Twenty Questions

By David Lehman b. 1948 David Lehman
Why did the moth fly into the flame? Was it for the same reason
That Achilles died young? Who gets more fun out of sex,
The man or the woman? (Be sure to explain how you can tell.)
Which is more real to you, heaven or hell?
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? What causes the death of love—
The love of death? Did Adam and Eve have a choice?
Did the Virgin Mary? What are we afraid of, anyway?
Even agnostics have the right to say “thank god,” don’t they?
Looking at these dancing atoms, shall I say I saw a ring
Of pure and endless light? Or did I dream the whole thing?
Whom shall I say is calling? Are you in if it’s your wife?
Are you willing to relocate? Do you like your life?
What makes this night different from all other nights?
Would you say it’s your fate to be always,
Without exception, five minutes late? If you arrived
At 9:10, would the ceremony have started at 9:05
Though it had been scheduled for 9:15? As you walk down
The aisle, and the others rivet their attention to you,
Do you ask yourself what you’re going to do,
As though it mattered, as if you knew?

David Lehman, "Twenty Questions" from An Alternative to Speech, published by Princeton University Press.  Copyright © 1986 by David Lehman.  Reprinted by permission of Writers' Representatives, Inc..

Source: An Alternative to Speech (Princeton University Press, 1986)

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Poet David Lehman b. 1948

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

Subjects Living, Life Choices, Midlife, Relationships, Men & Women

 David  Lehman


One of the foremost editors, literary critics, and anthologists of contemporary American literature, David Lehman is also one of its most accomplished poets. Born in New York City in 1948, Lehman earned a PhD from Columbia University and attended the University of Cambridge as a Kellett Fellow. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Yeshiva Boys (2009), When a Woman Loves a Man (2005); and The Evening . . .

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SUBJECT Living, Life Choices, Midlife, Relationships, Men & Women

POET’S REGION U.S., Mid-Atlantic

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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