Your Name Came Up (Daydream/3)

by Mark Chmiel

I smelled like smoke
Which is unusual for me
But I humored him
Though it wasn’t funny
To think of him dying
From the deliberate wreckage of his lungs
I hadn’t seen him in ages
I realized that we both had far more wrinkles than 1985
It was OK
I wasn’t aging gracefully
But I was aging calmly

“I haven’t gotten any of your famous letters in about a year
What have you been up to?”
He was one of the more curious homo sapiens that walked the earth
He knew I was a bobble gush and blabbermouth
So he immediately picked up on my three seconds of hesitation

“Let me guess”

“No, I already know what you’re thinking, you … dirty old man”

“Judge ye not, so said one of the great pains in the ass of history”

“It’s just that…”

“Her name?”

“I think you’re projecting—again!”

He sipped his Absolut (I was paying), then admitted, “I’m always projecting”

And so I began to tell him about you

15
30
45 minutes went past

He was oddly silent
(He is prone, on occasion, to being volubly interruptive)
I thought he’d be drifting from my enthusiastic accounts of
Chagall postcards received in calligraphic micro-script
Random cafés at which you and I are chancing upon each other
Then those long three-hour chats on the phone even though you lived cross-town
The books we consumed (he couldn’t believe we made it through The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna and Life and Fate)
Your poems sans pareil
All those hysterically funny  journal entries you read aloud to me as we walked along Broadway
Your mimicry of Stephan Dedalus in Portrait of the Artist
On and on

The worldly-wise cynic that so often dominated his waking hours
Had taken leave
Not a growl
Not a dart thrown
I realized he hadn’t touched his vodka in a long spell
Very strange

When I stopped my reminisces, exhausted and exhilarated
He finally grinned
“I never told you about that Polish dame I knew—
A Holocaust survivor—
We met in the early 60s
She was something

I laughed, he had a way of holding very little sacred

“What was her name?”

“Hannah Goldstein!!!
Damn near sucked the life out of me
She was hungry, but so was I
Incandescent, 1962-1963, I only heard about the Cuban missile crisis months later
We were otherwise engaged in our own beautiful madness–her beauty, my madness, of course”

“When did you see her last?”

“As you were talking
I couldn’t help but remember Hannah
That same lust for all of life
I got chills
Crazy I know
Two totally different women
Two different eras
But, whew!
You brought back the fall of 1962 with a bang, like the cops just busting down the front door!”
He never answered my question
He only wanted to linger in the almost palpable presence of Hannah Goldstein
Brought back to life by my telling him of you—
Your sparkling green eyes
Your myriad enthusiasms (of Whitmanian multitudes)
Your lightning intellect
Your bodhisattva tears
Your negative capability
Your availability to anyone in need (three minutes here, two hours there)
Your wildfree hair bouncing on wind waves every 11 seconds at those outdoor cafés
Your aimless exploratory walking (“destinations are overrated,” you’d say) along the sidewalks and boulevards of this ville where you would invariably attract some stranger’s eager attention or urgent supplication
There he was lingering in his semi-trance
When he knocked over his glass of Absolut —
He acted like it was an accident
But I knew it was deliberate

Fancy that—
I got Charles Bukowski
To actually stop dead in his tracks with his drinking
All because of what I told him about a poet
Named Layla Espinoza

–out-take from Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

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