Oct. 26, 2005

If You Are Reading This

by Lynn Levin

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Poem: "If You Are Reading This" by Lynn Levin, from Imaginarium. © Loonfeather Press, Bemidji, Minnesota. Reprinted with permission.

If You Are Reading This

GIRL WITH DOG IN RAIN! Sweetheart, where are you now?
Saw you at 16th and Walnut with your chocolate lab under an awning.
It was raining parking lights and car horns. I was the guy double-
parked delivering a tray of bagels to a corporate meeting. Nice stuff, 5
flavors, cream cheese and chives, butter daisies. Our eyes met, do you
remember? I can't get you out of my mind. [Box 347]

OLD LADY AT QUIK MART. When I weighed your peppers, you
said I had my thumb on the scale, then you called over the manager
who yelled at me and docked my pay. You: Old bag in a tan overcoat,
muffler, purple pocketbook, evil eye. Me: Goatee, geek glasses, facial
hardware. Please give me the opportunity to stab you. [Box 1601]

CHAD, LET ME EXPLAIN. That guy you saw me with on R7
local on Columbus Day meant nothing to me. He's just a commuter.
Your silent treatment is unbearable! I'm beggin' you baby, come back!
[Box 776]

want to push your magic buttons. I want to draw Mona Lisas on your
beautiful skin. You: Backless red dress, black heels. Me: Bald guy, 35.
We rode up together, you got off at 19. I was too shy to talk to you.
Now full of regrets. How about sushi or tantric sex? [Box 1446]

next to me and suddenly it was Valentine's Day. You liked my Offspring
button. I told you about med tech school. You let me take your pulse. It
was almost like holding hands. You: Hilfiger sweatshirt, laptop, got off
at Somerton. Me: Hip chick, red hair, Capri jeans. Let's pick up where
we left off. [Box 777]

YO! YOU THERE ON DEERPATH DR. I'm the telemarketer you
dissed. Wasn't selling you anything, SOB, just giving you a free estimate
on kitchen cabinets. I know your number and where you live. Call now
to apologize. [Box 961]

long black trenchcoat with three-piece suit. Me: Asian girl with black
jacket, wet curly hair, tight black pants, sunglasses on my head. You
stared at me a long time waiting at checkout. We looked at each other
as you walked out. Will renew until I find you. [Box 1674]

Literary and Historical Notes:

It was on this day in 1900 that Henry James wrote his first letter to the budding novelist Edith Wharton, beginning one of the great friendships in American literature.

Wharton had been hoping to meet Henry James for years. She'd first seen James from afar when she was a young woman, and she said, "I tried to get his attention so that I might at last pluck up courage to blurt out my admiration for Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady." But James had a habit of avoiding lady admirers ever since one of them had fallen in love with him and then committed suicide.

It took another 15 years before Wharton got up the nerve to send James a short story she had written. At that time, she was just beginning her career as a writer, and he had already written most of the books which made his name. He liked her story, so she sent him her first novel, an historical novel about Europe. In response, James gave Wharton the advice that changed her career. He wrote, "My desire [is] earnestly, tenderly, intelligently to admonish you... in favour of the American Subject... [you should] be tethered in native pastures, even if it reduces [you] to a back-yard in New York."

His advice inspired her to write about the New York society she'd grown up in, and the result was The House of Mirth (1905), which became her first big success.

In the summer of 1904, James came to visit Wharton in Massachusetts. The two of them took a series of trips around the countryside in Wharton's new motorcar. Wharton was one of the early enthusiasts of motoring in New England. James had long thought the motorcar was a grotesque invention, but Wharton changed his mind. After one of their trips through the country, he wrote, "[A car can] rope in, in big free hauls, a huge netful of impressions at once... A great transformer of life and of the future... I have been won over to motoring!"

They remained friends for the rest of James's life, but their fortunes slowly reversed. James's novels sold less and less well, while Wharton became one of the best-selling novelists of her generation. She secretly found ways to support him financially. He was sometimes jealous of her success. When he learned that she'd used the proceeds from a recent book to buy herself a new car, he joked that he hoped his next book would provide enough money for him to buy a new wheelbarrow.

It was her friendship that sustained him in his last years, as he suffered a series of illnesses and depression. He once wrote to her, "Your letters come into my damp desert here even as the odour of promiscuous spices... might be wafted to some compromised oasis from a caravan of the Arabian nights."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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