Harriet Levin


A statement of fact, like trackers on pharmaceuticals against thieves—Owen’s brushes, chisels, saws, bottles of gesso and turpentine piled up in boxes, the couch so worn out, its springs showing.

Cobwebs crumbled in the corners, laying low, netting sound.

Rue pulls her hair back into a ponytail to gather each loose strand. She walks over to the couch, around it to the back and pokes her elbows through the threadbare upholstery and cups her chin in her hands.

I feel unbalanced, about to slip and hit my chin on the corner of Owen’s drafting table. Owen’s face lights up, as if the image of Rue filling in for me appears vividly before him.

He who motions for the two of us to come stand beside him to look at the Art Forum issue with the Lightning Field on the cover. You’ve got to see this! he says. It’s a four-page color insert showing the electrical currents emanating from the rods, one hundred and eighty of them, during a storm, the Sierra Madres engulfed in pink clouds in the background.

The three of us stand there in a lull. The sky gone white-silver.

I read a couple of meaningless sentences. Rue walks over to the wall where Owen had bundled stacks of wood, some of them gouged with wormholes. Other piles contain scraps sawn off at odd angles, raw material for his sculpture.

She touches the topmost board, drawing tiny circles on it as if it were flesh. I bury my face against the sleeve of Owen’s jacket to breathe in its smell of mineral spirits and gesso.

To be so permeated.

I am addicted to that smell. It’s a smell I get when my work is going well. I long for it. But when the work isn’t going well it repulses me. It’s toxic and if I continue, everyone I show my work to will know something went wrong. They’ll spot it right away. They’ll look at it and question why I’m an artist in the first place, as if such criteria exist. As if it can be articulated.   


The cold air in the unheated studio

made me shiver.  The jacket lay slung


over the arms of his mechanical chair.

Rue watched me reach for it. 


“Wear it,” she said, commandeering air

like any perilous landing past excessive


temperatures of heat and ice.

Just as I was standing there shivering 


in the denim jacket that my breasts and shoulders

barely filled, the material gaping


cave-like as if she had suggested it

just to clarify this contrast,


he burst in, water running off his umbrella

and pouring down on the floor.  He rushed over


to kiss me, opening his mouth, smiling up

at her and of course at the jacket


which covered me and my body,

metal snaps fastened shut.

Harriet Levin

<em>Edit Poetry</em> Harriet Levin

Harriet Levin is the author of two books of poetry, The Christmas Show (Beacon Press) and Girl in Cap and Gown (Mammoth Books).  Among her prizes are the Barnard New Women Poets Prize, The Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, The Ellen LaForge Memorial Poetry Prize, and a PEW Fellowship in the Arts Discipline Award.  Recent journal publications include Harvard Review, Iowa Review and Great River Review.  The first chapter of her novel in progress Yalla! appears in the Winter 2011 issue of the Kenyon Review.  She teaches creative writing and directs the Program in Writing and Publishing at Drexel University.