Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful



This guy Lev, at the dinner party said,

If you don’t want your kids to have sex don’t finish the basement.

I don’t remember anything anymore, my fifty-two-year-old brain a

soggy piece of kale,

but I remembered what Lev said.

It’s because Lev is the heart in levov

where all the stories come from.

Here’s the story: we were eating the salmon and he was talking about

his kids,

all grown up,

and my kids were in the basement playing ping pong,

not yet thirteen.

There was beer and wine and gluten-free challah and gluten-free Tiramisu

and the walls were red and gluten-free.

That’s the whole story.

The other story is that when a guy says something like that

you have to remember where you were when you first had sex.

It could have been in a car, in an attic, between two trees, under the moon,

near the factory, inside the deep blue sea, in the onion patch.

Sex is an onion.

It’s translucent and sweet and will make you cry your face off.

It’s a swimming pool on fire and a gorilla who knows how to speak

seven languages.

If you are lucky enough to have sex in a finished basement,

this is a good thing.

If you have sex in an unfinished basement, not so good—all that dust,

those exposed water heaters, boilers, and rusted rakes.

So when Lev said,

If you don’t want your kids to sex don’t finish the basement,

I took a bite of my salmon and here’s the last part of the story.

My kids are going to grow up and have sex.

A sad and wide-eyed, ecstatic sex, if they’re lucky,

and so I left the table in the dark middle of winter to finish the basement—

buy some rugs, some cheap pillows, and a jukebox,

one of those old school Wurlitzers with the automatic eye.

Fill it up with all the songs that make your heart burst, I will tell them.

Play your music

till the needle runs those records bare bone beauty and glisten.



Someone will love you many times.

Many times over and over a red flame.

Over a million dollars and someone will love you a million dollars.

You will be loved from all over and from pockets and sandwiches

and someone will stick her hand through a plate-glass window to love you

and from between two sheets.

Over and over and many times love will come at you

from a rooftop with billowy sheets

and Miley Cyrus will love you

and so will Spiro Agnew. Many times

the earth will love your stomach,

for many times and for the thousands of times you have answered the door

and no one was there.

For the many times you were down on your knees between the tile and

the toilet.

Someone will take your hair and hold it behind your head

many, many times over and over.

Someone will walk with you down the summer path,

all those pink and purple wildflowers getting wild for you,

getting wild for your love and for the stench of your absence.

You will send it back time and time again—

when the buildings shake, when the show is over,

when the shadows creep tall into your tall brain and mess it up.

It is a truth that can’t be untruthed—

that someone will love you many times no matter how tired they are,

the way a blade of grass takes itself not too seriously

and grinds out other blades of grass. Look at them out there,

all stupid and green

in the backyard,

count them all. I bet you can’t.

That’s how many times you will be loved, count them all,

I bet you can’t.

By someone who couldn’t be more serious about love.

And is.



We buy all this food.

Thousands of acres of grapes and rolled oats before they are rolled.

We buy the banks of the Mississippi and the tundra between one Serengeti

and another Mojave.

Sometimes, on a whim,

I go out and get a shopping cart of bones and water.

The kids can’t get enough.

They eat and sing and fart and blow.

It’s endless.

That’s the one thing about being a parent

that no one every mentions. Massive consumption.

An endless loop of Western Civilization,

of American thievery and piggery.

Twelve acres of Ho-Hos.

Thirteen thousand bottles of Twitter tweets.

I am sure there are kids in other worlds

that could not conceive of the barrel of stuff, which lives in the front yard.

I want to go there. Wherever there is.

With my kids.

Sit them down inside a stone building and say look:

There’s one dinosaur in the corner. That’s it.

Her name is Françoise

and then there is the grass.

Hours and hours of grass, right outside.

Go to it.

Be in it.

Soft and quiet and wild.

Make boats and computers and oceans and blankets.

Then, when you come home hungry and tired

we will eat the same chicken and dates,

those and figs and moonbeams,

and that will be everything.

No joke.

It will be all you get.



Roberto Clemente kicked my ass last night.

He came out of the darkness like a train whistle

with his 21 Pittsburgh jersey tucked in

and laid me out with a left hook.


I fell to the grass and screamed,

What’s your problem, Roberto?

Couldn’t sleep, he said.

Get a motel.

He said, My plane crashed. I am dead.

Go home.

He said, I come from Carolina, Puerto Rico.

So, what’s the problem?

He said, My name is Roberto.

I have three sons and three thousand base hits.

My name is Roberto Clemente.


And when his plane took off from San Juan,

overloaded with bananas and gauze

for the earthquake victims of Managua,

it was New Year’s Eve

and his eyes were bloodshot bullets

under the canopy of the Atlantic Ocean.


When the sharks got their teeth into him,

the turtles,

the manatees and sting rays,

the vapor trail of his gait around second base

brushed back the wind.


Ten hours later my father woke me to say, El Padré, Roberto,

no longer swings for the fences.

I was seven.

I have been seven ever since.


It’s enough to sit down in the middle of the street,

the garbage trucks picking up trash,

the school buses stopping and starting,

the dirty rain falling from the neon clouds;


it’s enough to make you collapse in the middle of a speech you are

giving on human rights

or animal rights

or the right of the Earth to be as clean as it was 10,000 years ago;

enough to make you put down the pen, the gavel, the scalpel,

the international phone call,

and get on a bike and bike, hard,

to your child’s school, walk into her classroom,

and hold her tight

without apologizing to the teacher for your interruption;


it’s enough to toss the phone into the river, the computer into the lava pit,

turn to the person next to you

and offer them your hand, eye, maybe even a lung.


I’m saying I’m tired. We are all tired.


All around everyone is doing the best that they can do.

He makes the best pot roast,

she crafts the tallest building

the bagel people whip up the best bagels,

the lovers love,

the students write the smartest papers on governmental corruption

as humanly possible and still, still, still,


there is someone outside the room with a backhoe

filled with battered Clorox bottles,

steel-tipped bullets, and vice grips ready to tear apart hearts.


It’s enough to take your feelings and slide them onto a towel,

all of your feelings, all of your human and animal feelings,

jam them into a towel,

all of your decency and rage and joy and bullshit and horror and


walk out into the street and into the mountain, the cave and the field,

and wrap up any live thing you can find in that soft cloth,

the whole world of live things,

to turn back that backhoe,

push it away into some place in the imagination

that won’t even let us imagine it anymore.

“If You Don’t Want Your Kids to Have Sex Don’t Finish the Basement”, “Someone Will Love You Many Times”, “Hours and Hours of Grass”, “The Ocean Is a Flower Callled Roberto Clemente”,  and “Still Still Still” from Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful (c) 2020 by Matthew Lippman. Appears with permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.

Like what you read? Get the book here.