August 18, 2003

Two Poems by David Lehman, Each with the Same Title

August 18

If we knew then what I know now
I'd have written you love songs
with rhymes like "ex-mates
instead of sex mates"
we'd go to speakeasies in the 20s
skip the 30s
and take the subway from Brooklyn in the 40s
across the great divide
with the bridge behind us
we'd take a walk on Liberty Street
where I'd have an office and a secretary
and we'd get drunk every Friday night
and never get out of bed in the morning
we'd drink coffee and read the paper
for maybe thirty minutes and then go back
to where we came from and wake up
in a different decade
and it's still Saturday morning and the air
smells like August

August 18

I took off my watch
and saw the skin beneath
the dog it was past one
o'clock and Mayakovsky's
suicide note was in his
pocket a poem praising
all creation in speechless
wonder I lived my life
through without a clock
expecting failure as in
a "modern" novel, you
know the surveyor will
never reach the castle,
the coward proves valorous
but dies in the attempt,
we can't really believe in
happiness and in success,
Borges concluded, and that is
why Kafka wanted his books
burned he had wanted to see
a happy book but it would have
been a lie and his job was
to tell the truth not the truth
of facts but the truth of his dreams

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