A Tribute to George Faludy

on his 95th birthday

by Daniel Kolos

 

I

A

Tribute

to George

Faludy

 

by

Daniel

Kolos

 
 


At 95, your mind still functions well

and your withered body, held upright with a stick,

still holds your indomitable spirit with which

you never backed away from an argument;

your bony hand still writes poetry, prose

and at times a prophecy.

 

Born into the best of all worlds, you were

at ease with both the rich and the poor,

a freethinker, you made friends or argued

with both the Christians and the Jews;

and as a lover you attracted the love

of both men and women.

 

The world of your youth was energized by

the economic boom of the nineteen twenties;

you came of age immersed in the vigor of young minds

unrestrained by religious dogma, unbound

by autocrats or totalitarian democracies

Photo

by

Tamás PAPP

 
and filled with wanderlust.

 

You buried your face between the legs

of the men and the women who loved you;

their elixir and ambrosia fed your youth

and in turn you blew their flute

or played the bow of your violin

over their taut clitori.

 

 

II

 

Hungarian poets ever made their name

by translating foreign masterpieces.

You were not a Hungarian Shakespeare:

Arany Janos had taken care of that before you

to the point where people said his translation

was better than the real thing!

 

You turned, instead, to your own kind,

to a poet of youth and love who was as much at home

in the boudoir of a Parisian Countess

as he was entangled with peasant girls:

you loved those instincts that opened their hearts

and thighs like the earth mothers they were.

 

You chose to translate Villon,

a rogue if ever there was one.

When your Villon was published,

in Hungarian, those who knew the original

exclaimed, “Faludy is better than Villon!”

This response was not conceit!

 

Where Shelley and Byron reposed, surrounded

by naked women for whom they had no respect

only the need for their own superiority,

you found inspiration both in taking

and giving pleasure and lost respect for those

who could do the one but not the other.

 

Pleasure and poetry followed you hand in hand

throughout your life.  Even when imprisoned

while fascist or communist guards contemptuously beat you,

you took pleasure in their sadistic pleasure

and continued composing poetry

your fellow inmates memorized.

 

Movement was music, emotions were poetry;

what to others would have been a stark prison

for you was a haven of creativity.

It took a gulag to raise your ‘children’

until your poems could be set in type

and published underground.

 

You still take pleasure at the age of 95

when someone knocks on the door of your house,

the first you’ve ever owned; or when you hear them brag

saying, “I know George Faludy,” and you welcome them

and still give pleasure with a kind word here,

a praise or a smile.

 

Your aged hands on Fanny’s young flesh is

no longer a gesture of insult to Eric

who has forgiven you because he knew you well!

He died peacefully without hanging on

to karma between the two of you because

karma does not cling to you.

 

You are in the here and now, as you were

with Zsuzsi, your second wife, and your mother

when you sat with them for three years each

while they were dying with cancer, may be nothing more

than tragic data for your biographers.

But will any of them see in the poetry of those years

that you balanced your karma and carry no baggage?

 

 

III

 

Today you write encyclopedia entries,

poetry and biography; give interviews.

People come close to you – they want to honor you

with medals, knighthoods, naming parks after you

when all your life you showed contempt for gold.

No one seems to see the contradiction.

Perhaps you will accept the homage and the wealth –

you certainly deserve it!

 

Pleasure is your morality, the vital life force

that courses through all life forms; wave forms and particles

happily entwined by mutual attraction;

atoms dancing with one another

joyously exchanging their electrons,

that’s the essence of life!

 

You have exchanged the tail between your legs

for a good story, a new way of telling the truth.

I met you through your words, reading your poems

of Villon’s adventures;  seven years later I fell across

your prone body on a Kasbah rooftop, surrounded

by jasmine gardens. You sat up, embarrassed.

 

Nothing could be more exotic than spending a night

talking, watching the eastern star set in the west,

the cool Mediterranean breeze dispelling the heat, then

hearing a hundred mullahs chant “Allahu Akhbar!”

while a fat Maltese priest entertained us with dirty jokes

and the maid served mint tea.

 

A few years later we sat outside a café at Le Place

de la Bastille and you told me that you found

a devotee, someone who has tracked you down

from your autobiography, My Happy Days in Hell.

He wanted to meet you!  You discovered that

anticipation was also pleasure.

 

I wondered then why I had never fallen in love with you?

My mother, my aunts, were your life-long friends

and you always treated me as family.  In turn,

I was raised to respect my elders, to learn from them.

From you I learned that pleasure is the fuel of both

life and creativity.  But I sought my pleasure elsewhere.

 

 

 

IV

 

We met again, a year later, in Malta where Eric arrived

into your life and you had your honeymoon.

But so did my mother, newly wed to a British officer.

You found out I had my uncle’s car, and called daily

that I should sally forth from the Palazzo Guarena

and be your chauffeur.

 

You, Eric and I left your seaside apartment daily

for one of the still uninhabited bays

where the three of us floated on lilos and talked

about decadent Rome, classical Greece and pharaonic Egypt,

pleasuring one another with surprising stories, though

not the pleasure you sought.

 

You did not make me feel like an intruder.

Your relationship with Eric developed

into a long cooperation.  When we next met in Toronto,

we exchanged apartments: you and Eric moved

to my place in Philadelphia, I shared yours

with Andrew, your son.

 

Reluctant room-mates, Andrew and I learned

to hate and despise one another for a lifetime.

He is now ill with MS and I remember a dream

I had written down at the time: we were on either side

of a metal basement door of our building. I crushed him

against the concrete wall.

 

I asked him to forgive me, but he was thirteen

and it was my dream.  He hated me in turn

for sleeping with his best friend’s mother.

Obviously you did not raise him to respect his elders

nor did I feel old enough to be his teacher or mentor,

not even a father-substitute.

 

When you returned to Toronto the Gaboris

welcomed you and Eric. I took my turn

at their dinner table to share your collective

wit and wisdom, only to have you discover

how my Hungarian had deteriorated:

you became my teacher.

 

My aunt Leonie, who had loved you since her youth

and ran after you to every poetry performance,

gave you money when you were hungry,

and shelter when you were homeless.  But it was not

until you both lived in Toronto that you

finally married her.

 

 

 

V

 

Earlier, you immersed yourself in politics

and as a popular poet with a strong voice

the Nazis found you dangerous and jailed you.

Once freed, you fled to the States where

US Army intelligence welcomed you

and haunted you long after!

 

Because, when the war was won and you had returned home

to preach social democracy, the Communists

only saw you as an American lackey

and soon sent you to Recsk, a Hungarian gulag

where you and other political outcasts waited

for Stalin to die before you.

 

He obliged all of you and your jailers let you go

with courteous bows to you as poet

but even as you moved back with your wife, Zsuzsi,

you kept to yourselves, trusting no one,

afraid of being betrayed and jailed again:

did you write poetry then?

 

My aunt Klari came from England a week before

the Revolution broke out and invited you to flee.

She performed the same service for my family;

we went to the US, you settled in England

and in 1963, while you were still in Tangier,

I stayed at your London home.

 

You became the editor of Irodalmi Ujság,

a weekly Hungarian literary newspaper,

published in Paris and sold around the world;

if you thought the fascists and communists were

dangerous enemies, they didn’t even come close

to your editorial board!

 

Each and every one a social democrat,

your fellow editors repeatedly betrayed you,

stabbed you in the back and undermined you

in spite of your brilliant poems and articles;

your dream of changing the world politically died

with the death of your paper.

 

 

 

VI

 

You began to preach the end of the world

both with your poetry and your repartee

and privately admitted that you practiced magic

though your public persona was entirely logical;

within you, you were a mystic like Rumi

but only your eyes danced.

 

Sitting with you in Tangiers Bay I watched

as you gathered so much fish around a man’s

line and hook that no sooner it hit the water

the fish took it and we laughed at how easy

it was to make people happy and surprised

by doing the unexpected.

 

But when we looked over the wide Delaware

with its mud brown Spring waters, all you saw

were the millions of contraceptive pills

washed down the throats of lovely women,

pissed into the public water system rendering

all people sterile.

 

You recognized pollution, overpopulation,

the over-use of electromagnetic forces

and told your predictions to whomever would listen.

I was one of those who listened.  Instead of

memorizing that poem of yours by heart,

I memorized your life.

 

Ceaseless lover of pleasure and literature,

you returned home, even from Canada,
where you were made welcome, translated and published.

Your Motherland finally had a government

that took you in, accepted and acknowledged you

as a national treasure.