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 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
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
--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
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
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 Some of the drawings have appeared in issues of Salt Hill Journal and Hunger Mountain. His improvised songs can be heard at
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Title Annotation:four poems
Author:Burkard, Michael
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Poem
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
Previous Article:I Don't Know.
Next Article:My mother's "they".

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