from The Lincoln Quartet
Utterly miserable and in consequence, darling, I am up at 3:30 clawing out of a fitful sleep and wondering what kind of a fool I am to have plonked the chemical cocktail of miserable caged antibiotic ridden chicken into my system when Carolina my great grandmother simply went out to the yard and plucked one. I've wanted chickens for years and I was enchanted with Nanny's chickens and her skirt-tails, wanting to kill Charlie for letting the coop fall down and therefore losing the wonderful roosts I used to put my hand into for the brown and speckled eggs. I had some anti-Puritan fantasy spurred by genetics, the magic of this ring which doesn't seem to want to leave my finger, and the last lover of my life, you. It didn't help that I had sex for the first time since I realized who you were and let go of my misery. What a gasping, or that I went into my thing struggling with a 20 year manuscript that is brilliant but dull and must be fixed piecemeal and reset to standard. I constantly change now, and what I write these days flows like smelted metal. God I love you, and that is the worst part. And my little Charlene pretending to be a woman and diving into the rapids of sensual love, eager to get it right the next time I'm sure. Then there is the remedy David stepped me up to, saying this one will probably get you into The New Yorker, as we nervously watched his new German wife bump and grind ach ach ach with the workers in the yard. He knew, trapped inside the genius that allows him to see the way for others and not himself, that I would find something great, because I've given him the scoop and insisted upon who I really am. While he, in the humble attitude that is his tradition even if he’d just as soon jettison it finally understood what I was saying. I absolutely refuse to even consider the fact that I could be so untuned by your absence.
Turning on a Dime
I have an answer to our dilemma. I'm so terribly distracted with you I just poured cat food in the bird feeder baby. I got a good idea when John the Director at the Writer’s Institute wanted to see me and go swimming at the Lincoln Club pool. We snuck in because we were not members and swam. John told me about his nervous breakdowns and asked me if I was ready for one because I should have to have them if I were going to be a great poet, I should have to fling myself into things that would drive me crazy. I just looked at him. Like I haven't done that. Like I am not doing that right now with a man who turns on a dime, kisses me in the moonlight, and urgently whispers that I will be his American mistress and I, swimming by his side talk about the relative merits of reading two translations simultaneous, one Germanic and one Latinate when reading a translation of a language you don't know as well as having the original text in the mother language. He thought I was wonderful when I said things like that. So we got out of the pool dressed and went to the dinner slightly wet. The director's wife was flabbergasted. The director didn't want to buy me dinner but John assured him we were only having an appetizer and then going back to the apartment. Barbara asked you are not coming to the reading and John said no. The director's wife asked in an offended tone why not? John could hardly speak. He stuttered anyway unless he was drunk or in bed with me. He mumbled something about cleaning for his guests coming for Saint Patrick's Day, which Americans will always go for. Anyway heading the Writers Institute has fabulous benefits attached in terms of meeting everyone in the world. (The jerks never brought Joseph here for some stupid political reason) I should be able to see you. We could sneak away to the farm. You could live in Beatrice, a fabulous hill town full of witches and very witchy buildings etched into the hills. I took John up there once. He was well pleased. Or you could live on the little lake. It’s very cute. I so desperately want to live by the water in the summer and on the farm at the same time which means I must own property on a lake hopefully somewhere where the ghosts of braves walk on the old path which follows the lake road in the mist of night and the sunken island is nearby. You must go with me. We will find a place on the grounds to make love like we did years ago when we were Irish servants there and my arm brushed against yours going up and down the narrow servant's staircase.
My father was a terrible drunk but not mean. He used to meet all kinds of characters in the bars and suddenly in our life there was a peddler of apples who drove a funny little van filled with baskets of apples. We called him of the apple man of course. He was very little and round and had a ho ho laugh. He used to make us his last stop on the route because he could crash on our couch after a night of drinking at the end of a long day of peddling. We never knew when we came down the stairs in the morning to get ready for school if he would be on the couch asleep. We always had tons of hired men around, many of whom lived with us. My father took on stray boys for room and board and worked them to death. One who was with us forever was Paul Nightingale, a slender boy not so tall with red hair so he was just Red and nobody believed his name was really Nightingale anyway. I have probably a thousand or more tales of being on the farm with all the drunks and the monkey business that went on. There was Billy Ryan and Craig and Red and Fats and Monroe and George Ballard and Frankie and the milkman who tried to show me his penis for a quarter and the one who threw me down on a bale of hay and wouldn't let me up and the one who wanted to show me how to make milk down behind the cows and the one who rushed me through the manger in a wheelbarrow and the one who made me chocolate pudding and probably kissed me when I was two. Red loved me you know, as did many of the boys. He was very quiet and sweet. Well, of course there was always booze everywhere and drinkers hate to drink alone so Red would drink once in a while and he absolutely could not stop until he was very drunk. One day we couldn't find him anywhere. We looked and looked. When I went to bed I saw his feet sticking out from under the end of my bed. He had tried to find me and settled down to sleep as near as he could get.
I feel like a lost treasure in an ancient city under the ocean that some cataclysm has sunk. Not really Atlantis baby but really I am just coming into my own and find myself stumped by love, real love, but at the same time in the unadmirable position of seeing through certain vanities and battling mosquitoes to boot. The dry-cleaning business, which is supposed to expire at this time of year, continues to roll on. And I am in constant low level reaction hot flashing as well something weird coming to light finally instead of remaining under the surface of the armpit. Meanwhile my homeopath wants me to study with him in a small group this fall. I am hesitating quite frankly because of the Time and Money. Phillip is still driving me up a proverbial wall because he is so fucking great and awful at the same time. Now he is upping the ante by trying to quit smoking and succeeding for the most part. I am crazy about this man and yet I am still happy when Richard is rarely well as he is today and I found out they are asking $200,000 for a lakehouse on a puny little lake only because it is the only lake in Beatrice. Give me a break. I think Phillip is still entertaining the vanity of a young woman who wants to be his lover even though he says they are just friends. Today he admitted she wants more and wouldn't answer me when I asked if she knows we are lovers. Men! I figure if he can even come close to what we had with anyone else I wouldn't even try to deny him that pleasure but of course I would need a lakehouse too.
Jeffrey Levine's first book, Mortal, Everlasting, won the 2000 Trans-continental Poetry Award from Pavement Saw Press and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. His second book, Sanctuaries, is due out in the fall from Red Hen Press. Individual poems and groups of poems have won the Larry Levis Prize from the Missouri Review, the first annual James Hearst Award from North American Review, the 2001 Kestrel Prize and most recently, the 2001 Mississippi Review Poetry Award. His work appears in Ploughshares, Antioch Review, Poetry International, Virginia Quarterly Review, Quarterly West, Barrow Street, Yankee Magazine, and The Journal, and elsewhere. Jeffrey Levine is Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Press, an independent literary press located in Dorset, Vermont.