John Levy

Welcome, John Levy

I was in my early 20s. My parents lived in Minneapolis until I was eight, then we moved and never returned. I had come back to Minneapolis for a family reunion on my mother’s side, a reunion which turned out to be the single reunion (while on my father’s side we’ve had reunions for decades now).

I found the house where I spent my first eight years. Then I walked for over a mile to get to the candy store I used to visit, alone. I remembered the glass display case, the strips of white paper with small round drops of candy, all the other treats to consider with my pennies. It was still there, but was now a small restaurant as well. A middle-aged man was behind the counter, perhaps old enough to have worked there when I was a child. But I didn’t introduce myself, didn’t do anything other than order a lemonade and sit at a table. I was the only customer. It was the middle of the afternoon.

Then the door opened and a boy, maybe 17, stepped in and the man behind the counter said, “Welcome, John Levy.” He even pronounced Levy the way my family does, so that it sort of rhymes with TV. The boy smiled at the man. I don’t know if that was the biggest coincidence in my life so far (I am 67 now), but I imagine it will always be in the top three and I haven’t given any thought to which other ones are up there. It is strange enough to greet a customer/friend with a first and last name, but for that name to be the same name of the only customer in the space. . .I didn’t say anything. I suppose I could have introduced myself to both of them, told them a little of my own story. The boy had an innocence to him, a freshness. It was easy to imagine him being greeted with enthusiasm wherever he showed up. He must also be in his sixties now, I hope.

Greek Hearses (1983-1985)

I saw them enough, those two years
I lived in a small village and taught English

in Kalamata. I almost never saw
the hearses in the village. They would be

in Kalamata

or sometimes one would be
parked. I remember one at the curb

a little downhill
from the Kalamata hospital, no

in it. No one

on the sidewalk. I have a terrible

memory, but it continues
to send me this, like a postcard

with no writing
on the blank side.


Letter to Kazuko Nakane and Alan Chong Lau (5/8/19)

Dear Kazuko and Alan,

Greetings from Tucson, have I mentioned
we sometimes hear the roar of our Air Force's
fighter jets? They thundered overhead just
now, 12:33 p.m., while I was, as I still am,
inside my home. Outside are barbed wire fences
to our north that someone placed before we
moved here about 33 years ago (ah, 33, I remember
that age, each age with mirrored numbers
seems a bit like magic). I'm not sure what I was going
to say before the jets entered the narrow space my
thoughts barely fill. I wanted to let the two of you know
I was thinking of you then the jets made me think of
them. Now I imagine the pilots, above the city, people
much too far down to show up even as
specks. They move at speed
thoughts perhaps may match, minus the noise,
and sure enough as if on cue here are more roars. I suppose

these are different pilots, their individual childhoods
far back in their minds
as they follow their orders, train. If I'd been listening
to one of the hundreds of YouTube videos of music Alan
has emailed me in the last year I wouldn't have heard
the Air Force overhead. I know Alan paints
listening to music and there's a rhythm
in his paintings, often something like visual melodies
too. Now I think of Kazuko's mind, how she arrived

at the first line of her piece on Yayoi Kusama:
"Polka dot majesty, that's one way to describe Yayoi Kusama."
And in the same piece, she writes of Yayoi providing
". . .a kick of contemporary uneasiness."

Where are any of us going? Flying? Heading? Landing?

I think, as I thought
right before I began this note, of the old
black safe in the living room where Kazuko grew up.
It is about knee-high to an adult, but as a child
it must've seemed so enormous to Kazuko. I wonder
if her father or mother ever opened it in front of her.
Now they have both passed away and the safe is

still there, perhaps emptied? It seems a relic
to me, but must hold so many memories for
Kazuko. Outside the home:
Kyoto, the nearby Kamo River, the water birds,
the water itself. I imagine you as a child, Kazuko,
on the river bank, taking so much in
at different times, different seasons, the changing
light, the reflections, all the others
who are drawn to the river. And here
I'll stop, at 1:05 p.m., before the jets
return, picturing you as a young girl near
your home, your eyes full of the view of river and sky.

John Levy lives in Tucson, Arizona. His most recent book of poetry, Tilted, On Its Edge, was published by otata's bookshelf in 2018. His first book of poetry, Among the Consonants, was published by The Elizabeth Press in 1980. In addition to writing poetry he also enjoys taking photographs.
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