By David Lehman
New York, NY, USA


“A second chance – that’s the delusion.”
Where the swan drifts upon a darkening flood,
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion.
Speak with the voice of a thousand waters.
We who are nostalgic for the mud
of our infancy pray: Let there be more.
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

A Dialogue of Self and Soul


The critic is the gunman
in the gas mask
patrolling the ruins
and firing into the bodies
of the newly dead,
making sure they stay that way.


According to the critics
patrolling the ruins,
heaven is a metaphor for death.
But really criticism is death,
as Nijinsky wrote in his diary
on February 27, 1919.

Avid Diva

Id did ad via Dad.
Male name, lean man, lame ham. El he man. Hale mane. Heal.

The Suspect

“Whatever you do, don’t get on that plane.”

The suspect on the run reads about himself
on the paper, and on the car radio
the news flash is about him.

Waterloo Bridge

Every minute away
is a little eternity
and the next day
she sends you on your way.

Vivien Leigh is the ballerina
who has
the most beautiful eyes
in all of England,
and looks defiant, though bruised,
and love’s as fleeting as youth,

and when she thinks he is dead,
he being Robert Taylor,
in mustache and officer’s uniform,

she turns tricks
to make ends meet.

No two people
were ever as beautiful
as Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh
in Waterloo Bridge.

Bailout Package

They paid the farmer not to farm.

They paid the cops to bear no arms,
The arsonist, to set off no alarms.

They paid the poet to eat no peaches.
They paid the politicians to make no speeches.

They paid the photographer not to shoot
Or lick the officer’s shiny black boot.

They paid the surgeon to work his charms.
They paid the soldiers to do no harm

The Crown of the Evening

In one drawer I kept the collages of David Shapiro.
Frank O'Hara was dead but kept writing in that drawer.
In another drawer I kept a snapshot of Leander with Hero.
I was Leander and you were Hero and we were twenty-five.
In the bottom drawer there was a pile of manuscripts,
twenty-five of them, and the poet who died was still alive,
still making collages of a Rimbaud postcard and a butterfly.
My obligation is to state the facts, not to speculate why.
On the piano a glass and a lemon. On the music stand a short war.
In that drawer I keep a violin so you can play a melancholy serenade.

Insight (for Mitch Sisskind)

The second greatest legal phrase of all time
is “wrongful death.” Only “act of god” is better.


         When you’re sick, it’s like being an infantryman in the third battalion of the 101st, there isn’t enough cold weather gear, and you’re some place where you don’t know the language. You wake up in some small town or province that has a name you can’t pronounce. What was I doing here and then you remember. You’re not supposed to be here. This place is for sick people. Most of the time is spent waiting as when you wait for a volcano to erupt. You swing from boredom to fear and then back again until the fear is gone and all that’s left is boredom.

Quentin Metsys

Eat a cheap peach, drink iced tea, ache kind,
Throw dice worth each system of Metsys, Quentin,
Painter trained in the north, throne of rain.
What law, O muse, old hat, new heater,
Doll's house absent wall, beats all?
Can fuse or refuse, clean lace, escape landscape,
The pear we reap, not rape, theater of satin?

O saint, my sin, no stain but dire,
There's my ride, no time to emit
On eve of sacred day, scared stiff,
Declared if read, dear to Aunt Em,
A meal of tuna salad fit for a nut, lame:
I, male, nod, don words, drowse
In poem, not to mope in a tub but riff a ton.

June 11

I was born
in the Year of the Rat
between the Year of the Pig
and the Year of the Ox,
and if my Yin and Yang
are in harmony
I could be
a successful shopkeeper, wise
like the candy-store owner
in West Side Story

For a New Night [after Paul Eluard]

Woman with whom I have lived
And live
And will always live
It will always be the same
Red coat you need
Red gloves a red mask
And black boots
As evidence as proof
That I have seen you nude
Completely nude while lavishly adorned

Nudity, O my heart.

Credit Bubble

Shall we divide the foreplay from the feast?
In the gloom of morning, the flight
began. The sun rose not in the east
but south, where the clocks said it was night.

“Too many cocks spoil the broth,”
said Bernard Malamud to Philip Roth.
Why choose? Why not take both?
“Too many cooks suffer from sloth.”

Many exist, but few can deal.
Few can feel the hunger for height
of an eagle on a girder of steel.
Many believe, but few are right.

So let us divide the foreplay from the feast.
Too many crooks get away with murder.
No one can satisfy the lust of the beast
or bus, with corpses thrown under.

Idiot’s Tale

When you're shooting well, you're unconscious, you're sick.
No thoughts distract you, your touch is as the silk
of your rich sister's scarf. Now don't sulk.
The key to our business is buying in bulk.
Don't walk the batter. Don't risk a balk.
Look who's talking on the commercial-free talk
show you mocked before the idiot's tale
turned out to be true. But, then, no tale was as tall
as the epic poems that minstrels used to tell.
If anyone asks, just say: well, well, well.


         That summer, the summer of 1969, Sebastian and I rented a two-story brown-brick house in Jericho, the working class section of Oxford. Sebastian loved Wagner and Mahler but was seldom there. My neighbor, who rolled his own cigarettes with yellow fingers, told me what the war was like in London in 1940. I ate lunch alone at the Sorbonne on Broad Street, read Milton at the Bodleian, met an American girl from Brandeis, daughter of a rabbi, very sweet, and a French girl who showed me the French way to wear a pullover. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton visited. Also Bryn Mawr and Barnard. At a Camden Town bookshop, I met a leftwing Irish girl. In the movies in Manchester we saw Peter Fonda in The Trip. We hitched to Liverpool, then through Wales, then took the ferry to Don Laoghaire. In Dublin we outraged the owner of a bed and breakfast across from St. Stephen Green. I read the speeches of James Connolly, ignored Chappaquiddick, Woodstock, the man on the moon, and signed my letters Julien Sorel.

Congratulations on the Appointment

You are now officially the poet laureate
of the street where you live.
In the background Vic Damone will sing
“On the Street Where You Live.”


Against brutal Creon,
doll establishes
fugitive greatness.
His internal
justice, knowledge
law mean nothing,
only piety.
Questing revenge,
she triumphs,
uttering virginal
wounds extravagant,
yearning’s zenith.

“Good morning, barely awake. . .”

A cup of Bustelo, and the dream returns.
The old gang gets together in my living room
single (two), divorced five), a widower, a widow,
and one couple still married.

Inevitably the guests pair off and run the entire course
of a love affair from first sparks to ultimate desolation
on this day, at this reunion of undergraduates,
as if each couple were taking an old-fashioned acid-trip test
as they act out their love affair.


My word of the day is “Unberufen!”
meaning “knock on wood” in America, “touch wood” in England.
Unberufen, an interjection I heard a lot when I was a boy.
Henry James wrote that he was “working so well (unberufen!)
with my admirable Secretary; I shouldn't really dare
to ask her to join our little caravan,” which is either code
or remorse code. Unberufen!

Of a Certain Drug

Of a certain drug the itinerant mathematician
from Hungary said:
When he was off it, he saw
a blank piece of paper.
When he was on it, he saw
a piece of paper filled with equations.


The shorter
the entry
the better

Postcard from Peru

Bathed in the lava of love
I shall send you a postcard
From the top of the volcano.

The tracks lead one way only.

From the top of the volcano
I shall send you a postcard
Laved in the bath of our love.

Street Scene

Just now I listened to Bea Wain
singing “You Go To My Head,”
a song you’ve never really heard
until you’ve heard her do it.
Then I traced the moody theme
I heard while watching
Gentleman’s Agreement
recently. Aha, it’s from Alfred
Newman’s Street Scene (1930),
and it went right to my head,
moody and rhapsodic
in the Gershwin manner,
music for the Manhattan skyline.
“Street Scene.” You can hear it in
How to Marry a Millionaire,
which is a fourth good
reason to see that picture, three
of the others being Lauren Bacall,
Betty Grable, and Marilyn Monroe.

Speak Low, When You Speak Love
-- for Stacey

“Come if you can and I’ll buy you a drink”
-- you see, when I speak love to you I speak
in five strong beats per line
a toast to honor you O mistress mine.

Our Kafka
-- for Dean Smith

I called him “our Kafka”
in the Washington Post
in 1993:
Philip Roth
whose Operation Shylock
is a masterpiece, one of his great books,
and the next night I met Claire Bloom
at a party and she said she had read my review
out loud to Philip, because she screened all his reviews
because he didn’t want to hear any negative ones.
Would you like to meet Philip? I would love to meet Philip.
She walked me over and introduced me to Roth, who shook my hand,
and said, “I’d like to meet the man who gives me an even shake.”

The Silence

I can’t explain the silence except to say
that it, too, renews itself every day


I admit I’m a sucker for
“The Wrong Neighbor”
on Lifetime Movie Network
because deranged women
in boots wielding
a kitchen knife
are as diverting as
handsome fortune hunters
who turn psycho when they
marry the cruel stepmother
who blackmails the drunk dad
with selfies of them nude in bed.
The good wife saves
her sap of a husband
from the bitch next door
who gets sentenced
to an asylum but knocks
out the new orderly,
puts on her uniform,
and seduces the shrink.

The Swimmer

When John Koethe told me he
wrote a poem called “The Swimmer,”
I thought he had Cézanne’s bather
in mind, arms akimbo, head down,
standing at the shore, pensive,
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art,

but he was thinking of John Cheever’s
story and the movie with Burt Lancaster
swimming from one backyard pool
to the next. It is I who think
of “The Swimmer”
as Cézanne’s bather at the shore.

The Bronze Decor

At the end of the mind the last shepherds wander.
The last of the just is an angry sinner
Who leaves without a word after a dinner in his honor.
The flag of his desire is waving on a banner.

The moon waxes and wanes and the banner waves.
The sea approaches with waves of reinforcements
And the palms spring back after the hurricane leaves.
The soldiers sleep unsuspecting in their tents.

The next wave will come from the east.
The hand writes on the wall of Belshazzar’s feast.
The troubadour goes. The maiden grieves.

“I will love you until the edge of doom,” he said.
He goes, and, despite his lies, she believes.
Oh, how they’ll dance on the night they are wed.

Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2

It’s curtains for the month of June.


David Lehman is the founding editor of The Best American Poetry series and is one of American’s foremost editors, poetry anthologists, literary critics and poets. A Month In The Life Of My Mind is an original work by him that makes its international debut in this issue of Stay Thirsty Magazine.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.