James Longenbach


For Irving Feldman, from James Longenbach

A few weeks ago my sixteen-year-old daughter asked me, out of the blue, as I was pouring out the cocoa crispies, “who’s Irving Feldman?”

“He’s a great American poet,” I said, “He read here at the University about ten years ago.”

“Oh,” she said, “that explains it.”

When my daughter was five or six, she had a little book of do-it-yourself knock-knock jokes: on each page was a paradigm with the crucial words missing.  Recently, when my daughter stumbled on this book, she found a page that looked like this:

Knock knock.

Who’s there?


Irving who?

Irving _____________

The true answer to the riddle is, of course, Irving Feldman: ten years ago my daughter had penciled in his name with careful block letters. 

Together, after the riddle surfaced a few weeks ago, she and I read the great concluding lines to “Terminal Laughs”:

I seem to hear how, guarding the lowest stair,

he mutters in his despondency (his, truly,

having kept his lost promise all these years),

“‘Irving Feldman,’ huh?  Just another pretty name.”