Devil’s Lake

Book Reviews

Thomas Patrick Levy: Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johansson

In the best case scenario, you will find yourself reading Thomas Patrick Levy’s chapbook Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johansson in the wake of a horrendous break-up, which leaves you with several probing metaphysical questions about life—the usual Who am I? What am I doing here? What is Love?—and torments you until you have no choice but to pack your duffel, fill up your gas tank, and head for the open road. On repeat on your iPod: Scarlett Johannson’s 2008 vocal debut, Anywhere You Lay Your Head. “I’ll drive all night,” Levy writes in the sixth poem, as the narrator’s radio plays one of Scarlett’s Tom Waits covers, “ … while the shadows swallow around us and the only light for miles is the candle my car holds out before us...”

Reminiscent of a Victorian valentine (the cover is an autumnal, mixed media collage featuring an androgynous child in a lace dickey), printed on paper the color of bare lips, and hand-bound with twine, this twenty-six-page chapbook comprises thirteen untitled, unpunctuated, apostrophic prose poems to Hollywood starlet Scarlett Johansson. The poems appear on the recto, while the verso remains blank, as if Levy were leaving pages empty for Scarlett’s responses to his confessional monologue. It is the unabashed fervor with which Levy writes that makes me want to turn the lights out and belt his poems to the dark and vacant street beneath my open window. “You and I both know,” I can imagine myself reciting, “you just want to rip each page in two and claw into my chest and hold my heart that cries I’D WISHED I’D LISTENED … ” Poetry needs these moments of sheer human howling. (Though I personally could do without the all caps.)

The conceit of the chapbook is potentially ridiculous at first. This idolization of ScarJo may, admittedly, be a divisive issue for some. From television ads to the tabloids ringed around the checkout counters at the supermarket, celebrities and their strangely named babies already glut so much of our daily lives—do we really want them sipping cappuccino and clutching Prada purses in our poems, too? I would typically be skeptical, but the wild imagery and invocatory language that Levy employs bring a level of complexity to what could have otherwise become a kitschy, desperate rant. “O Scarlett sometimes you kiss me with milky eyes,” one poem begins. Another: “And sometimes Scarlett I am a jar of wasps and I wonder how many days of patience I’ll have before I lose you completely and dump that jar out across the floor … ” At times, I find myself so lulled by Levy’s lines that I, too, grow jealous of Woody Allen (“I talk with strangers to keep from thinking of you and Woody Allen in his New York loft … ”). Yet I wish that there was more here—I want years of unanswered letters, diary entries, soliloquies almost muted by the blaring stereo.

Most surprising, I think, is that I gained a sense of religious reverence for this buxom blonde—much like the reverence expressed hundreds of years ago by the Bhakti mystical poet Meerabai, who wrote about her metaphorical marriage with the Lord Krishna. Here Levy finds himself well within the poetic tradition of conflating the beloved (that which ones lusts after and woos) with the Beloved (that which exists beyond all else, that which one worships). Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johannson is the sort of talisman you need to remember that though life can corrode you away until it feels like nothing’s left, ultimately—behind it all—there is something more beautiful and harrowing than your own pain. And that something, in the case of Thomas Patrick Levy’s chapbook, is Scarlett Johannson.

Thomas Patrick Levy
Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johansson
Press, YEAR