In Memory Of Josef Skvorecky

josef skvoreckyI’ve spent a good part of my life studying Czech writers and the incredible literature that has come from this tiny country. I studied Czech, drank beer with her writers and failed at translating the untranslatable.

I had the esteemed pleasure to visit Josef and Zdena Skvorecky who lived just a few blocks from me in Toronto. Shared conversation and great Czech hospitality. I grew as a writer but more importantly as a human being, through my reading of Josef Skvorecky. He’s in my pantheon and now he’s gone. Gone and all I’ve got is this poem I dug up from a box full of notebooks. Based on a glorious day I went to visit him. I walked down Parliament St. and watched him – slunk in to a coffee shop to write this…..

Dekuju vam.

A Writer’s Place

“The swan sings on the lake of the mind”
– the Silver Swan, Kenneth Rexroth

Seeing a man
in the distance
I knew
it must be you, only you
that Whitmanesque
so rarely seen on these
senseless streets.

You walked with a rhythm,
a side to side waddle of
a man smoothed – no soothed
by years of mindful contemplation,
waves rubbing, rolling, refinding rock.

You, with the blue jeans –
the scream of the common
and safari hat
cocked on one side
so you, the hunter
melding meaning and moments
could hear the hammering
hearts of your everyday prey
so often seen
on these sacredless streets.

So many buzzed around you
in busyness
lost in thoughts of
hot dogs, hard ons, haftos
unaware of you
someone who has achieved
the unwritten writer’s aim –
absorption into the word
heard but healthily unheralded.

What if
you were Hulk Hogan
I thought?
How the street would hum for days
after your handsomeness
had passed, this way (away?)
Yet, I see you
caught in that
circuitous virtuouso
that only we know about
yet, unable to shout –
we walk the streets
with our masks metted on.

Seeing you
walking so sure
among us,
who suffer surely
yet so sillily (and willingly),
I saw you
measuring our merriment
in song
meters of mediocrity
pulling you along
into our midst
so obscurely (and surely).

I thought to ask you
about this or that,
let your smooth finish
shine upon me –
but thought better
as I watched you
assuredly deposit a letter
into the mouth of a mailbox.

You have other things in mind.

A cold pivo perhaps
(or an old love lapsed)?
To run home and
like a person who
having seen a U.F.O.
tries to live with it
the knowledge of another world
more important than our own
while the bread and circuses
keep things going around
keep lifting up the frowns
as some as yet unknown gladiator
eats crumbling, unleavened bread
and awaits his death
in the dark caverns
below the merry meant.

(P.S.) Didn’t Kurtz say (or sing)
“Exterminate the brutes”?
I think of all this
upon seeing you.

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