
and who should phone me on this day
but a woman who claims she's married to me
and apologizes when I tell her she's not
she's a wrong number I shall long cherish
I assure her wondering which David Lehman
was or is her husband
on the first day of school when I was six
the principal called my name I stood up
and said there were two David Lehmans
maybe he didn't mean me
but he did it was my lucky day which
reminds me of the movie we saw on January 1st
Christmas in July with Dick Powell
“Is it good luck or bad luck if a
black cat crosses your path?”
“It depends on what happens after”
and “If you don't sleep at night it
isn't the coffee it's the bunk”


February 12

Patricia Highsmith said
neither life nor nature
gives a damn about justice
which is why it “amuses” her
to see people get outraged
at crimes she likes the villain
who is cunning and brave
gets away & won't knuckle
under to the boring boring
ghastly predictable workings
of the justice machine in
neoclassical palaces in
European cities when she
would rather be in Venice
on the water where disaster
and sexuality and murder
hide in the alleys where it's
impossible not to get lost


March 14

We who dress
conventionally do so
because we're secretly
weirder than you
and afraid you'll
find us out.
“Sorry I'm late.”
“What happened?” “I
almost got stuck
in traffic.” “I
thought you went
on foot.” “Did
I come at
a bad time?”
“Well, we're just
having a divorce.”
This is America.
The psychiatrists are
certifiable. The security
guards wear sweatshirts:
“Nixon's the One.”


April 2

I thought happiness wore a skirt
& two-inch heels on Eighth Street
that's when I was unhappy but now
it's Gerry Mulligan and “I Didn't
Know What Time It Was” on a day
when I feel like skipping breakfast
& strolling over to Lupa for lunch
and then what? I'll let the sun
surprise me and forget the high gusts
that made an awful racket last night
they were shooting a movie
on MacDougal Street yesterday
with Nicole Kidman someone said
and someone else said Ben Affleck
four giant trailers blocked off
the street now they're gone leaving
the sun beaming through
the windows that need washing
filtering the light that looks yellow
in the planetary currency exchange
the sun is gold and silver is the moon


June 22

There's a darker shade of blue
in the clouds dragging themselves
slowly across the lighter blue
of the sky: and the darkness
of green as the light leaves the trees,
the green of the pine and the green
of the yew alike leaking light
into the evening: a streetlamp
lets pedestrians and predators
pass or loiter in the languor
of a dark blue summer night,
but the darkness of the blue
is darker than the trees or
thoughts of blue men on porches
contemplating the blueness of the moon.


July 14

Happy Bastille Day
As Steve McQueen
on the fourth of July
in The Great Escape
drinking homemade rotgut
in the POW camp
lifts his glass
“to independence,” he says
so say I
I'm not French enough
for liberty, equality
and the contested third
and as the century ends
so ends ideology, history,
beauty, the line, and so
many other things whose
premature demise has
already been announced
patriotism among them
nevertheless let's sing
the Marseillaise with Paul
Henreid at Rick's Cafe Americain


September 2

There's a disease that
eats away at English.
It's called Anger Management.
Let me teach you.
You go to a singles' bar
on Sixth Avenue where the noise
would be described as “deafening”
if I were a journalist
and you were European, Danish or Dutch,
planning to get into a fistfight
with a German just to see
whether I, the American, will intervene
to break it up, but I'm not going
to play that game I'm a New Yorker
I refuse to get involved.


October 2

While I wondered about the relation
of fraud to Freud and both to joy
my Wellesley girlfriend, a dyslexic
classics major, wanted to discuss
the “myth of syphilis” meanwhile
Jim Cummins confesses he lives in
“a witness protection program called
Ohio” and the critics sit in judgment
of John Keats and what he meant
by melancholy in his ode “I think
Keats is saying `deal with it'” one says
not the one who calls him John Maynard
Keats but you can't have everything
(“bucks, tenure”) all you can count on
is unremitting indifference
broken up by patches of hostility


October 30

After much deliberation
I have made up my mind
Life may be painful, sad,
charming, amusing, unkind
the one thing it cannot be
is boring that is why I've
assigned Mozart to a certain
great jazz clarinetist and
allowed myself the luxury
of not having to make a choice
at the museum I can have
my Matisse and Picasso too
my Pollock and de Kooning
though academics claim you
can have only one or the other
that is why they're academics
and write letters denouncing
their ex-friends in journals
edited by people who can't write
for people who won't read


November 13

I keep thinking of Apollinaire
whose poems I don't have with me
so I'll have to trust my memory
of “Zone” where he walks around
Paris the posters are prose poems
the bridges along the Seine are sheep
the Eiffel Tower a shepherdess
the refugees at the Gare St. Lazaire
dream of making l'argent in the Argentine
and there are exotic birds and “you,
Pope Pius IX, only you are modern
among the Europeans,” with Jesus
an aviator and the windows following
the poet from street to street until
the sun comes down or is guillotined


December 29

When they quizzed Quine on the existence of physical objects
yes he said in practice as a matter of convenience
but there was no epistemological distinction between Homer's gods
and the furniture in the living room no distinction
between contingent truths (the train doesn't stop here anymore)
and definitive ones (all men must die) born in 1908
majored in math at Oberlin, in Europe he met
the logical positivists, returned to Harvard,
said, “an explanation not the deepest one, but of a shallower kind
is possible at the purest behavioral level" that was
the century's philosophy for you logical pure and shallow
had the question mark removed from his typewriter
in the Navy in World War II decoded German
submarine cipher first marriage second marriage
“I am deeply moved by occasional passages
of poetry, and so, characteristically, I read
little of it," collected stamps, liked to cross borders,
had a talent for drawing portraits and maps