Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #10, Fall 2003]

Ten "Shorts"
By John Lehman

You Know the Way to the
Place Where I Am Going

Along Highway 50, on the way to my
sister's funeral, I see a '54 Chevy,
a different color, but the same model
she and her husband used to drive.
I follow it for a while. Then it turns
at a traffic sign that says Back Road.
Her married name was Back. And
a moment later, my car breaks down.


Late Night Phone Call

There's a certain rhythm to one side of an
overheard telephone conversation. It's the
imagined responses and the sudden tonal
shifts, in which we, the eavesdroppers, are
aware that we don't count at all. Tension
mounts. Her inflection drops. She sighs.
Conversation ends. "Who was that?" I ask
striving for politeness, yet there is a certain
edge. As in a Hitchcock script, she replies,
"A friend."


Art of Reconciliation

After my wife left me, and then returned,
I wrote a one-act play about it, which we
performed on a Sunday afternoon at the
local bookstore. She, as the "repentant
spouse," me, a "cocky but forgiving god."
Later that evening, she rammed my car
through the back end of our new garage.


What Remains

She said it like she'd say, "It's three
o'clock" or "The sky is gray." Later he
wondered if that was what she felt
or if she just made it seem that way?
He bought himself a steak that night
and she purchased new sheets the
following day. As months passed, all
the nuances were lost. He acquired
a set of Teflon pots and pans, she
raked and hoed her garden. In the
years to come the issues would be
forgot. Each remembers only that,
something happened very long ago
on a day when the sky was gray
at three o'clock.


Meet Me Tonight at the
Black Lagoon

La petit mort, they call an orgasm.
I am spent. I have come and she
already is gone.

Once, along a near-deserted
beach, I observed a paraplegic
with his lover -- she was fucking
him. When done, he dragged his
torso across the sand. And in the
river turned to stare at me.

I swim weightless through murky
dreams and emerge as a serpent
from the deep.


Secrets of a Werewolf's Wife

She carefully watches the calendar and
for any traces of blood under his finger
nails. She has learned not to question
where he goes at night, the tears in his
clothes nor why the bedroom window can
never be locked closed. But, she too has
secrets. In bed when she pulls her arm out
from under his waist, it is a large, lifeless
snake. Her thoughts at dawn are geese
honking south. And sometimes, when she
knows, they are hunting for him with guns,
she becomes the moon.


The Dirty Deed

In the laundry room after midnight
cockroaches mysteriously disappear.
In the laundry room after midnight
pussy hiding behind a furnace listens
with cocked ear. In the laundry room
after midnight there is a sound like
dripping water. In the laundry room
after midnight it is blood.


A Neighbor Thinks about His
Murdered Wife

What you notice first, is the orange tarp
over half the roof to keep rain from falling
directly in. It was placed there by his son,
who occasionally visits him. They sit and
argue in the son's car with the heater on.
In the kitchen at night there is no water,
no heat and no electricity, only the wooden
chair in darkness by a window and his grip
on a well-oiled gun.


On a Sub-Zero Winter Night

I stare at a figure huddled in the snow.
Without my glasses, it seems a curled
wolf or a small girl collapsed in the cold.
It is neither, but segments of a toppled,
purple martin house that I had balanced
on a post years ago.


Secret Life

When my father died, after
years of Alzheimer's, my
sister, who's now also dead,
found a diary he kept that
we hoped might reveal his
secret life. Instead, it said:
I ate breakfast, went to the
store, watched TV.

In my sister's own last days
a book of my poems was on
a table by her bed, or so my
niece wrote to me. Poems,
like this one in your hand
right now, my dear, faraway
reader, that say everything
and nothing.


John Lehman's most recent book is America's Greatest Unknown Poet: Lorine Niedecker Reminiscences, Photographs, Letters and Her Most Memorable Poems, available for $12 from the publisher at 1-800-7-TO-KNOW or online at

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