it is actually hard to say whether i liked the summer of my valium or not--i used to call it "Valium Summer" because it was and because i thought that would make a good title for a book or a story--"The Summer of My Valium" doesn't sound so bad to me either--but it has a different flavor. This also was the summer I bought Jozsef's book, "Selected Poems and Texts," translated from the Hungarian by John Batki--with its wonderful and my-copy-still-intact glaring pink cover with simple black lettering. I brought the book with me to many places--I was always in Cambridge and Boston for the valium days of July and some of August--I must confess to not reading closely enough enough poems--and I don't mean this as any put down of Jozsef or Batki--that should be obvious by now--I must confess to the possibility of carrying the book around so much because of its color, and the black lettering against the pink, it's a real possibility this was more important than most of the poems at the time--it would also explain to myself my need to convince myself I was a real poet, and what else would a real poet do except not part much with a particular book, but I didn't part much with the valium either. i would eat the valium and spend most of the afternoon going from place to place alone or with friends but always with enough alcohol along the way at different stops to guarantee the valium would really ride the liquor, and i would take the drinks kind of slowly for me so the liquor could ride the valium, and i could ride real serenely and smoothly through the empty aimlessness of my drugged life. i was severely out of touch--no question about it--no sense of it either except when i was trying to drive back to new hampshire the one hour to stay at my parents' place for still another night and the road was really tough to see--the cliche of watching the white dividing line became true for me for me to try to get my bearings--i was often very close to passing out and had to shake my head--i was a fool with my life and yours--and a fool to never pull over and out. i could even be dangerous as a passenger--my friend John was driving us to a parking space which we could not find in cambridge and in making a turn in a lot of traffic he asked me to look down the street and tell him if it was okay and i said it was but it wasn't at all--or was i driving and so serene i didn't pay attention to his warning about a car coming up Boylston--and it was going to hit us if i kept going--and John's side first--and yes it was John as a passenger finally yelling my name "Michael" to get me to pay heed and i did at the last second--a piece of valium luck. you talk about biography and autobiography--Jozsef writes a poem entitled "Freight Trains" and he lets or makes himself die under one a few years later--suicide in 1937--"Freight Trains" as a poem in 1935(?)--i just misread the title of a later poem in his book as "I Finally Found My Train"--the poem is actually "I Finally Found My Home"-- of course for me part of my for myself terrible misread "joke" is that in the almost thirty years i have had this book i don't think i have ever read even haphazardly "I Finally...." as usual Jozsef and Batki are on the mark / on the spot--the words are like one of the words in the poem--coins ("coin" in the poem--"No one wants a worthless coin / left over from the days of war ...")--days in war where we now live too, and so do i, though removed from it far but only relative to this same globe--if i leave the violence aside the glove of the globe is a small one to wear--the war will be back to roost--and is of course already carried as a lead food by so so many--and we live among them without even knowing them or "it" the way we are supposed to, the way it could change us into non-war--it isn't unlike the strange but at first very quiet violence of the valium i abused--like but of course in another sense unlike Jozsef in valium i too had "finally found my home"--this was--this little pill--the little place where i could lay my head whether waking or asleep--and no one would see the little pillow the pill was--i don't know who if anyone suspected what or how--it--not i--"it" was that smooth--or the alcohol as can be typical was the more obvious sign--i remember my father Paul asking me kind of quietly as if he might be being rude if i was drinking very much before driving back to their condominium every night--and of course i just very quietly and with all the easy honesty of valium i could muster said "no"--just a few and then i eat or something to that effect-- of course just a few by 1 a.m. had probably come to anywhere between ten and twenty shots or ounces or maybe more and very little food--valium and me had no interest in food-- i had no sex that summer either-- not in those months-- i have no memory of kissing any woman except my mother or my sister on their for me innocent cheeks --later in Jozsef's poem he writes "That's how I lived, in vain, / I'll be the first to say. / They made me play the fool. / Now even my death is useless."--i am taking it out of context and i am not--i mean poems are meant to be used and breathed and brought straight to the door of your breathing life--so if a line or stanza tells you something don't become some classroom fool most of us were taught or told to be and look for understanding or paraphrasing it or reaching for the rest of the poem-- reach--my god grab--breathe in the lines that are talking to your sore sore heart or your happy happy heart or the eyes of your brokenness or your sorrow or the yes of a war or the no of a war or the yes the eyes see the war and here is one small thing i can do other than not take any more valium-- take the poem lines like you would the hand of a child in a crowd who you have to help walk through some busyness--valium was my vain summer--i have come up against the vain again and again--and i too will be the first to say--no one will take that away from me now--and no it is not to be a victim--it is to be a poem line instead of valium--no one made me play the fool--that is where i was luckier than not and luckier than Attila Jozsef if he is honest and right here and who am i to know-- what or which melodic train in eastern europe could tell us how close Jozsef comes to the moon of the truth with this line--i know his death is not the uselessness we are made to see in the war--and i know he might have known how this word cuts both or more ways as he uses it-- how one like myself wants to die but also wants to live--how one like myself or you or many others out there close the windows of a car on a hot afternoon and already thin thin do it on valium to get this strange wet bath of a fake sauna as you drive along and sweat--and lose more water weight get Hollywood thin even if you are in Boston--Boston what a lovely name for a city more uptight then than it knew itself--and in this closed window the air of course in the heat almost starts to vanish and you have to even in the middle of day mindlessly changing parking spaces pull yourself out quickly to not pass or black out so the black lettering becomes a kind of reminder--a kind of home on a book you carry like an amulet--you are nowheres near home anywhere anymore--not unlike war but for very different and softer reasons home has been demolished--home is as gone as you are by 5 p.m.--the fool is the fool who drifts into the sun day like a moon which was supposed to be taking the train in its first quarter moon phase from Budapest to Mako--or back to Ocsod to see the foster parents whom you do not want to see --but the first quarter moon was supposed to be doing this--not here in the inaccurate address of the war--in an American city on a sunny day--briefly rain dropping out of the sky like people like me and others dropping out of school-- you take a photograph of one of "Jozsef's words"--as if words could belong to us if we were humble enough--and he can have a few of his-- you photograph "finally" and "found" but you keep them not next to each other but in separate pictures--you photograph "summer" and "useless"--you worry about the last picture-- i say to myself, "Michael, if you photograph this word of Jozsef's, this "useless," someone might see it and think it is an emphasis, whether they know Jozsef's "end" or not--and if they know his "end"--well the habit energy of this tentative and worried voice inside myself knows many nuances and is using many now--but I photograph "useless" anyway--and I develop it like the others with no tricks / no reversals-- and i hang the four photographs of the words and then i hang an old favorite photograph of a small moon over budapest next to a moon i tried to photograph near Balatonszarszo--near where Jozsef's sister took him--near where he died / was killed--i notice twice the two "sz's" in the name of the place--reversing Jozsef's "zs"--it doesn't mean anything-- it just makes me think of even little letters telling stories too--side by side--and then i think of the "v" in valium and the "v" in valley--and then i hang still another photograph which includes the moon-- it is over the first house my family and i were lucky enough to live in-- over my first home--the moon is joking with me about being too heavy to get up into the sky that night how she needs some assistance--this is the joke story from a children's record i have and half believe could happen to this day-- seeing the war and not wanting to rise--seeing a child and wanting to give the moonlight to some place where it is not supposed to be at this appointed hour-- seeing Jozsef and all the breath that came out of him and his life and his family * * * --but i am still a browser after thirty years--i do not know enough about the breath of this family--and i can't keep from saying that maybe there is blackmail in the moonlight too, inexpressible blackmail, someone older, a word no longer weighted with its old self--not a metaphor for me or other valium lives lost or not--no--not that--but blackmail as a gladly cool moon. Weighted with night. Full of quarter light and use. Use. Useless. Less. Less than use. the "w" in war stops bombing the "inverted" "m" of moon-- the "f" in freight train forgives the "f" in Jozsef the "s's" in Jozsef's sister talk with the "s's" in useless my valium summer erases only one of my summers i get to overhear Attila and his sister talking as if they are rumors and like rumors alive still
MICHAEL BURKARD'S lucky coat anywhere will be published by Nightboat Books in 2011. His other books of poems include Envelope of Night (Nightboat Books) and Unsleeping (Sarabande Books). He has recently self-published two books of his drawings, Michael Burkard and a flower with milk in a shadow beside it, through blurbbooks.com. Some of the drawings have appeared in issues of Salt Hill Journal and Hunger Mountain. His improvised songs can be heard at redhouseartradio.org.
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|Title Annotation:||four poems|
|Publication:||The American Poetry Review|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2010|
|Previous Article:||I Don't Know.|
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