Thursday, July 30, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 10 (Aleš Debeljak)


Anxious Moments
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Debeljak, Aleš
Anxious Moments


This is an autographed copy given to me by the author, or possibly by Dennis Maloney, publisher, when Aleš came to Buffalo in, I think, 2004.

Aleš Debeljak is a Slovenian poet. There must be something in the water over there, as they produce quite a lot of good poets despite the fact that there are only 2,000,000 citizens and only a few more speakers of Slovenian. Apparently, the poets actually have some status in that society, another remarkable fact.

Aleš did a week's worth of events in Buffalo, including several school visits. I remember it being kind of a crazy week. The first day we went to a Buffalo public school and I failed to prep Aleš about the U.S. education system. He gave a great lecture on aesthetics that flew right over the heads of the tenth graders to whom he was speaking.

On the second day I left him at an honors school all day, which apparently went fine until the school had a fire drill. The teachers and administrators marched everyone out to the sidewalk, including Aleš, who thought that, being outside, he might as well take advantage of the opportunity to light up a smoke -- in front of all the students. I guess the principal nearly keeled over when she saw that and was on the phone to Just Buffalo all afternoon.

(My how times have changed. I had teachers in high school who used to smoke in class, and students were all allowed to smoke in our last two years, juniors off campus and seniors in the senior lounge.)

Another day, I took Aleš to lunch at Betty's cafe. Right as the meal was ending, I had an attack of vertigo. I have a "condition' (meaning doctors can accurately describe the symptoms but can do nothing to cure them) known as "labyrinthitis," which causes me on occasion to get such intense vertigo that I can't even walk. It's like being blind drunk without the alcohol. As it came upon me, I told Aleš what was happening and said that I couldn't drive. He said he would try to drive me home. We got in the car and the vertigo was so bad I could barely open my eyes to tell him where to make the turns. We made it home, where I promptly popped some anti-nausea medication and fell asleep.

At the end (or was it the beginning?) of the week I invited two other poets from (or descended from) the former Yugoslavia: Semezdin Mehmedinovic and Ammiel Alcalay. All of them knew one another so it was a big reunion of sorts. Everyone stayed at our house in Black Rock and I can remember hearing the screen door opening and closing all night as they went outside to smoke.

from Sketches for the Return

Your story's simple. You won't see many loved ones when you return, like and otter surfacing in a lake to catch its breath. You won't find words for short greetings, the seasons, unsuccessful missions, white phosphorous lighting the passion in soldier's eyes, a distant whistle on steep hillsides you never climbed, children's cane baskets floating silently across a river basin, the way you have a constant burning pain, the constellations discovered in a premonition, Oriental love songs, the disappointment of everything we wee and will be. Believe me: this is your story. Later, I'll tell it again -- only better.

Translated by Christopher Merrill

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