John Lehman

"You accept an invitation to a blonde's apartment and get socked in the jaw by a murder suspect. Next thing you know you're looking into the wrong end of a gun. What else can a guy do but sit down and write a poem," says John Lehman, founder of Rosebud, poetry editor of the Wisconsin Academy Review and co-publisher of the free, Madison street-quarterly Cup of Poems with a Side of Prose. His latest book, Dogs Dream of Running, is available at Canterbury and from and For a mixed bag of workshops, writing programs, short essays and books on writing, check his web site:

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Houdini Prepares for a Blind Date

He buffs  his cordovans,  dons
gray serge  slacks  and places
a silken blindfold in his coat's
breast pocket, just in case.

   *    *     *      *       *

Secrets of a Werewolf's Wife

She  carefully  watches   the  calendar  and
for  any  traces  of  blood  under  his  finger
nails.    She   has  learned  not  to   question
where  he  goes  at  night,  the  tears  in his
clothes, nor  why the bedroom window can
never be  locked  closed.   But  she  too  has
secrets.  In bed when she pulls her arm out
from under his waist,  it is  a  large,  lifeless
snake.   Her  thoughts  at  dawn  are  geese
honking south.   And sometimes, when she
knows they are hunting for him  with guns,
she becomes the moon.

   *    *     *      *       *

Mistaking My Life for a Refrigerator

I open  the door and Love bounces
out,  jostles  the  table, knocks over
a chair …   Orange juice flows, toast
butters walls and fried eggs like fat
daisies bloom everywhere.

   *    *     *      *       *

Invisible Men with X-Ray Eyes

Last night I heard the whistle of a distant train.
Today  instead  of  going  to work I  walk  down
a block  to  talk  with  the  garbage  man  who is
waiting inside his truck for the drizzle to let up.
It's  not  one  of  those two-story, Frankenstein
giants with weightlifter arms  that  hoists trash
over  its  head  to  dump it  with a  grunt,  but a
sports-car  sleek  garbage  truck, flaunting sort-
at-the-curb bins that are politically correct. I've
the urge to break away from my life for a while.
And  sometimes  in  the  rain,  strange  alliances
are made.

At the  next stop the driver shows  me  how to
lift  a  can—most  are  plastic now—and deposit
its  bags of  spilling  guts,  then  swing it 'round
and grab  another  to a banging beat.  I put my
feet  on the  running board, he shifts  the gears
and when he  brakes, I play it  solo.  I catch the
rhythm.  He nods "yes."  Garbage men  are not
the stuff of TV shows, but that's their mystique.
They are  everywhere, unnoticed, but aware of
everything.   From  magazines  we read  to hair
we've  lost, to the  degree  our discarded under-
wear is frayed.

They  are  anthropologists  studying  a world  we
furnish with debris.  They smell our smells, taste
what   we  taste,   feel  the  cans  and  boxes  that
contain  the food that  shapes  our  shapes.   And
here's my house.
 What waste  our  lives become.
Once  I  was  in  an  experimental  drama.   Tom,
a mid-level accountant,  and I played hobos.   He
needed  a  release from the  minutia  of the  "day
by day."  To prepare for our roles we went to the
freight yard.  I was  chicken,  but he  hopped into
the  open  boxcar  door  of  a  slow  moving  train.
We never saw Tom again.

   *    *     *      *       *

The Movie Version

In the movie version  of my life
everything beneath the surface
makes sense. A porn star plays
my wife, and, oh yes,  my black
and white Mustang is fiery red.

   *    *     *      *       *

Jesus Cleans My Car

They are waving signs  and jumping up and down
like the fucking world  is coming  to an end.   Free
Car Wash.
 I pull into the ranch-style church with
a dozen smarmy kids  in its parking lot. Fat, Bible-
quoting guys and plain girls, who are glad to be on
someone's  team,  soap  my phallic  symbol of a car
in a dash to make me clean.  
Each tries to out-save
the rest—their words like water spraying in the air
that  sometimes   rinse  the  car  but  mostly   soak
those  who  hold   the  hose.   And  there  is   Jesus,
who once  walked on water,  wiping down  my grill.
Jesus  polishing  a  hubcap.  Jesus with a  squeegee
streaking windshield glass.  Jesus stroking the long
sleek hood  and  Jesus  mirrored in wicked chrome.
There  is  Jesus  rubbing,  Jesus  buffing and Jesus
stepping  back. Jesus  calling  out to me. Yes, Jesus
grinning  knowingly.  And  there  is  Jesus  opening,
oh,  he  is  opening up the door, and Jesus moaning,
"You are saved,"  as I push the pedal… to the  floor.

© John Lehman