Dutch Interior, Election Day, Variations on a Theme

by David Lehman

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Dutch Interior

He liked the late afternoon light as it dimmed
In the living room, and wouldn’t switch on
The electric lights until past eight o’clock.
His wife complained, called him cheerless, but
It wasn’t a case of melancholy; he just liked
The way things looked in air growing darker
So gradually and imperceptibly that it seemed
The very element in which we live. Every man
And woman deserves one true moment of greatness
And this was his, this Dutch interior, entered
And possessed, so tranquil and yet so busy
With details: the couple’s shed clothes scattered
On the backs of armchairs, the dog chasing a shoe,
The wide open window, the late afternoon light.

from Valentine Place (Scribner, 1996)


Election Day

E. B. White said democracy
is a letter to the editor and
I’m not sure I agree though I
love letters to the editor
particularly loony ones that
begin by quoting Bob Dylan’s
Like a Rolling Stone and end
by endorsing “nobody” for
president (“If nobody wins
nobody loses”) but when I
think of democracy in America
I think not of Tocqueville but
of The Great McGinty
a great Preston Sturges movie
where the big city hero now
a bartender recounts how
he, a bum, got paid to vote early,
vote often, and so impressed
the machine boss that he rose
to become an alderman
then the mayor of the city
then governor and would have
kept the job, too, if he hadn’t
(thanks to do-gooder wife)
tried to do some good for
the people some think
the moral is that politics
is crooked but I think it’s
that anyone can grow up
to become governor



Variations on a Theme



You’re in love and you’ll do anything
You’ll lie cajole threaten to join the army
join the army get shot come home
wounded and embittered you’ll do it
For a taste of her jam you’ll agree to it
Agreed but wisdom isn’t survival
well maybe it includes survival but
it isn’t only survival it has to exalt
something else such as love
the love that led you
to abandon all wisdom

You’re in love
You head down to the river to cry
all lovers have the right to cry
and sing the blues
down around the river


You’re in love and Paris
with lover and lust
it’s human to want to hear
her voice in your ear
and you quicken your stride
like an electrician on his day off
who knows how the place is wired
and wouldn’t let her do something weird
like stick her finger in a socket
and that’s why she loves him
and he has taken her to Paris.


“Election Day,” and “Variations on a Theme” will be included in Yeshiva Boys, forthcoming in the fall of 2009 from Scribner.

David Lehman lives in New York City. Earlier collections include Valentine Place (1996), The Daily Mirror (2000), and When a Woman Loves a Man (2005).  He is series editor of The Best American Poetry, which he initiated in 1988, and is the editor of The Oxford Book of American Poetry.

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