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DAWN, WITH CARDINALS/Jeffrey Levine After separating from Penelope, Ulysses takes a smalUsh cottage out of town, bounded by deep woods on one side, a golf course on the other where children sled or startle frogs, depending on the season. Crows strut their turf beneath the plum trees, furl their capes and bob like drunks. Of the night birds, owls map the taller pines with their iridescent eyes and moon hens peck at drops of evening dew. When the divorce is done, he'll move to an island some miles out, where he may settle on a narrow road beside a spit of sand—beyond that, sea. He could earn a modest pension crafting bird feeders from mill scraps, keep a brace of hunting dogs for company and rake the silt for clams and oysters at low tide. For now, he contents himself recording local bird caUs, but forgets them quickly as he learns, save the cardinal's song, a slight and mournful chirping heard each morning just outside his porch. And always the same two birds— she quarrelsome, he quiet or detached or maybe mystified at his helplessness to make a difference. Or, cocksure he does, you see it in the ebony beak, crimson breast. Look, the birdbath is full of cool clear water and still she carries on like that, sharp staccato chirps, high pitched, unwavering. He with flutters but no sound, something holding on 72 · The Missouri Review inside him, something faintly chipped. Not that Ulysses planned to wake so early every morning. Sometimes you don't believe in ritual for days or weeks, until it's a proven thing, but here it is, persistent and regular. Ulysses lets dawn filter through the screened porch. First no light, then light. First no birds, then song. No wind; wind. Jeffrey Levine The Missouri Review · 73 ONE MONTH BEFORE HIS 50?? BIRTHDAY/ Jeffrey Levine Ulysses took up weighing himself after sex. Hair wet, arms sore, still he felt it urgent as sleep after months of sailing or a month of wine, when home sounded a faint, remembered song, the men's silk tents engorged with treasure and willing slaves cordoned a bruised & blooded coast. Penelope could hear him open the walk-in closet where he kept the bathroom scale. If the sex was good, she'd be talking about something, I don't know. Something about their clifftop house, what needed doing. About their son, surly & distant, who seemed to disapprove of her. Ulysses guessed he might have set a better example for the boy, but he wouldn't say— because it seemed obvious, & besides, he'd be in the walk-in weighing himself. He'd shower & not think about it anymore— weight or sons or foreign treasure. Shower & climb into bed again; pick up an old crossword puzzle while Penelope hooked her own robe over her shoulder, crooked her finger through the loop the way his sailors held their windbreakers in bleached port towns, and Ulysses would watch Penelope cross the room, the bracelets coppered around her wrists, her face red from sex, still striking in some lights— this light, morning light—then look away so she wouldn't catch him staring at the beauty spot on her left breast, at her square shoulders, her rump. Below, a black ship laded butts of salted meat while his wife made the faucet squeak and steam slipped beneath the bathroom door. 74 · The Missouri Review PENELOPE DRAWS FROM LIFE/ Jeffrey Levine I miss the old simplicity of things, seashore with boardwalk and a book, not reading. Evenings with Haydn's quartets, singing the viola line to myself. Perhaps Tm just obsessive, the Big Moment just a moment, nothing more, it comes, it goes, armor shatters and life goes on. . . . I give an art class in the fall, Drawing from Life: where students practice drawing with one eye closed so their hands invent dimension guided by rhythm only. But to confuse my charges, I pose as their life model while speaking about myth and meaning, and reading pages from my journals as they work to cover up with charcoal where my bones cleave to my flesh and my body bends into its sighing...


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