John Levy

                                                                            for Ken Bolton

Of all the poets I read, Ken is the one I most
frequently, mid-poem, stop reading

to consult YouTube, as I did just now reading

Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces
singing Searching for My Love, which Ken declares

"a terrific song, with a great,
muted sax line—repeated—quietly, yearning—
irresistible—you always want to sing it, tune
to the hold of the repetition."

Then I note the title for the album, GO

AND BURN, a tie for a fabulous title with

I read again from the beginning after listening to
the terrific song. I resisted searching for the

second song Ken mentioned, another I'd never
heard of, Jan Bradley's Mama Didn't Lie. So now I return

to YouTube and tap my foot to it, then sway. As for
the poem, it turned out to be something of a book review

for Bernadette Mayer's Midwinter Day, which
he mentions at the poem's beginning

and gets back to after listening to the two
songs he makes matter with regard to Mayer. I ordered

a used copy of Mayer's book
after my first reading of the poem. Michael Dennis

said in an email the other day he has about
10,000 books and I, too, have many thousands, though not

that many, and I try to limit buying more. If I couldn't
buy them online I might be more successful despite

my over 50 years of yearning, quietly,
to own every book I dream of loving.

The Life of Riley

When I was in fourth grade my parents restricted my TV time to an hour a day. They wanted me, and my brothers, to read.

I often chose to spend half the hour on watching William Bendix in a show I now realize (more than almost 60 years afterwards) I understood less than perfectly. I mostly wanted to watch William Bendix, plus listen to him. His size, his voice, his gestures, nothing like anyone I knew. Sort of like a funny pages version of my father, if my father were inflated and his voice higher and he could be there every week day in the afternoon after I got home from school. And I could relax, just sit on the floor and watch him in the world, lumbering around. It was black-and-white, which felt perfect.

Sarah's Times and Mine, in Japan

How times have changed I discover
in a poem by Sarah Kortemeier
about her time in Japan, 30 years
after mine. She reports, in a poem:

The standard greeting from the children on a school trip: Hello! Do you
have a pen?

When I lived there, in 1974 and 75, children
would hold up a hand, press thumb and forefinger together
then say, solemnly, This is a pencil. Once

I rode a train out of Kyoto past
glowing rice fields and got off, randomly, at a small
station on a hill above fields and a village.

I walked down a paved road, no cars
driving on it and no other pedestrians, and through
what seemed a deserted neighborhood of

homes that were big, compared
to cramped neighborhoods in Kyoto.
As I was down the street from one, the front door
opened and a boy, maybe 10, walked, purposefully,
toward me. He did not

raise his hand. Instead, as he got near, he
smiled, and said, Hello, darlink.

The "darlink" perfectly pronounced. I laughed,
he stopped
and beamed
before returning home.


The only local obituary notice of a stranger I cut out and put up on my study wall was of a man with a big smile. He looked like somebody I would’ve liked to know. He was born about two months after me, in 1951, though died in 2009. Almost 10 years ago and I still have the small clipping up, next to a photo of me carrying my daughter on my shoulders on a path at the Desert Museum. The juxtaposition of that photo and the obit is random, the walls are jammed.

The man’s last name is unusual. So when, as an Assistant Public Defender, I was assigned a client with that last name, about five or six years after I’d tacked up the obit, I thought it was probably his son. As with most of my clients, he was in jail. I can’t remember if it was on my first visit with him in jail, or second or third, I asked if he was related. Yes, he was the son. I told him how I’d loved the photo of his father and saved it. I got along well with the son, as I did with most of my clients.

I got the son a good outcome in court, but he was back in jail within the year. I look at the father’s photo now, in late November 2019, nearing the tenth anniversary of the man’s death. I don’t want to take him down. I suppose if I never do then after I’m dead, when either Leslie or one of my adult children or even a stranger is cleaning this room, wondering which things shouldn’t be thrown out, the person will wonder why he is up. I have a number of longer obituaries, from The New York Times, taped to the inside of my door, but they’re all writers or artists and while I doubt the cleaner-upper will read any of them while pulling them off the door and depositing them in the trash, I also doubt the cleaner-upper will be puzzled.

I believe the man liked whoever was taking his photo. The smile isn’t too posed and he is wearing a shirt open at the collar, showing a white t-shirt underneath. He looks like someone who would be happy to see you if he knew you, or happy to get to know you if you were a stranger. He stays.

John Levy lives in Tucson. His most recent book of poetry is Silence Like Another Name, published by otata's bookshelf in 2019.
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