A Tribute to George Faludy
on his 95th birthday
by Daniel Kolos
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
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.
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?
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
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.
We met again, a year
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
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
a long cooperation. When we next met in
we exchanged apartments: you and Eric moved
to my place in
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
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
finally married her.
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
the Revolution broke out and invited you to flee.
She performed the same service for my family;
we went to the
and in 1963, while you were still in Tangier,
I stayed at your
You became the editor of Irodalmi Ujság,
a weekly Hungarian literary newspaper,
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.
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
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
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,
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.