Spring 2024

An Ars Poetica But Not a Poetica So I Guess Just an Ars

by Anita Levin

There’s this crow staring at me through the window. I’m staring back, drinking day old coffee and observing The Events on Richmond Street. It is a Sunday. It will always be a Sunday. The events are as follows: 

  1. A small toddler presses his face up against kitchen window glass. He is reminiscing about ice cream trucks and the music they make from their horns on the roof.
  2. A racially ambiguous man runs down the road in a mask and a hoodie. His legs are long and lean, and his arms are pumping along with his blood. 
  3. Tomatoes sit in the ground absorbing fertilizer and growing a little bit taller second by second. Eventually, they will be turned into salads.  

I feel terrified for all of them. The crow moves aggressively toward the window. I give him a We Can Share This Sitting Spot and Watch the World World Together face. He turns away and squawks at something I can’t see. 

I imagine starting my own YouTube channel. I imagine calling it How to *Basically* Play Every Song on Guitar (Badly). I imagine awkwardly plucking my way through out of tune covers of “Sex and Candy,” and “Between the Bars,” sitting on my couch with muddy feet, recorded from an iPhone camera, and posted online in order to give people enough confidence to impress people they want to kiss at parties. I open my laptop and watch a video of Elliott Smith during his Either/Or tour, singing a song about being in love with the world but only through the eyes of other people. The arena is full of thrashing drunk people in Seattle. They seem disappointed they aren’t at a rave with EDM beats and flashing neon lights illuminating white teeth and Molly sweathair. I click away and play a video of Elliott singing quietly in a small midtown bar in Michigan, one spotlight on his dirty knuckles, the crowd preoccupied with personal conversations about babysitters and local elections. He starts his songs abruptly, avoids eye contact with everyone, and restarts every opening riff after two nervous measures. “Sorry, sorry, I need to start that over again,” he says. A man in dress shoes and a cardigan attempts to ask him interesting questions but Elliott responds with only mumbled one word answers, like he’s embarrassed to just be there, serenading everyone with his sadness. 

The crow flies away towards the sun. I miss him. I open the window and call out to stray cats. The air outside my apartment is dry lavender. Sea breeze breaks against the rocky shores beneath a Costco Wholesale five blocks away, before blowing off the bay and stirring my bangs off my forehead.  The feeling of wind is alarmingly foreign. Gavin Newsom declared SHELTER IN PLACE back when I still had a 9-to-5 and left my apartment for places other than the laundry mat and Trader Joes. Turns out The End of the World is mostly just time turning to glue and a virus that makes some people stop breathing. I try to stay under my duvet and avoid screens. They’re all shaky cam footage of federal officers dressed like soldiers beating batons on nice moms holding hands and shiny blue apps that want to steal my personal data by guessing my height and weight after I build an imaginary Denny’s Grand Slam. These are the things I use to avoid screens: a carton of raspberries, a fifth of whiskey, my typewriter. 

At night I sit motionless in front of my typewriter while Rachel Maddow grabs me by the shoulders and shakes my glasses loose describing the death of democracy in crisp detail. I flip to a reality show where strangers marry each other. It normally goes very poorly. The contestants all say the same thing in their talk booth disguised as a fancy living room, “I used to be insecure about driving home to my empty house. But now [insert name] is always there so,” they pause here for a long while, then, “I guess I’m happy now.” I turn off the television to watch my next door neighbor switch his bedroom lights on and off. He’s streaming The Office on Netflix and drinking wine from a glass with a long handle while preheating his toaster oven. I want to bring him muffins, or lemons, or chia pets. I want to ring his doorbell, give him a hug and then run away, like a Ding Dong Ditch, but with more connection. Instead, I spin a record and pour gin into a coffee mug. Bob Dylan sings about dying flowers and Edgar Allen Poe.  

When I was sixteen, I sat in the Greek Theater, surrounded by paintings of chiseled saints and chubby cherubs, waiting. I had a shirt with his face on it, when he was all stubble and strong jaw lines. I watched as he fumbled his way through his new songs, promoting his country phase, touted with Grammys, that no one listened to, on a big golden stage. None of his words were distinguishable from the next, and his songs bled together through twangy guitar solo into twangy guitar solo. I closed my eyes and pictured him on the streets of Newport, Rhode Island, a harmonica strapped to his face, and an acoustic guitar slung around his shoulders, singing to no one, and to all of us, in perfect poetry. I’d left a soggy hamburger in the passenger seat of my rusted bumper sticker-laden Subaru legacy. As he lazily forced his way through another rendition of a nameless 2010 Bob Dylan song, I found myself slinking up from my red crushed velvet seat, politely squeezing past knees on the balcony, and marching outside to find my hours-old In-N-Out cheeseburger half-wrapped in white paper. I dipped the mustard-covered pickles into my mouth on the hood of my car, while looking at the stars, blasting Blonde on Blonde out of the stereo. 

The gin bottle tells me that it tastes like elderflowers and cucumber, but all I taste is rubbing alcohol. I am ignoring the mug and drinking from the bottle when I realize that there are eyes on me. My neighbor is at his window. He is waving. He is waving at me. We are Taylor Swift and Lucas Till in her music video about how she wears t-shirts and not short shorts. We are Mary Jane and Peter Parker only no one’s half-naked and slipping on school uniforms. We are James Stewart and Raymond Burr in Rear Window but with less murder. We are two people, not crows, and we are looking at each other. I wave back.

I look down at my typewriter to click him a poem but when I look up he is gone and the              window is dark. Maybe he flew away towards the sun. I begin clicking away anyway, plucking at the small letters on small keys that connect into words that connect into sentences that connect into paragraphs, stamped onto lined notebook paper with a tiny metal hammer kicking at a spool of black ink. After the bell dings down the side of numerous pages I close my eyes and curl up on the coach. I am the guy Sandra Bullock wants to marry in While You Were Sleeping. I am Justin Timberlake as Bon Iver on SNL. I am a mandolin played by David Grisman and Jerry Garcia drunk in their garage. I dream about a man with the head of a crow who visits my apartment. He brings me homemade cookies made of worms and peanut butter and asks me about my Five Year Plan. He pretends not to notice that I’m making it up on the spot. 

In the morning my head is mashed potatoes and out of tune piano keys. The Sun seeps beneath the windowsill. The Sun stretches its light across my face and says, “Why the fuck are you paying for an MFA!?” I tell The Sun I’m collecting student debt to deal with later and walk outside in my bathrobe and Birkenstocks to collect the paper and feed water to my pots of weeds and wildflowers. I find an envelope with my name printed in angry text. A Howler for Neville Longbottom. A Howler for me. The government wants my 1098A form and my WPAC667 form. The forms ask me questions about my identity that the government needs to know before they will give me a minuscule amount of money to help with my survival during the Global Pandemic. The forms don’t need to know that Zodiac is my favorite David Fincher film or that I still unironically listen to Oasis. There is other mail. I rip apart a manilla envelope to find a poorly published literary journal with a pixelated cover of a cartoon dinosaur, that features my name in tiny print somewhere between the pages. I bring it up to my bookshelf, organized by author, and place it all the way at the back, as if I don’t have a name at all.  

Breakfast is jelly on toast and hot coffee poured from a French press. I drink my coffee in the shower and stand motionless beneath the cold mist staring at my reflection in the shower head and trying to breathe like a Normal Human Being. I remember when I was a child, and I would dance and sing in the bath. I would sing, “Oh I just can’t wait to be clean,” to the tune of “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King,” from Disney’s The Lion King. By high school, I was practicing theater monologues and Latin vocabulary while soaping my armpits. Now I just stand there and shake, watching my vomit float down the drain. 

I get out of the shower. I am wrapped in a towel. It is still Sunday. In 2020 every day is still Sunday. I slip on some jeans and a once worn t-shirt. It features a portrait of Hunter S. Thompson drawn by Ralph Steadman. The crow is settled at his spot on the roof like a glitch in the Matrix. He gives me the We Can Share This Sitting Spot and Watch the World World Together face. I roll a spliff and sit at my typewriter. I am Walt Whitman sitting and looking out. I am Virginia Woolf’s dream with an apartment of my own. I am neither of those things and I don’t know what to say about anything. Really I am Jack Torrance and I can’t stop the ghosts from using my typewriter like a Ouija Board. The pavement outside my apartment is covered in pastel chalk rainbows, hopscotch patterns, and politically active mantras. I want to write about it all. I want to write about everything. The dull electric air that fills our lungs with tainted hope. I want to, but my words crumble away like dry cornbread. I want to, but for now, this is all I’ve got.  

Anita Levin likes books and movies that other people call ‘slow,’ and receiving postcards in the mail. She doesn’t like Amazon ads where the boxes have smiles or stores with “Everything Must Go” signs in the window. She has been published in numerous literary journals, in print and online. She is currently pulling the strings at HASH journal and working towards her MFA at Mills College in Oakland, California.

Spring 2024