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DONALD LEV

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ABOUT THE POET

DONALD LEV is a poet, editor, publisher, fiction writer, coordinator of poetry events in New York City and elsewhere, and longtime editor of the literary tabloid, Home Planet News. Born in Manhattan in 1936 to a family of Western Union telegraph operators, he has supported himself by newspaper wire room work, dishwashing, cab driving, messengering, and news circulation while publishing ten collections of poetry since 1968, when Ree Dragonette published his first chapbook, Hyn and Other Poems.

Some of his other titles include Peculiar Merriment (Home Planet Publications, 1973), Intercourse with the Dead (Downtown Poets, 1980), Twentieth Century Limited (Iniquity Press/ Vendetta Books, 1992), and Twilight (CRS Outloud Books, 1995).

Some of the prose poetry he wrote for The Village Voice in the 1970s, called "Footnotes," were published under that title in 1982 by Cross Cultural Communications.

The first edition of There Is Still Time appeared in 1986 in a limited edition of 32 pages containing 56 poems. It has been out of print for some time.

Donald Lev's poetry has found its way into such anthologies as Do Not Go Gentle...Poems on Death (St. Martin's Press, 1981), Ten Jewish American Poets (Downtown Poets, 1982), and A New Geography of Poets (University of Arkansas Press, 1992).

He has had fiction published in A Day in the Life: Tales from the Lower East Side (Autonomedia, 1991) and in And Then magazine.

The poet hosted WNYC radio's "Open Poetry" program founded by Bob White Jr. in 1969, and has coordinated poetry readings at The Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village, the Cafe Bookstore in Park Slope, The Day of the Poet in Stone Ridge, and at other venues too numerous to mention. He is currently a program director for the annual summer Outloud Festival held in the Catskills.

Film connoisseurs will also remember Donald Lev's portrayal of the coffeehouse poet in Robert Downey Sr.'s Putney Swope.


A SAMPLER FROM THIS OUT-OF-PRINT POET'S PRESS EDITION


FROM THE BACK COVER OF THIS BOOK :

IN THE POETRY OF DONALD LEV,
THE SPIRIT OF GOGOL RETURNS TO LIFE
IN BROOKLYN AND THE LOWER EAST SIDE,
UTTERING STINGING SATIRES AND MEMORABLE WHIMSIES,
SINGING IN THE CADENCES
OF A WHITMAN, A FIFTIES BEAT,
AN ETERNAL, PUZZLED OUTSIDER.

FROM REVIEWS OF DONALD LEV'S POETRY:

This remarkable book of poems is full of startling recognitions and insights into the ambiguities and incongruities of reality... To read these poems is to embark on an adventure in the consciousness of an observant poet who is not lacking in a sense of humor. He expands our own consciousness as he disburdens his.

--Stephen Stepanchev, in an afterword to Peculiar Merriment

...a highly personal style: puckish, satiric, and always engaging. His verse, indeed, echoes Kenneth Fearing, Paul Blackburn, and yes, even Charles Bukowski...

--Edward C. Lynskey, Small Press Review

The poet... comes across sort of like a Beat in slow motion...Lev's inquisitiveness and intelligence have a distinctly masculine cast. His voice, its cadences sometimes evocative of Whitman, is so consistent across the poems that it seems to carry a portrait of him right in it.

--Kelly Lockmer, Woodstock Times

... can stand comparison with Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus... a style that is surreal and reportorial as if Orpheus himself were covering a dead beat for the New York Post.

--William Packard, introduction to Intercourse with the Dead


Copyright © 1997 by The Poet's Press

All Rights Reserved

This is the 145th publication of

THE POET'S PRESS

279-1/2 Thayer Street/ Providence, RI 02906


TABLE OF CONTENTS

LOOKING FOR THE KEY
There is still time11
Psalm 11
Just once 12
The passenger 12
August poem written in February 13
"The landlord refuses to repair this window" 14
How it feels to be mortal 15
Town meeting 15
The Republic 16
The Terror 17
Routine decision 18
Sadat 19
Mideast report 19
Jericho 18
Modern times 19
A page from my diary (if I had one) 22
City life 23
The Sense of history 23
"across a tv screen, the slogan" 24
Trends in management 25
My wine 25
Esther Rand: in memoriam 26
Fall and Winter (A Russian novel) 42
End of year kvetch 57
Thanskgiving 1978 84
ABOUT THE POET 92


For Enid


LOOKING FOR THE KEY


THERE IS STILL TIME

god is crawling on his hands and knees, so to speak,
looking for the key to turn the whole thing off.
he dropped it in one of the streets of glory and it
fell thru a grating into the depths of perdition.
he is trying to get it up with a gummed stick. it
isn't easy, and it is most trying to his
    infinite patience.

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PSALM

how do you
upend
the great stone jug of ink
that sits on horeb
ready to recreate the word
in all its savage power
without a blotter?
the nerve!
the world is my rorschach. i
shall not want for revelation.

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JUST ONCE

Just once, when I was quite small, did any-
thing happen at all. Not that i recall
anything of importance (well i know now
I was too young at first, and then too old).
Over and over elders repeated
inchoate remembrance from blank edges
of my own suppressed life's pseudo-pages.
Known and unknowing, infancy stretches.
Then knowing and unknown, march step changes.
"Order in the court," the judge of the quick
and the dead parts the sea with his gavel.
As I start across, he rescinds his order,
and I am stranded on the embankment. When
the suspension bridge is built it is too late.

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THE PASSENGER

a child in a superman costume
is teetering on the edge of a brooklyn roof
as the elevated m train i'm on passes by.
i mutter in passing,
    "don't try..."

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AUGUST POEM WRITTEN
IN FEBRUARY

just a minute.
what's snow doing on your shoes in august.
august is the cruelest month, when
the sun comes down
and you have snow on your shoes.
august is the month of sunrise and sunset
over cemeteries and crematoria.
august is an apple too large to eat.
and if you have snow on your shoes in august,
    you will stand accused!

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"THE LANDLORD REFUSES
TO REPAIR THIS WINDOW"

his eyes are opaque
he sees only behind himself
he does not understand windows
the sign, on a board the entire size
and shape of the window, replacing
the missing glass, secretly delights him.
it reminds him of his own vision.
besides, it is some form of public recognition.

the tenant will have to make the repairs himself.

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HOW IT FEELS TO BE MORTAL

Under blankets of dreams, mummy wrappings
twined with pieces of tissue, broken shoe-
laces, promises of eternal life.
My place in the world-where is it? My flesh,
what is or was it? These aren't my eyes!
Then feel...(as they say, "Once more, with feeling")!
Taste the dust of eternity. Listen.
Maybe you can hear your next breath coming.
Grant an interview. Hold a press conference.
Tell the world how it feels to be mortal,
how true riches only wait interment.
God looks out an elevated train window
passing a cemetery in the rain. He
cannot follow the kaddish we try to say.

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TOWN MEETING

mr grossbeak speaks
he says
what we have all been waiting to hear
however
he projects nothing/ and we hear only his silence
which we suspect is not our silence

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THE REPUBLIC

opposite the
tower from which
lookouts used to
search out enemies, is the wall against which
potential disrupters of the social order were shot.

did you see the last such exhibition?
i was one of the marksmen.
A wonderful cloud dipped low out of heaven to
    shade our eyes
a slight salt breeze wafted in from the ocean.
all was peaceful.
the seven terrorists, there was one woman
    among them,
were silent and orderly  and ultimately
    cooperative.

i am glad all that is over now.
after those seven were executed the state became
    quite secure.
we had nothing to do but sit on the rocks and
    clean our weapons.
one day, while cleaning his weapon, one of our men
    accidentally shot the lookout.
we are waiting now, by the wall.

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THE TERROR

The terror struck
before daybreak
our neighbors in sheets,
our servants with pitchforks,
our baker, our barber, our banker
all bearing torches,
surrounded our
apartment
our landlord refused to send up heat
some nut in a jet plane tried pelting us with bricks
the mayor told a gathering in queens that he was
    preparing to pass laws against us
the police just stood around and watched
the fire department took its time
an ambulance dispatched from mount sinai
    got lost in central park
one poet called it all a cosmic joke.

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ROUTINE DECISION

if you disagree with the verdict, the judge
    warned the firing squad,
you might circulate a petition. of course your
    standing would be doubtful,
and you certainly would be accused of conflict
    of interest.

the leader of the squad, one sergeant aimes,
    saluted thoughtfully, then
marched his men out to the courtyard
    in a double file, pushing the
prisoner along on his wheeled coffin between them.

the execution was carried out routinely.
    After which a vote was taken
by the nine squad members, who voted five to
    four against circulating
the petition.

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SADAT

ultimately
it is better to sit down to an overly
cholesterolized breakfast
at the market diner, than
to be three hours dead, shot
off a reviewing stand
from a parade of one's own loyal armed forces.
(at seven am, 2 hours late, i am getting dressed
    in Brooklyn,
preparing for a day of cab driving. He is
    standing, in the cairo
afternoon, in full uniform, preparing
    for the grave)
Anwar, peacemaker, born on christmas day,
    under the sign of the goat.

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MIDEAST REPORT

rioting occultists
threw spells at police
in the israeli capital today
as the Begin government issued its proclamation
separating the west bank from the jordan river.
the ghost of harry houdini spoke for five hours;
    the
grand mufti for three.
Larry Meanstreak of the American Indian Movement
was also on hand to denounce zionism in the
    u.s. cavalry.

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JERICHO

jericho was an unforgettable sight, as the
mists parted and we entered the surrounding vale.
it was the first city some of us had ever seen!
i felt like wailing! someone handed me a horn.
i blew my heart out. then someone
must have dropped a brick on me

(perhaps Pierre who lives next door to me
    in Paris and hates my guts) no
that explains not my life in Jericho,
    not necessarily.
when i came to, the walls were down
    but there was this
incredible hostility, like Pierre,
    who i suspect is
antisemitic.

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MODERN TIMES

yes.
i have sworn off alcohol.
i am quite fit now.
i jog twice a day.
i take pictures.
i am an amateur geographer
i live in an apartment between two angels
both of whom play loud music all night.
they think i must die soon.
i think they are wrong.
i knock on the walls. yell
turn down your stereo.
they sing hallelujahs
in a disco monotone.

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A PAGE FROM MY DIARY
(IF I HAD ONE)

friday
i woke up too early
i put on my
blackest cloak and my
bleakest stare
and strode forth to my
gig uptown
i
played folk oboe
in a progressive
bluegrass band
we played at yankee
stadium between seasons.
i loved the morning drizzle and the
morning
i am president
of the mourners' club
we meet
at a different cemetery
each weekend
we mourn everything

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CITY LIFE

He eyed my hidden hand. Distrust
shone under his eyelids like two
nightlights. My public fingers drew
back into fist. My other hand
remained hidden. A line started
forming behind me. Another
formed behind him. The clerk slept on
in her booth. The sky clouded up.
Thunder was heard. A drop of rain
fell on my nose. My public fist
twitched. The other hand moved in my
coat pocket. My enemy's heart
jumped out of his throat and landed
at my feet. I picked it up and
handed it back to him. Tension
eased and the lines started to move.

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THE SENSE OF HISTORY

 

cards filled with clubs
were dealt to me.
i set them free, melding them as they fell.
the clubs fell.
melded as they fell.
the last meld was the earth.
it fell on me.
i lay unconscious, not knowing what hit me.

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across a tv screen, the slogan:

      "THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THE EFFICIENT"

like take me for instance.
i go over myself head to toe once a day
         with a wrench and just
tighten
all the adjustments. efficiency is adjustment.
i'm a machine. yuh gotta be.

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TRENDS IN MANAGEMENT

junior achievement hustlers were all over the place
like green caterpillars on a picnic blanket
one of them spoke for thirty-five minutes
about how he took his grandparents to the cleaners
dealing them phony mutual funds
then a cake was brought in
with a nude hustler literally baked inside it
the baker came along to apologize
for his confusion about the directions

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MY WINE

soc
rates
raised
his cup
up
nervously
and toasted
the rising sun
then
drained
the cosmos
of its poison
though you and i
refill it many times,
and leave it
within reach of small children

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ESTHER RAND: IN MEMORIAM

    (American tenants' rights activist,
    died on a visit to the U.S.S.R. June 19, 1981)

your years heavy with dedication
drop like an anthem on the Volga
seventy four since your Russian birth
twenty eight since the Rosenbergs' death
and so many thousands since the beginning
    of the dispersion of the landless.

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FALL AND WINTER
(A RUSSIAN NOVEL)

zetzov was only thirty versts from
putzov, but i refused to walk.
anatoly! i implore you to drive me
to zetzov. i'll give you four
rubles.
anatoly spit contemptuously. "six"
he replied.
but i only have four. for the love of
God, anatoly!
he signalled me to climb up into the
wagon beside him.
when i reached the house in retznikoyaslav alley
grechunka was away in the forest feeding her wolves.
or so nikolai, her father's half-brother and her slave,
would have led me to believe.

but i did not believe,    i could not believe!

so i set forth for the quarter called svetlaya,
a haven for gypsies pimps and poles,
searching for my grechunka, to repay
her the thirty rubles i had cheated
out of her worthless uncle prince pitkin.
but she was nowhere about.

let her feed her wolves! i shouted,
and ordered more vodka

my head was spinning as they led me away.

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END OF YEAR KVETCH

    (for Richard, who's beyond this now)

cliffs of broken rock, me
stumbling over them, my
feet cut and bleeding, the shattered
tablets of my
destined work

no forget it
it is a cold night
on a windy corner

i stand with tall bagged can of beer
awaiting destiny

i have work running errands for several devils
who pay me
what i'm worth
there are no benefits

but i find an old portable
typewriter abandoned in a vacant lot
it types poorly but it types
i use yesterday's newspaper to type on

the work goes
not well
but on

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THANKSGIVING 1978

jonestown guyana , plymouth massachusetts,
& all between
at our feast tonight.
masada, jerusalem, dachau, california
and all between
at our feast tonight.
three poets,
two cats,
six lambchops
and a pumpkin pie
and a bloodbath
and our own baths of guilt

2

dread mother
you made me take my medicine
"cod liver oil" you chortled,
i knew it was cyanide
and rebelled.
but i was surrounded by jungle.
still i survived.
instinct was that strong in me.
let us be silent one moment
to contemplate the opposite fantasy.
i stand on a window ledge i see
hundreds of heads turned towards me
i long to take them down with me.
kindly and kingly i
shower my life's blood upon them.
see how i am emptied?

3

everywhere were
families gathered together
drinking the red liquid
mothers squirted it into the mouths of infants
some folks preferred to mainline it
"we gather together to ask the Lord's blessing..."
we had retsina, a white chalky green wine, with our
lambchops
& coffee with our pumpkin pie
"are you washed in the blood of the lamb?"
pilgrims and most americans
reputedly do turkey
we were different
but wondered what anybody could mean by
"revolutionary suicide"
was it anything like me feeling i could die
for the revolution, you
wondered; and felt uneasy about your '60s enthusiasms ...
i said i always felt guilty about keeping apart from the "passions of the times"
but was beginning to feel a bit justified, though not entirely.
alison wondered how one white man could mislead
so many black people.

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THE ONLY WAY

just in case the weather changes for the worse
and the sky gives out
and the earth caves in
and all the events that ever were
or ever will be
refuse to occur
there has to be
real
denial

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BEFORE ALL THIS MESS

Before all this mess was a time of un-
complicated promiscuity when
the lips were rounder, the ears wider, and
the eyes cleaner. We hopped over rocks and
urinated in tall grasses. We were
glad to find water and wise in our search
for meat. We gambled only for pleasure
and wrote books of five thousand characters

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THE CORNER TAVERN AFTER TEN

    (New Brunswick, N.J.)

there's an Amy Fisher lookalike behind the bar
cute bluejeans cut down to hot pants

nice

no grey hairs here
(except mine)
among all the (mostly tow) heads that have suddenly
trooped through the door, flashing ID cards at the
security guy hired for the night

reminds me of the cameo bowling alley of my '50s youth
where i seldom went, preferring bars where older
men would weigh their drinks and words more sagely

as i do now

an updated version of "move it on over" is on the juke box
reminding me of old/young Hank Williams
and the tears of the human family

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"FIRST LADY OF THE AIR"

    for John Herrold

amelia earhart did not go down over the pacific or anywhere
else. she stayed up

yes, she and fred noonan are suspended, forever, as you and i are.

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GENIUS

later
that night
the moon began falling
i cried "watch out!"
everybody was going his own way
what was i to do but
stand under it

this moon we know  is not the first to fall,
    nor will it be the last.
there is still time to sort out the future from the past.
there is time to choose.
to be or not to be one
who stands under the falling moon.

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APPENDIX: GENIULO

Pli malfrue
tiunokte
la luno komencis fali
mi kriis "gardu vin!"
ciu iris propran vojon
kion mi devis fari krom
stari sub gi

ci luno ni scias
ne estas la unua kiu falas,
nek estos la lasta.
ankorau estas tempo
depreni la futuron
elde la paseo.
estas tempo elekti.
esti au ne esti
staranto sub la falanta luno.

            el la angla tradukis
                Julius Balbin

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