David Lehman







"The sun this morning burned a hole
in the wall of my cell,
crooked his arm inside
and lit my cigar
I was now wide awake
My shirt caught fire
The hairs on my chest were singed
But that was the extent of the damage
And when the fire went out
And the shirt was as good as new
I knew I was going to have a good day."



It wasn't your average bar or your average waitress:
"Baby, baby, I'd get down on my knees to you. . ."
Not here, she said. Just then the train pulled in
And the conductor, waving an orange flag, jumped onto the platform
Saying, "Now that I have your attention,
What would you like me to play?" On his piano, he meant --
and Ella Fitzgerald sang Goodbye, My Love.
A passenger said
A boy fell on the tracks two stations ahead.
Will there be a delay?



I lived in a brownstone in the Village,
Five flights up, two apartments per floor, and the guy
Across from me had just moved in.
The night I came home from covering
the New Hampshire primary
there was a hole in my door the size of an oval mirror,
the work of a blowtorch, a very professional job
Yet nothing was missing. What had the burglar wanted
that I didn't have, and why was he so sure I had it?



In the months that followed I saw him now and then.
He seemed harmless each time. Yet I can't say
it surprised me when his sister turned up
on a Saturday night in June, while Dave Kingman was hitting
three home runs for the Mets against the Dodgers in Los Angeles,
and we got the key from the maintenance man around the corner
and there was the body on the floor, dead of an overdose.
"I had a feeling," the sister said.



"I'm sorry I can't talk to you right now
You see my father is in the next room dying
Also the bar is burning down the street"
And then you wake up in your hotel room
and you don't remember how you got there
or how to get home from here,
and there is no escape from the dream,
no money in your pocket, no license in your wallet,
just the picture of a blonde Broadway actor
with a phone number smudged in pencil on the back.



The program is interrupted by a news bulletin
in which you are suspected of murder, and this is it,
the pure air of paranoia, more powerful than a drug
and you've swallowed it in one gulp, and now
everything makes sense, and you're doing the talking,
and the train is moving faster and the people inside are swinging
from sadness to anger and back, and you feel
the cold tip of a blade on the back of your neck,
and like a sprinter you have ten seconds
and one hundred yards between you and freedom.




The Change


Has anything changed
well, let's take stock
you'd have to say
Gilligan's Island has had
a bigger effect than
Saul Bellow that Miller's
"tastes great" versus "less
filling" commercials for
Lite Beer have entered
our collective consciousness
as has no presidential speech
since Nixon resigned
and the Times reports
a lot of people think
self-esteem is spelled "self of steam"
so I guess the answer
to your question is clear
nothing's different it's still
Nietzsche versus nurture