We’re celebrating the release of the ebook edition of John Lehman’s poetry collection, Shrine of the Tooth Fairy, first published by Cambridge Book Review Press in 1998 with illustrations and cover art by Spencer Walts. John stopped by for coffee this morning and we recorded him reading from the collection. Here’s “Clark Street Rag”:
Clark Street Rag / John Lehman
On a night that shadows make tents
of backrooms a streetcar strums
past the cemetery
on the corner of Clark and Wilson
as Harold the Upholsterer
eyes a 1911 D penny,
the air in his shop suffocating
as a worn cushion—
dusty, warm, smelling of mold.
“I lost this,” he says and points
to a left ear chewed past the lobe,
“in a fight to a guy
who vomited so hard he died …
with the help of a pen knife.”
Floorboards creak in the vacant
Harold runs his thumb along the
counter’s glass edge.
He is a Pharaoh with a jeweler’s lamp
and the moon’s rays trapped
in his tomb.
It twists from his mouth, a sound
like dry leather,
to the boy with an envelope
clutched in his hand.
And my heart plays banjo
to a city of small deals!