Richard Michael Levine







The Discovery of Paper

He reaches for a single sheet
Of the Times, all the news that’s fit
To touch, beat, maul—or rhyme.
He shakes it, slaps it, twists it, hits it
With his fist, hears the rattle,
The rumble, the tumultuous battle
Through tiny complicated ears
Pink and slightly translucent
Like cyclamen petals in the light.
He watches it settle, tries to take in
The beastly thing through fearful eyes.
It smells like—what?—talcum
Powder? his dribbling snot (he’s nearly
Eight months old and has a cold)?
His blankie’s soiled silky edges?
His bottle’s milky nipple? pureed veggies?
He blows on it, sees it ripple, listens to
Its quiet riot, bends it, folds it into place,
Then back to its former space. He’s pleased,
It’s strong and supple like he is.
The corners of his mouth dimple into
Quotation marks around unheard words.
He sneezes, then crumples up the sheet,
Smooths it out, smiles, soothed.
When it suddenly tears, he reels back,
Scared again. Paper’s fragile, too,
Like he is. He rips it once along
Its length, then into strips and with all
His strength into tiny pieces. He tries
And tries to pull apart the tattered, twisted
Bits. This matters. He pants, pillowing
His tongue against his two front teeth,
Cheeks reddening. He can’t.
The world’s his toy, joyful and sad,
Now scattered, destroyed.
He sweeps the mess into a pile,
Then sends it flying apart.
He’s riled but tired.
He sighs, twitches his runny nose.
His eyelids half close.
The future Phi Beta Kappa
(He’s smart, if not Descartes)
Leans back in his grandpa’s lap
Ready for a nap.







Before turning to fiction and poetry, Richard Michael Levine was a magazine writer and editor for many years, publishing feature articles in Harper’s, Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, New York, Rolling Stone and many others. He also taught magazine journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. His non-fiction book Bad Blood: A Family Murder in Marin County, published by Random House and NAL, was a bestseller. He has published poetry in several literary magazines and is now seeking a publisher for his short story collection, The Man Who Gave Away His Organs.

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