John Levy

Delivery of a Cardboard Box

The usual big Amazon van pulled into our driveway. I glanced at the oversize calendar next to the front door: Monday, October 21, 2022. President’s Day. The young male driver, wearing a blue mask, approached the door with a large box that seemed to weigh almost nothing from the way he began to skip toward our door. I wondered if he was remembering his childhood as he saw me smiling at him from the window. I have a babyish face, although I am 70, and occasionally strangers tell me I bring back joyous memories of little carefree dimwits on the playground when the strangers were seven years old.

I yelled to him through the window that I would give him the highest rating possible for delivery people, which is ABOVE AND BEYOND, a gold trophy, and Amazon assures us that any such rating is delivered anonymously. He gave me a thumbs-up, looked at me again, and this time it seems my face inspired a well-performed cartwheel. I applauded. He bowed.

After he left, I carried the box in. It was a little heavier than I thought it would be, but it didn’t weigh much. I used my Japanese knife, the Miyabi 8-inch Chef’s knife, in part because I love its black ash wood handle and, as you know, its blade is made of 133 layers of micro-carbide powdered steel that is ice-hardened to 66 on the Rockwell scale. The knife is hand-crafted. I like to believe, perhaps falsely, that I am capable of being not only mindful but handful, and I breathe in and out with Zen meditative care as my hand holds the unique handle (as unique as you are, dear reader) and I slowly slit the packaging tape. I listen as I do so.

I open the box, remove the old, yellowed newspaper packing, crumpled pages from the June 28, 1953, New York Times. The paper was from my birthday, although I was born in 1951. Lifting the last piece of newspaper out, I find a wooden box with a glass frame. Inside it, mounted on a blond wooden dowel that runs from side to side of the box, a stiff rubber chicken stands at attention. Behind it, glued to the inside of the box, a luxuriant color photograph of a one-lane dirt road, on either side of which blossom tall sunflowers that lean toward the empty road. A single small white cloud in the blue is egg-shaped. I wonder which came first, the photo with the cloud or the purchase of the chicken.

Printed, so small that at first I didn’t see it, on one of the sunflowers’ dark green stems, these words (in lighter green) which begin near the ground and extend all the way up nearly to the flowerhead itself:


My friend, Dag, in Norway makes these boxes, semi-influenced by the shadow boxes of Joseph Cornell’s, but with his own quirkiness so that the boxes don’t seem merely derivative. I carry this one into the spare bedroom and set it on the shelf next to the last four Dag has sent me this year. He has more free time, because of the pandemic, since he works at home and his boss can’t spy on him to make sure he isn’t devoting his time to art instead of his real job.

No, I won’t reveal his job or his surname. You would probably call his boss. Trust no one, my father told me.

Kyoto Fish Merchant

The mer in merchant sounds like a whisper of ocean, the chant follows.

Mer reminds me of words for mother. I remember chanting when alone in a bedroom, a little taller than the windowsill, while skimming my hand across the top of the white radiator:

blue mama, red mama, yellow mama, green mama, white mama, orange mama, black mama, blue mama, gold mama

I never sang this for, or to, her; I don’t remember even thinking of doing that.

This shop-owner holds a fish that is one of the foods, in Japan, eaten to celebrate the new year. My mother died more than 13 years ago, in late January 2009. Her name, Zoe, means life. This man has his own mother, of course, and the fish he holds up and is talking about had a mother too. Words, going backwards, have mothers.


Of course, the word bingo is spelled the same
in Polish, but to me (listening to it

on the computer) it sounds like

“been go,” as if to describe old age or
some reference to a past. In Norwegian

it is also spelled identically, but is pronounced

differently than in Poland or the U.S.
To me it sounds less elegiac than the Polish, almost

a little bounce in the “bin”

whereas in Polish the “been” seemed
elongated and slightly mournful. I admit, I recall

my late father, in the nursing home at the end, hardly

anything of the man he was, and how my brother and I
wheeled him into the large room where other residents

were at the long tables and a genuinely cheerful person

(was it a man or woman?) announced
each thing with a joke. I don’t remember any of the

jokes, but they were something like “N 16, sweet

sixteen,” or “O 46, up to tricks,” and
many of the players weren’t

as far gone as my father and laughed, if only politely.

Lucian Freud Paints Me
He asked me to remove my clothes. The walls
spattered with eons
of paint, paint and paint on top of paint.

He told me: Lie down, on the narrow

cot I knew from 

many of his
paintings. I reminded myself, “Don’t be

embarrassed, men
have balls, everyone
and I'm only one of his many
nudes. It would be different if I

were the sole one."

The scent of old mattress, turpentine,
dust, and his dog, in the corner, I smelled dog.
I knew he’d paint me so my balls and cock
take the foreground; my face
beyond them, past the dull
narrow chest, and not more expressive

than any other stretch.

The Sign

I painted a sign, upper case black letters on a thick piece of white cardboard, hung it around my neck, and walked downtown.


Those three words, stenciled, easy to read from down the block.

“I am Fred,” an almost freakishly tall, thin, middle-aged man in a black baseball cap with no lettering on it, announced as I approached him.

“I haven’t dreamed in years,” a gorgeous middle-aged woman, with dyed bright red hair and dressed in a long golden robe, told me as I passed her.

“I am invisible,” the elephant said just as I neared its extended trunk.

“I launched your dream,” a toddler whispered down to me. He was in a tree and I couldn’t see his parents. “Did you hear my countdown?”

“No,” I lied, because I could tell that was the answer he longed for.

John Levy lives in Tucson, Arizona. His most recent book of poetry is Silence Like Another Name (otata’s bookshelf, 2019).
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Blogger Unknown said...

"Words, going backwards, have mothers." Perfect!

11:14 AM  

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