In 1988

By DAVID LEHMAN

In 1988, I went into the unisex bathroom and read the graffiti. A
graffito from 1980 had been erased: “Support your local philosopher.
Buy a jockstrap.”

In Miami, on a visit to my mother, I got to spend a little time with
Isaac Bashevis Singer. He made great claims for the sexual organs.
“An eye will not stop seeing if it doesn’t like what it sees, but the
penis will stop functioning if he doesn’t like what he sees. I would
say that the sexual organs express the human soul more than any
other limb of the body. They are not diplomats. They tell the truth
ruthlessly.”

Sitting at my mother’s desk, writing a few lines, signing a few
checks, I opened the drawer and there were forty-year-old paper
clips. There was pleasure in using a pencil that was new in 1948.

I discovered a story I had written in college. It began with a
sweeping authoritative observation: “People duplicate the same liv-
ing room in all the apartments of their lives.” Nineteen years and
twelve apartments later, it was still true.

In November 1988, I asked Larry Rivers how he differs from
Andy Warhol. Larry showed me one of his “smudge” paintings in-
spired by a Dutch Masters cigar box. Then he showed me a box
of Dutch Masters. “What Warhol does is more like what the cigar
manufacturer did.”

We were on the way to New Jersey in a hired car. John Ashbery
told me he was reading a paperback bio of Vanna White (St. Mar-
tin’s) on the toilet. There was a quiet moment. Then he looked out
the window and said: “Look at the lovely older homes here.”

David Lehman’s most recent book of poems is New and Selected Poems (2013). His latest nonfiction book is Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man and His World (HarperCollins, 2015). He is editor of The Best American Poetry series and teaches at The New School in New York. 

[Purchase your copy of Issue 10 here.]

In 1988

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