David Lehman is internationally recognized as a poet, an anthologist, an editor, a literary critic and a New Yorker. He founded of The Best American Poetry series in 1988 and has been its editor ever since. He has also edited, among others, The Oxford Book of American Poetry (2006) and Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (2003). As a literary critic, he has published works ranging from The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (1998) to A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (2009).
As a poet, he has authored numerous collections of poetry that include Yeshiva Boys (2009), When a Woman Loves a Man (2005); and The Evening Sun (2002) and The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (1998).
Lehman’s most recent publications include (2015); (2015); and, (2013).
He has written for Newsweek, People, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The American Scholar, and American Heritage. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, American Poetry Review, Poetry, The New Republic, The Paris Review and now Stay Thirsty Magazine.
Lehman earned his Ph.D. from Columbia University and was a Kellet Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He has been awarded a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Ingram Merrill Foundation and he has received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award. He is currently Associate Professor of Writing and Poetry Coordinator – Creative Writing Program at The New School in Manhattan.
Stay Thirsty Magazine is honored to have been chosen by David Lehman to publish five of his original poems.
Poem in the Manner of Walt Whitman
Last night I walked among the gray-faced onanists and the women who love unrequited.
I saw the blind, heard the deaf, smelled the stink of alcohol on their breath, tasted the
sweat on the neck of a wounded man, and O I walked all the night long and I
Each one sleeps, some faster than others, some more skillfully navigating in the dark,
others snoring in the ears of their patient wives, some in noun clusters, others in
sentences that daybreak will disperse.
Each one dreams, the woman who paints her face, the loiterer, the shoplifter, the
trombonist on his way to the cellar bar, the prisoner who knows he is guiltless.
They may sleep wearing clothes, pajamas or perhaps a cotton t-shirt, but they dream in
the nakedness of the night.
I have watched the father watching his son outgrow him and I have seen the daughter
take her mother’s place.
The boy who stutters, I watch him sleep, I hear him dream, and I see him become a man
of means and distinction.
The shopkeeper, the beggar, the young policeman affecting nonchalance, the drunkard
asleep, the woman with the painted face walking under the overpass,
I see them fade in the night, into the same darkness that receives me, and the endless
yammering of philosophers I hear,
Each one contradicting the other, each quoting some sage of antiquity,
And if I could make them understand that I rejoice in their right to exist
Yet would not, were they to knock on my door, welcome them inside,
Nor grieve to learn that they have moved to Montana,
I would sleep contented in the dreamless zone before dawn.
Highway 61 (Revisited)
In the name of Abe – biblical predecessor
of honest Abe, who freed the slaves,
and also Bobby’s dad -- I stand at your gate
with faith equal to doubt, and I say,
look out kid, no matter what you did,
and incredulity gives way to unconditional surrender.
Abe say “Where do you want this killing done?”
God say “Out on Highway 61.”
God directs traffic,
and young Isaac say it’s all right Ma I’m only bleeding.
And Ma say it’s all right boy I’m only breathing.
And Dad unpack his heart with words like a whore.
Young Isaac ain’t gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.
Ike no like the white man boss,
and when stuck inside of Mobile to even the score
he looks at the stream he needs to cross
despite schemes of grinning oilpot oligarch arschloch
who wanna be on the side that’s winning.
So he climbs up to the captain’s tower and does his sinning
and has read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books.
He no get where he got because of his looks.
He’s on the pavement talking about the government,
and he knows something’s happening but he don’t know what it is.
A strange man, Mr. Jones. Isaac Jones that is.
Poem in the Manner of Emily Dickinson
Poem in the Manner of Basho
Poem in the Manner of William Butler Yeats
Now as at all times I wear his ancient mask
and walk alone in the lofty way of one
who, with the cold courtesy of fishermen
in trout-besotted streams, meets the dawn.
And now they are gone, never to return;
and now who will sing of their innocence,
swing the censer, light a fire, and burn
with deep passion for poetry and dance?
From the ruby throat of a hummingbird
I hear the question you left unasked.
Who would rejoice in the power of ignorance
and walk with his maker and an unnamed third?
Who but a paltry man wearing a public mask,
observing instead of joining in the dance?