Anne-Marie Levine


A giant palm tree marked the house Flora and I would lie by
the side of the kidney-shaped swimming pool dropping seedless
green grapes into our mouths while my springer spaniel from one
of Jerry Lewis’s litters chased shadows about the garden She
was liver-and-white and had a pedigree Calla lilies and
Shasta daisies, tended by our Belgian cook, Gaby, lolled in the
flower beds next to Mrs. Meinecke’s house Her given name was
Bird and her husband’s Ferd On the other side, Mrs. Regnier’s
mimosa tree cast a giant shadow that became a dragon every night
in the corner of my room when the light was extinguished I
dreamt then of witches or of colored choo-choo trains that crossed
a blue ocean to Europe

I read Photoplay and Modern Screen and Maurois’ biography of
Disraeli I appropriated young Benjamin’s motto, “Learn not
for pleasure but for action,” though I could not have told what
actions I was preparing I read Archie and Wonder Woman comic
books, and Christopher Fry’s verse play A Phoenix Too Frequent
“Nothing but the harmless day gone into black is all the dark
is, and so what’s my trouble . . .” I knew great chunks of it,
Doto’s lines, by heart I followed the adventures of Cherry Ames
and Sue Barton, student nurses, and the poems of Dylan Thomas kept
me awake at night I studied the dialogues of Plato because I
thought philosophy might provide answers to my profound but inchoate
questions When I won the Book Week awards at school they gave
me a children’s book called Downright Dencey for a prize

There was oil everywhere on the property of the Hillcrest
Country Club where my father played golf where the return
on their oil rights paid the members’ dues on the Beverly
Hills High School land where I attended school where a man
working high up on the oil rig was shot in the neck by a member
of the girls’ archery team I was good at archery At college
I had an archery professor whose doctoral dissertation correlated
girls’ archery scores with their menstrual cycles She read it
to us on rainy days on fine days she liked to put her heavy
arms about me, body pressed against my back, to show me the proper

We were asked to memorize a poem upon graduation from the eighth
grade at the El Rodeo School We recited, from Sir Walter Scott’s
“Lay of the Last Minstrel”: “Breathes there the man with soul
so dead, who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my
native land! Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned As home
his footsteps he hath turned From wandering on a foreign strand!
If such there breathe, go mark him well; For him no minstrel
raptures swell. . . .”

Arnold Schoenberg died in Los Angeles, having failed to produce
viable movie music Many great musicians lived there in the
days of the Second World War and after European refugees
and Americans too One ran into them here and there, on the
street (Isaac Stern coming out of the Rexall Drugstore in Beverly
Hills in his undershirt) or at a concert (Igor Stravinsky
confiding to a younger composer, “J’aime vos mains”) Arnold
Schoenberg and George Gershwin played tennis together Heifetz,
Piatigorsky and Rubinstein played trios Only slightly less
renowned musicians provided the talent pool for the movie studios’

There were exiled writers too Brecht Werfel Thomas Mann
Adorno Lion Feuchtwanger I didn’t know about them
I didn’t know I was one of them My parents found this futile
paradise when I was small They brought their books and their
paintings and their language and their music to a place where
only other exiles would recognize them But they were happy
in the seasonless sunshine I was the displaced person, the
inheritor of exile, the refugee who didn’t know it As the
children of survivors are said to dream the nightmares of their
parents, I inherited nameless fears My parents wanted to forget
I dreamed of transcendence My dreams made them afraid
again Their child was born on Kristallnacht, night of the shattered
glass Will her voice be heard?