In Iowa, Jim dreamed that Della Street was Anne Sexton's twin. Dave drew a comic strip called the "Adventures of Whitman," about a bearded beer-guzzler in Superman uniform. Donna dressed like Wallace Stevens in a seersucker summer suit. To town came Ted Berrigan, saying, "My idea of a bad poet is Marvin Bell." But no one has won as many prizes as Philip Levine.
At the restaurant, people were talking about Philip Levine's latest: the Pulitzer. A toast was proposed by Anne Sexton. No one saw the stranger, who said his name was Marvin Bell, pour something into Donna's drink. "In the Walt Whitman Shopping Center, there you feel free," said Ted Berrigan, pulling on a Chesterfield. Everyone laughed, except T. S. Eliot.
I asked for directions. "You turn right on Gertrude Stein, then bear left. Three streetlights down you hang a Phil Levine and you're there," Jim said. When I arrived I saw Ted Berrigan with cigarette ash in his beard. Graffiti about Anne Sexton decorated the men's room walls. Beth had bought a quart of Walt Whitman. Donna looked blank. "Walt who?" The name didn't ring a Marvin Bell.
You laugh, yet there is nothing inherently funny about Marvin Bell. You cry, yet there is nothing inherently scary about Robert Lowell. You drink a bottle of Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale, as thirsty as Walt Whitman. You bring in your car for an oil change, thinking, this place has the aura of Philip Levine. Then you go home and write: "He kissed her Anne Sexton, and she returned the favor, caressing his Ted Berrigan."
Donna was candid. "When the spirit of Ted Berrigan comes over me, I can't resist," she told Marvin Bell, while he stood dejected at the xerox machine. Anne Sexton came by to circulate the rumor that Robert Duncan had flung his drink on a student who had called him Philip Levine. The cop read him the riot act. "I don't care," he said, "if you're Walt Whitman."
Donna told Beth about her affair with Walt Whitman. "He was indefatigable, but he wasn't Ted Berrigan." The Dow Jones industrials finished higher, led by Philip Levine, up a point and a half on strong earnings. Marvin Bell ended the day unchanged. Analyst Richard Howard recommended buying May Swenson and selling Anne Sexton.
In the old days, you liked either Walt Whitman or Anne Sexton, not both. Ted Berrigan changed that just by going to a ballgame with Marianne Moore. And one day Philip Levine looked in the mirror and saw Marvin Bell.