Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Greatest Story Never Told

“Are you Norm Levine?” she asked. I checked my driver’s license and sure enough I was. And still am. “I was at your poetry reading in the summer at the old Venice jail and I love your work,” she gushed.

She was obviously a person whose misguided opinions I could learn to admire.

“I’m Peggy Schultz,” she went on. “Peggy Schultz, Peggy Schultz….I remember you.” said I.  22 years ago my wife and I came to your house in Reseda for a ten session UCLA extension course on Introduction to Poetry. 

Peggy, I came to know over time, is a world-class finder. She finds a certain beauty in the ordinary…. cups, bark, stamps, roots, pods, clouds, tree stumps…anything. She finds subjects to write about every day. She found me. Even before I found myself.

Our fateful meeting occurred in the fall of 1980. She was happily unmarried and I was unhappily married. Peggy was pushing sixty. I had been 48 for many years. Our twelve years difference was of small consequence. It would have meant something when she was 21 and I was 9. But at a certain point age becomes a fiction of the calendar. Peggy is soon to be 95 but functionally more like a dyslexic 59.

Back to that life-changing moment in 1980:  We were leaving a Robert Bly poetry reading at the Unitarian church in Santa Monica. Bly read every poem twice; the second time accompanying himself on a dulcimer.

I had come alone. She was with a girlfriend. “Are you going for coffee?” said I. Isn’t that what people say after an evening of imaginative words which release a susceptible person from the bonds of an exhausted marriage?

Cordial invitation and harmless enough, I thought. Her friend said, “Why don’t we go back to Peggy’s apartment? There’s half a bottle of wine left over from dinner.” I had no strenuous objections. Her friend left after twenty minutes and we spoke till midnight, the air between us was charged. Peggy told me she fell in love that first night. I remember driving home hearing a dulcimer in my head.

In the weeks to come we met and went off together to a poetry workshop at Beyond Baroque. Our first kiss happened along the Palisades. She said it would complicate my life. It's been a magnificent complication.

After a while we didn’t get around to the workshop and just created our own poetry. Our resonance and lyricism broke windows in Pasadena. I knew then I had won the human lottery.
That was to be chapter one of Life: Part Two in the greatest story ever told. That Christmas we gave each other the same book (by Wendell Berry). We were a number, two poets who found their muse in each other. Peggy had been writing for decades. When she doesn’t write she creates visual poems in Joseph Cornell-like boxes.

Our personalities meshed like a heroic couplet. We rhymed like sun and moon,clarinet answering a bluesy sax. She has always been effervescent with enthusiasms. I am more contained and feast on her appetites.

Over the next three years, three months she read me the emancipation proclamation. But I was still singing spirituals on the back forty. It took that long for the chariot to swing low, for me to reinvent myself as the guy who would pack his toothbrush. She waited. I could have lost her but she somehow knew.

I had recently bought my own pharmacy after toiling for decades in chain stores. I called it Norm’s Pharmacy and told friends that my mother was a visionary and named me after the store. Ownership gave me a new sense of empowerment or at least the illusion of that. Possibly under the influence of hallucinogenic vapors I declared myself a poet and wrote poems in between labels.

Peggy was a newly licensed psychotherapist with a thriving practice. We both performed miracle healings particularly on ourselves.

One day in mid-March, 1984, I called to tell her there was good news and bad news. The bad news was that Reagan had sent more aid to the Contras. The good news that I was ready to move in with her on Sunday. There are times when we find ourselves in a room without any open windows or doors so we must walk through the wall. And the rest is history.

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