Friday Sep 22

BlumenthalMichael Michael Blumenthal, formerly Director of Creative Writing at Harvard, graduated from the Cornell Law School with a J.D. degree in 1974, after studying philosophy and economics at the State U. of New York at Binghamton. His seventh book of poems, And, was published by BOA Editions in May 2009 and his eighth, Be Kind, will be published by Etruscan Press in 2012. He is the author of the memoir All My Mothers and Fathers (Harper Collins, 2002), and of Dusty Angel (BOA Editions, 1999). His novel Weinstock Among The Dying, which won Hadassah Magazine's Harold U. Ribelow Prize for the best work of Jewish fiction, has recently been re-issued in paperback, and his collection of essays from Central Europe, When History Enters the House, was published in 1998. A frequent translator from the German, French and Hungarian, he practices psychotherapy with Anglophone expatriates in Budapest and spends summers at his house in a small village near the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary. In May 2007, he spent a month in South Africa working with orphaned infant chacma baboons at the C.A.R.E. foundation in Phalaborwa, an experience about which he has written for Natural History and The Washington Post Magazine. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Law at The West Virginia University College of Law.
---------
 

Elegy
In memoriam, P.B., 1944-2011
 
 
Here’s to Paul Becker, buried in his boat
A wooden, strut-filled, golden brown canoe
A day so warm he didn’t need a coat
 
You may be smiling, but you shouldn’t gloat
As Larkin said, it also comes to you
Here’s to Paul Becker, buried in his boat
 
He can’t row on beneath the cemetery’s dirt
Though, even there, he’ll fatten in the dew
On nights so cold he should have worn a coat
 
A man too young to die, too old to vote
A sneaky dude at poker: “pair of twos”
Here’s to Paul Becker, buried in his boat
 
A grave so deep it could have been a moat
Just fifty feet from Dorsey Avenue
Where Paul rows on, dressed in his old black coat
 
The ship now sinks, though once it tried to float
A Jew entombed beside another Jew
The night’s so cold that dead men need a coat
But here’s to Paul, still rowing in his boat.


 
Self-Help


It was, as it always has been, a choice
between Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
and The Story of O, so I picked up The Story of O
 
knowing it would be more interesting
and, in the long run, better for me. I’d lived
the compassionate life for years— it had proved
 
far better for those around me than for myself.
Now, I figured, it was time for The Story of O,
Tropic of Cancer, Philosophy in the Boudoir,
 
all the books that had inspired me in my youth,
before altruism gave pleasure a bad name.
We all go back to our origins, somehow, I say
 
to myself, ordering a cappuccino and flirting
with the lovely waitress, probably young enough
to be my daughter. Isn’t it, after all, pleasure
 
we truly want, and decency the back road we use
to get there? Why not, rather, speak our desires
straight out, perhaps obliquely at times, as in
 
a poem, but nonetheless without shame, so that
pleasure will ultimately reach those who deserve it,
and those books that gave us so much bad feeling
 
toward our happier selves can remain where
they belong: parched pages turning in the wind.



 
Dispute


The tires weren’t paid for, the check stopped twice
Post-dated just to cover for her son
He really didn’t think it very nice
 
And felt, what’s more, he’d been subject of a heist
Nor did he see it in the least as fun
The tires not paid for, the check stopped twice
 
So he sued the mother for the tires’ price
He deeply wanted the transaction done
He really didn’t think it very nice
 
And felt, now, he should heed his own advice
Though he was not the type to own a gun
So he sued the mother for the total price:
 
Four tires, all of a substantial size
New treads, large rims, a bad check from the mom
He really didn’t think it very nice
 
Twice was enough, he wouldn’t stand for thrice
He floored the gas, the mother tried to run
He really hadn’t found it very nice
Nor did she now, who’d stopped that bad check twice.
 
 

What Happened?
All you do now is bang on your typewriter during the day and drink in the evening here. What about that powerful third thing, sweetheart? What happened to fornication?
George Konrád, A Feast in the Garden
 
It fades like embers
at late night, after everyone
has gone to sleep
the daily need doused
by time’s little breezes
and periodic rains
until you wake in the morning
and nothing is burning
though the house still smells
of last night’s fires
the dirty dishes
are piled in the sink
and what remains
of last night’s feast
is just the scent of it
a mild aftertaste
as if to remind you
how good it tasted,
how delectable it must have been.
 
 
 

Everyone Is Wonderful When They’re Wonderful


The sweet, considerate lover who betrayed you later,
the loving, devoted wife who ran off with your money
and children, the magnificent accountant
who got you the biggest refund of your life and,
shortly thereafter, was arrested for embezzlement,
all of them were wonderful once, weren’t they? Even
your golf caddy, coming up with just the right club
the day you finally broke par, even the breakfast chef you
were about to fire who, just once, got the poached eggs
and béchamel sauce just right, even they reside
in your memory, now, in some glorious afterglow
of reality’s realness. “And YOU, Michael, can be absolutely
adorable when you want to be, which makes me melt......
and then I can't be angry at you anymore.” Oh, would it were
all so simple, everyone’s best moments their only moments,
everyone risen only to the occasions that render them
magnificent. Darling, no doubt, I have been a perfect angel
and hope to be so again. But if loving me is what you
insist on, take the whole package for what it is: wonderful
when it’s wonderful and then, in equally relevant portions,
Satan himself, cross-dressing a bit for the audience, but still
the same lovely man who took you to the movies,
simply clad for a different occasion, in different rags,
a new fire burning in the same old heart.

---------

Michael Blumenthal interview, with Cassie Fox