A Good Week for a Birthday

David Lehman


As a Gemini in good standing

I divide everything in two

cannot conceive of Adam without Eve

dividing Eden between them

for one full day

in Ithaca in the sun and then to bed

the bed we made of wood from an olive tree



There is nothing like a dame

a Martini

the last at-bat of the first game of the 1988 World Series

a Martini with a dozen raw oysters

a jug of water for the geraniums on a day of full sun

a joint

a bedroom farce

a weekend in a swank hotel in Montreal

a day without news

dying in your sleep



What do you want to do on your birthday

Well, I have to file my column, run two errands,

empty two boxes of books, shelve them

write a poem or revise an old one worry that

I write too much decide not to worry enjoy

Linda Ronstadt singing “Frenesi” in Spanish

It’s my birthday and I can fly if I want to

high if I want to

join me the sun is cooperating

and there’s time for a swim

before cocktails and steak on the terrace



My drink of the summer owes its origins

to the evening at Café Loup with Terrance Hayes

who drinks only tequila because tequila alone

gives him no hangover and Vinny suggested palomas

grapefruit and tequila and I took that formula

added a splash of Cointreau two splashes

of Giffard grapefruit liqueur three squirts of lime

a lot of ice and shook it in a pickle jar (best

shaker there is) topping it off with club soda

or grapefruit soda in the movie of my life

I play the bartender hero who listens

to everyone’s troubles and woes

People ask me how I’m doing and I say

“I’m livin’ the dream,” a reliable laugh line    



Is Berlioz the Baudelaire of French music

the two geniuses linked by opium

take the “Symphonie Fantastique”

five movements one hour long

so it’s on the car radio when we arrive

and it’s still on when we return

after forty-five minutes of testimony

from the wise man in the wheelchair who

wondered who had it worse

the heroin addicts or the meth heads

the meth kills you faster

you can live longer on heroin

and suffer more



What would I choose as my theme music

if I were the classical music disc jockey

maybe Bernstein’s overture to Candide

or Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s “Cakewalk”

or Schubert’s overture to “Rosamunde”

in honor of John Scheuer

I have my Tolstoy to look forward to

and if music can stand for peace (the food of love)

today’s poem is a little tribute to the novel

summarized TV-Guide style:

Pierre loves Natasha and Napoleon invades Russia.



A beautiful day

Why don’t we get married, I say

We are married, Stacey says

I know but we can pretend

To be you and me

Twenty years ago

Just for the hell of it

Maybe we can even go to Bermuda

And tell people we’re on our honeymoon

And be believed


-- June 9-15, 2018

Originally published in Hopkins Review 2019


David Lehman

David Lehman is a poet and writer, whose recent books include One Hundred Autobiographies: A Memoir (Cornell University Press, 2019) and Playlist: A Poem (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019). He is the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry and series editor of The Best American Poetry. He and Star Black started the KGB Bar Monday night poetry reading series in February 1997. Three years later they were co-editors of The KGB Bar Book of Poems (HarperCollins).

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