Lyn Lifshin

In memory of Lyn Lifshin
(1942-2019)

The collection of the following poems were first read by the world in The Best of The Beatnik Cowboy Volume #1, one of her final collections of poetry to be published in her legendary career. In celebration and in honor of her life, we present her collection of poetry for the first time online.

 

THE MAD GIRL WONDERS IF SHE’LL EVER FEEL

swept away again, feel love or
lust like a tornado? She tries
to imagine rushing out in a blue
denim mini to knock on some
door until her knuckles bleed. Or
driving to his all night to dawn
show, frantic, weeping how
she didn’t want anything from
him, only to keep him in her life.
She uses her poems as a lure,
leaves a note with so much
left out he could imagine anything
he wanted, as now, years later,
she scribbles notes in this
spiral wire notebook to
finish what she never could then

THE MAD GIRL LONGS FOR THE BLUE FORDS OF THAT SUMMER

when all that mattered
still seemed ahead. It
was before the names
she scrawled on a poem
that had nothing to do
with them, lovers now
mostly dead. Their faces
thru a hazy gaze still
blossoming in her mind
like artichoke flowers
on distant mountains

THE MAD GIRL REMEMBERS AFTERNOONS THAT SEEMED SO DARK

sleet then snow. It must
have been November.
One minute the sun
was wild, then it was
snowing, covering the
dead thing. Maybe a
squirrel, half formed, or
maybe a rabbit. She was
at the kitchen table
hours before taking the
metro into town. How
much less dark inside
her, how much less
terror, hurrying to find
a way to end a poem
before ballet as the dark
washed over the boulevard
like a flock of crows

THE MAD GIRL WATCHES THE LIGHT DISAPPEAR FASTER

the cat sleeps in. The dark is full of
sadness. Willows take on the
fading yellows. The veined leaves
have their own history. Under
the quilts she yearns for
Consuming Desire. Something
that will keep her starved
and longing, a luscious chocolate
and caramel cake she can’t keep her
hands from. Or a man, preferably
one she can’t quite keep but will die
trying, takes little gulps of, an
agony to ecstasy roller coaster, her
hair flying, her skin a blush of rouge. The
beauty of hard muscle in an Argentine
tango hold whispering hold me baby,
pressing into her so deep she can
do nothing but follow

THE MAD GIRL FEELS NOVEMBER MOVING DEEP

into her fingers. Past falls, like a
cuddle in rumba, press her into
warm arms that stay only in
dreams, wouldn’t always
be there to hold her. She strings
amulets of love and dark purple tear
shaped tattoos of grieving.
If only she could be Rapunzel,
braiding long blond hair
into a lasso, rope not to lower
to any lover but to shimmy down in
to brightness, into a cove of
light where she will be
stunned by the sudden beauty
she has longed for
more outlined and fierce
outlined by the darkening blue horizon

THE MAD GIRL DREAMS OF THOSE DAWNS IN MOROCCO

birds and roosters
days after the storm
of rice and flowers.
Roosters and dogs,
a bracelet of amber
thighs. Hers circled
your body like an
anklet of silver as
the light held them
like a cobweb and
the air doesn’t move

THE MAD GIRL FEELS SHE IS LOSING

all the things that mattered so,
that flat taut belly, legs she couldn’t
walk down Main Street without
a blare of whistles, Now she can
wear size 0 or 00 and not worry
about gaining a pound, something
she wouldn’t mind doing. She
longs for her old voice, whispery
as Marilyn Monroe, seductive as a
hot weather girl, something she
did on the all night radio show.
She’s lost her family, hair so thick
it had to be thinned, lost cats
and lovers. Lost men

she was sure
she couldn’t live without. Lost
publishers, the smoothest skin, desire,
perfect turn out, balance and still
shakes at how much more she
has to lose

THE MAD GIRL REMEMBERS MORE KISSES

past that first one near the rail road tracks
and the Episcopal Church when Doug
smelling of Clearasil swooped down,
past the barberry. Afterward she said
“we cant do this too often. She must
have kissed the man on her mother’s
blue couch when that man pulled her
hand down to his crotch, said now
you’ve done this you have to do
something. There was the kiss under
the chuppah remembered only in
photographs but were there kisses of the
ones she remembers most, the man
who held her in his brother back seat
Chevy, Al Martino’s Oh My Love playing
as he cupped her breast under the
pink checked cotton. There must
have been kisses from the man on
all night radio, before she kissed him
where he moaned and moaned. Though she
remembers what she wore with each man,
the first and the last time, the kisses blur.
Yes some where there were especially good lovers
but what of the kisses? What of the ones
as hands slipped inside clothes in the
back of the cab rushing to the airport
or just before going under the knife

IT’S NOT ONLY IN HER DREAMS THE MAD GIRL IS TURNING INTO CINDERELLA

the gray days have dogged her
for years, each day
scrubbing the cat box, the mounds
of polished silver. Her hair
hangs greasy and lank. She vacuums
loss by the hour. If there was some
one to talk to. If someone knew
her name but the others don’t
see past their gold pleated
Lamborghinis and diamonds. But
the mad girl knows before the
moon is eclipsed, turns blood red
and vermillion, she will step
from her tattered rags, rinse
sadness and shame from
her as she washes the dust and
grease from her curls that suddenly
are golden and pops two drugs
as she slithers into silk and lace and
rhinestone shoes and dashes
to the ball where for as
long as she’s able, as long as
the pills and magic hold
she will fly thru arms that couldn’t
imagine her not as a beauty
until the feels the magic
start to go, the wicked hour sliding
closer when all the beauty
goes way and even if
she hasn’t lost a shoe or had some
prince of a man follow and
find her she feels the
high fade away and tears her
Dolce Gabanna she’ll never wear
again shredded and stained
as she will feel
by dawn

BEFORE SUBWAYS

late at night, standing
on a deserted platform
when I got on the
wrong. Arlington
Cemetery—9:30 or 10.
The subway slower than
ever. Each shadow scary
until the car stops and
the doors open. A relief
and the people with
empty seats between them
and the poster of the
famous country star
touring again, reminds
me of my upstate life
when a plumber came,
saw a poster for one
of my readings, said with
a scowl you may be
Lyn but you ain’t no
Loretta Lynn

THE MAD GIRL WANTS TO LIE IN THE DARK

listening to the oak leaves,
to small animals, a rabbit
maybe or fox running thru
the mounds of them. By
morning the hurricane
could make its own music.
For now, she leans against
the stained glass, twists
the grainy amber. The same
two horses come to the pond
pulling the last of the wild
flowers by their roots, grazing
so close to each other,
this last light can’t move
between their bodies. Nutley
Pond slides of the falls. From,
two rooms away, she can hear
the cat softly sleeping

THE MAD GIRL DREAMS SHE WAKES UP IN A BURKA

already shivering, her heart
pounding, sweaty. This new world
is a world of forced marriages,
young widowhood, imprisonment,
abduction and fear. She jolts
up, tries to turn on the light,
takes a valium to calm down. When she
reaches for the switch she pulls the
lamp to the floor, cringes sure the
dream is real. Too paralyzed to move
she is sure if she opened the blinds she’d
see a desert road with blackly camouflaged
women under a blazing sun. She is
terrified if she goes outside
she will be abducted and forced to
marry a foreign fighter. Her internet is
down but she doesn’t care. She
would see people in the outside world
and it would only make her sad.
Seeing the outside word would be just
another sorrow. She never befriended the
women in the caliphate. Life was
filled with love, children and
the joys of domestic life even though one
propaganda film showed a Jihadist from the
Netherland showing off on Twitter
an Oreo cheesecake she had made. No,
the mad girl knows she will quickly find themselves
part of an institutionalized near assembly
to provide fighters with wives, sex
and children. And when the
husbands are killed they are expected
to celebrate their martyrdom .
She can’t believe this is real but can’t
shake off the horror. All she can
think of is beheading, of being kidnapped, of
losing her daughter. She’s heard of
women put in prison, told to marry a
foreign fighter or have their
heads hang in the square. The mad
girl shudders to know young
girls can be married at age 9, made
into sex slaves and goes into the next bedroom
to hug her daughter, brings her
back to her own bed for the rest of the night

THE MAD GIRL DREAMS SHE COULD BE FALLING RECKLESSLY IN LOVE AGAIN

could fall for men who never
were available but made the
most scrumptious subjects
for poems, the agony to
ecstasy rollercoaster. Her
bikini slim thighs and hair
too thick to clasp in
combs, like her longing. Past
days she’d knock on a door
until her knuckles turned bloody
and the phone’s stillness
knifed. Now she wants to feel
what she hasn’t even if it
turns her heart to shreds

THE MAD GIRL READS ABOUT THE ONLY PAINTING DONE AT THE SCENE OF LINCOLN’S MURDER

“Lincoln Borne by Loving Hands.” She imagines
she is the woman with the tiny face, her eyes
dabs of black paint, a smudge of pink, her
expression, horror. She has seen Lincoln being
carried out of Ford’s Theater after being
shot by John Wilkes Booth. She can feel the
horror in the ghostly light of gas torches
from the theater reference. The moment the
word of the assassination reaches the crowd
and a moment of celebration turns into one
of disbelief. The mad girl feels the chill of the
night, the stunned panic in the crowd as
Lincoln is carried across 10th St NW to the
boarding house where he dies. She can see
the bearer ease Lincoln over the curb of
the street, his face framed by what appears
to be white cloth of a pillow. His head
is bandaged. His eyes are closed. She sees
a smear of blood on the bandage. The
mad girl feels like the woman in the Edward
Munch painting “The Scream.” Moments after
houses were lit up and hung with bunting, parades
marching down the streets, waving flags and
then the streets suddenly went quiet when the
shout came from a window in the theater “President
Lincoln has been shot came from a window in
the theater, “clear the street.”

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