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Denise Levertov, 1957. Photo by Jonathan Williams.

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Dick Lourie

Two poems

letters to the dead: Denise Levertov

your old house in Davis Square looks the same−
I don’t believe in ghosts but here I am
doing errands in your neighborhood and
unwilling to stop thinking about you

suppose you hadn’t left Somerville for
the Northwest     or hadn’t got sick and died
five years ago     ah the poems you might
have written     but that’s for those who loved just

your work−while I loved you as well     so that
what’s in my mind is how right now I could
be standing on your front porch     invited
for tea again     ready to ring the bell

that is     if you were here alive     instead
I finish my errands     go home     you’re back
a week later though−this time in a dream
(“remember your dreams” you told us in class

so I try     but often they slip away)
in this one you have something important
to convey     some admonition or word
of encouragement perhaps     what is it?

are you urging me to write more?    calling
my attention to filthy politics
war     greed     wanting to know in your kind stern
way what I intend to do about this?

the next time I go back to Davis Square
it’s already close to Christmas−long lines
in the post office     at La Contessa
holiday pies are crowding out pastry

I remember that you liked this season
invited friends to midnight mass     served us
hot spiced cider      and here I am again
on your porch     now am I wide awake in

Davis Square or is this another dream?
anyway this time I’m here with Abby
a party     Mary and Mark     Rich     Linda
former students now middle-aged     some friends

you’re holding forth     amused     telling us that
old apocryphal joke: “Henry what are
you doing in here?” says Emerson on
visiting Thoreau in jail     who responds
“why Ralph     what are you doing out there?”

elegy: among the Dworkins

Carol and Denise by coincidence
are both visiting me on the same day:
acquaintances without much in common —
the New York Jewish princess married to
one of my best friends and the great poet
my first teacher who I still feel close to

by chance it’s also the day my brother
phones: “let me talk to him”   says Denise in
a playful mood    they’ve met a few times and
she does have this small streak of mischief    “he’ll
never guess it’s me”   and sure enough when

she says in her British accent    “do you
know who this is?”   my brother at a loss    
casting about    lights on some old friends of
my father — an English couple and their
children:    “it sounds” he says    “like a Dworkin”   

“he thinks”   Denise reports    her hand over
the phone “it’s a Dworkin”   and just the word
itself sends Denise and Carol into
shrieking hysterical fits that somehow   

establish a particular close bond
that lasts until Carol’s illness and death
eight years later — they exchange “Dear Dworkin”
letters    little elf statues    they greet each
other “hello Dworkin” and are prone at
any time and in public to collapse
giggling    this shared identity suits the
two of them in some mysterious and

deeply comic way    it’s the kind of joke
most people greet with polite silence at
best    and of course incomprehension    now

Denise is gone too and    of everything
there is to remember    what I think of
is the way she and Carol came to my
house that day     and how they laughed

Dick Lourie, a founding editor of Hanging Loose Press, was a student in the first class that Denise Levertov taught. His next book of poems, If the Delta Was the Sea, will be published in 2009. “Elegy: Among the Dworkins” is reprinted from Dick Lourie’s collection Ghost Radio (Hanging Loose Press, 1998)

Photo, top: Denise Levertov, 1957. Photo by Jonathan Williams.

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