Pronto, Professore, can you hear me?
I can hear you well,
as if you were just around the corner,
as if it were yesterday
when we used to dissect on location
the interior space of the Pantheon,
the interrupted rhythm of Santa Maria in Cosmedin,
the central split of Santo Stefano Rotondo,
the link between the interior and the facade of San Carlino,
the ascendant spiral of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza,
as if it were yesterday
when we listened to your lectures at the faculty’s auditorium,
the darkened room, the students occupying every available step,
lights and cigarettes’ smoke projected over three screens:
the Parthenon on the left, a drawing of young Le Corbusier on
the center, a photograph of Ville Savoye on the right,
you, walking up and down along the isles, a Muratti between your fingers,
your other arm gesticulating,
arguing with history, arguing with yourself
like a Talmud student interpreting and reinterpreting
what does that choice mean rather than the other,
what is the relationship between form and content,
where does that space come from, is it ancient or modern,
how do we live a building, how do we possess light,
what does all this mean for us today,
what was the language of the time and its relationship to society,
how were matter, space-time and technology used,
why is that window there and not there,
Pronto, Professore, can you hear me?
I can hear you well
We need your help, give us your hand,
we are drowning in ignorance,
we are drowning in the drunkenness of power,
we are drowning in the mud of mediocrity,
we are drowning in the blindness of bureaucracy;
You left us a surgeon’s knife to operate on a patient that barely breathes;
We injected on him with shots of asymmetry and dissonance,
of antiperspective tridimensionality and of cantilevered structures,
but he does not react,
he is intoxicated by television,
he is intoxicated by yellow newspapers,
he is intoxicated by technological gadgets,
he is intoxicated with hyper-sex
with junk food,
the patient doesn’t read anymore, doesn’t write anymore,
he speaks with fifty words,
he escapes towards hedonism or Messianism,
he lost his site,
he lost his vision
he lost his trust in the future,
he lost his trust in humankind,
he lost his trust in himself.
Pronto Professore, can you hear me,
I can hear you well.
I turned to Michelangelo for help
but his urbanism is too complex for today’s planners;
I called Borromini, but the public doesn’t want tormented souls,
the public wants “happiness”;
I talked to Wright…are you kidding!
His language is incomprehensible; the universities
must produce graduates fast and at a reasonable price,
what is necessary is formulas, slogans,
“how to do this, how to do that”,
a page by Wright is too charged, makes you waste time,
it is much easier to copy from fashion magazines;
I called the poets – Gaudi, Scarpa, Bruce Goff, John Lautner;
I called the visionaries – Fuller, Soleri, Pellegrin…
You say that one must remain optimistic
in spite of the periodic regressions of history;
You think that after 1988 there is light at the end of the tunnel
in the rebellious adolescence of the Deconstructivists,
in the recycling of kitsch, banality and trash, but
what shall we do of the abyss that exists between
quantity and quality?
As we talk the world’s population continues to grow
one hundred and sixty six human beings per minute,
ten thousand per hour
two hundred and forty thousand per day;
more sports centers,
more cultural centers,
more power plants,
more parking structures,
What shall we do, Professore
shall we produce one hundred Guggenheims per hour?
shall we produce “readymade” pseudo Venices, clean, odorless,
like the one made in Las Vegas,
or shall we leave it all to the “do it yourself” suburbs, happily mediocre?
Who shall take care of the Leonardo’s subtleties that you quote:
the ungrateful climate,
the shadows and the transparencies,
the smells and the perfumes,
that is, the matter-less materials of architecture?
And then, let’s take a good look at this patient,
who is he, what does his face look like?
It is not an architect, Unknown Soldier of the existential battle;
Our patient is the captain of industry that produces nano-technologies,
our patient is the minister that makes decisions of billions with our money,
our patient is the real estate speculator that sells houses as merchandise,
is the bank director that lends money to old projects,
is the lawyer that knows how to convince us that black is white and
white is black,
is the general that considers a war plane more important
than four thousands apartments for the elderly,
is the mayor with a vision that doesn’t go beyond the next elections,
is the elite that proclaims itself as educated:
the school director,
the scientific researcher,
the fund-raising lady of the charity institution;
It is the public that flocks to concerts and to gallery-openings
and visits the world’s museums
but never heard of
the Johnson Wax Administration Building in Racine,
nor of the chapel of Notre Dame du Haut at Ronchamp,
nor of the Einstein Tower at Potsdam,
nor of Aalto’s church at Imatra,
nor of Michellucci’s church of the Autostrada,
nor of Johansen’s Mummer’s Theater in Oklahoma City,
nor of the Brion-Vega Cemetery at San Vito di Treviso;
May be our real patient still frequents the elementary school,
or may be, actually, probably, he is still not yet born.
what shall we prescribe to this patient, vitamins?
Let’s try a dose of
vitamin H, for the history of architecture,
vitamine V for the vision of the future,
vitamin W for the works of Wright,
vitamin Z for the writings of Zevi;
Shall we prescribe him interactivity,
particularly with painters, sculptors, poets, scientists and inventors?
Shall we prescribe him the drawing of trees,
to learn from their variety lectures of democracy,
to understand what is the continuity that links
earth, roots, trunk, branches and leaves to our solar energy,
to understand what is a cantilevered structure,
to understand the space-time relationship
between the permanent and the temporary,
to understand the functional aesthetics of flowers?
Shall we prescribe him with green, aaah, plenty of green,
green in the working spaces,
green in the stations of transportation,
green in the schools of our future citizens,
green, green, the green that links everything, saves everything,
idiocies, ugliness, crimes, monstrosities?
Shall we prescribe him convalescence in Venice, to learn
how can pedestrians’ movement be separated from the means of
how can the rainwater of the block be recycled,
how can the arts be integrated into architecture
in houses, in piazzas, in campi?
Shall we turn Verona’s Castelvecchio
into an intensive care center for buildings’ restorers
on how to infuse modernity into our historic heritage
with sensible and respectful imagination?
And what about prescribing intelligent structures
to last five hundred years
as an answer to a “sustainable architecture”
with less waste, better use of energy,
and better qualified spaces?
Our patient is in very serious condition,
simplicity is not simple.
Pronto, Professore, can you hear me
We can hear you well.
You opened an unfinished road
still to be explored,
still to be built,
still to navigate
towards the horizon,
towards the center of the Earth,
toward the expanding galaxies,
towards a new civilization where
science, vision and art,
space, matter and time,
and the spirit of man
become One, indivisible,
in the image of God.
we are listening
Tel Aviv, May 28, 2000
What shall I put in her lunch box?
She likes tuna with croissant,
but we don’t have croissant.
Cream cheese? Too fattening.
Peanut butter with jelly? Has
a lot of protein, but it’s too sweet.
Chicken soup with noodles? She loves it…
That’s it, chicken soup with noodles,
in the thermos. I’ll prepare everything
for boiling tomorrow morning,
so she’ll get it warm. What else?
Whole wheat bread (taking off the crust),
a bottle of Evian filled with Arrowhead Water,
two pieces of halva,
a spoon, a straw, a napkin, ready.
Now she has healthy stuff
tor potato chips, crackers, cookies and other junk.
I walk into her room:
She’s a little girl, sleeping,
resting from another day
of hard learning
to brush her teeth,
to tie up her laces,
to comb her hair, to feed the cat,
to prepare her back pack,
to rush to the honking carpool,
to be on time to school,
to study multiplication and division,
to spell correctly,
to read with expression,
to practice piano,
to set up the table,
to take a bath,
to go to bed at 8:30
listening to a story,
falling asleep with her toe
sticking out of the bedspread,
one, two, three, five stuffed animals.
I watch the miracle in ecstasy,
I cover her, close down the window,
shut off the blinders, turn off the light
To Ana Figueroa, our Friday’s cleaning lady
Now you’re safe Ana:
now you’ve found your God.
now everything is easier,
scrubbing my floors,
washing my clothes,
making my bed,
cleaning my carpet,
throwing my trash,
cooking my lunch,
ironing my shirts,
disordering my order
is now a blink for you,
an eight hours humble bending of your stiffened neck
for the fifteen minute’s fee of an L. A. attorney.
Every day, six days a week, you enter the back-stage
of someone’s life,
of my life, and toil
putting up screens,
and dusting memories
that present us, your patrons, at our best.
Six days a week you are a zombie,
a mindless robot earning your bread,
building a lifestyle alien
to the skyline of your Salvadorian mountains.
But then, finally, Sunday comes,
and you shelter yourself
under His shelter
and you pray and you empty
yourself from yourself
and you let Him to fill you
and you fly away
to liberty, blind,
and He comes
ready to take you,
ready to tell you right from wrong,
ready to show you
how to live and when,
ready to give you
the ultimate kiss of freedom:
Now everything makes sense:
no judgments, only He can judge;
no thinking, only He knows;
no torments, only peace,
old truths’ peace
and the peace without truths
of your tele-doormen of Heaven.
You’re lucky, Ana:
my god is trickier, much trickier;
my god speaks in riddles,
enshrouds and laughs
at my attempts to spot him through a microscope,
through a telescope,
through computer simulations;
I’ve tried everything to catch him:
X – Rays,
meetings of minds,
to no avail, it doesn’t work,
He keeps on hiding.
My god doesn’t seem
to see my ulcers or hear my sobs,
doesn’t show me the right way
to the sneaky road of wisdom;
sometimes I send him a poem
and well, who knows?
May be he’ll get it,
maybe I’ll hear from Him one day.
But you know, Ana,
it really doesn’t matter
whose truth is the truth,
yours or mine;
when money will be meaningless
and knowledge will be meaningless
and winning will be meaningless
and being loved will be meaningless,
my god and yours will get together and strike a deal,
and your bones and mine
will turn to ashes,
will melt in space,
will charge the field,
and truth will become timeless
and the energy of your scrubbing
and the energy of my poems will become equal,
interchangeable un-hierarchical molecules
of a new order.
Death of a Queen
She was a queen.
She talked like queen,
she dressed like a queen,
she acted like a queen.
A powerful queen.
She guided and misguided everybody, as queens usually do.
She made herself loved and obeyed, as queens usually control.
She was a lonely queen, as queens usually are.
Her husband was a good husband, a provider, not a king.
Her sisters were good heartened no-matches to her loftiness.
Her friends were adulators, untrustworthy of her confidence.
I was her husband,
I was her brother,
I was her confidant,
I was her king-to-be,
the one to inherit
her court, her power, her aura.
But I, the king-to-be,
exchanged her court for a desert,
her power for freedom,
her aura for the intangible,
ten thousand miles away.
As I chose life ten thousand miles away
she fought death with the untapped powers of her mind:
she wrote a testament,
a ten thousand-page testament,
one page for every mile of distance
from her husband,
from her brother,
from her confidant,
from her king-to-be
I was the recipient of the will.
Week after week,
month after month,
year after year
the pages kept coming
in groups of twelve, fifteen, twenty
written tide from edge to edge
during the peaceful hours of the night,
the subjects rich in color,
meticulous in detail,
perfect in syntax,
the use of language at its best.
I knew that the fountainhead dried up,
that the last page had been written
when a call came and said:
And I flew night and day
ten thousand miles away
to witness an un-royal death,
to see her lying in an ICU
tangled tubes plugged into
her always combed hair uncombed, undyed,
her always polished fingernails unpolished,
her always depilated body-hair un-depilated,
no lipstick on her lips,
no shadow on her eyelids,
no powder on her cheeks,
to see her as an old abandoned car
waiting for its demolition,
a useless pile of rubble
with no value but its memories.
This was not the way
she would have liked to be seen for the last time
by her king-to-be, her only son,
the lifeboat of her writings,
of her songs, of her acting,
of her passions,
of her dreams
of her energy,
of her love
like snowflakes in the wind,
dispersed molecules of an exploding star,
words spoken in the void.
I approached the bed in silence,
as if to hear a sermon
or a reprimand
or a verse, another verse, the last one.
As I laid my hand over her fingers now inert,
I heard a muffled moan.
Did she know that I was there,
that I, her son,
had flown ten thousand miles
to see her dying?
And if she did,
was that a moan of pain, of fear, of embarrassment,
or was it a coded message,
the last unwritten message of her testament?
I’ll never know.
I never saw her dead,
I didn’t want to
when a doctor came and said
that it was over
as if dead is an end, a no-trough road,
as if words melt into nothingness once spoken,
as if a touch, a smile, a sight vanish forever
without bouncing into another time, into another mind:
clinical death, a scientific absolute.
I know otherwise.
I know that death is just
the handling of a torch of a long marathon,
a marathon without beginning, without end;
that when I write, a queen is writing;
that when I speak, a queen is speaking;
that when I sing, a queen is singing;
that when I act dressed with the mantle of a king,
there is a queen whispering life under my mantle.
“You are now sixty-something,” my cousin Cora teased me,
calling from Buenos Aires to mark my new decade;
“You know, you should be grateful,” Ingrid sermonized
in quite another tone, as if implying
that I have already lived longer then men used to live in the past.
Damn it, what’s going on with perceptions?
Should I become a somber prophet rather than an adventurous explorer?
Does a round number change who am I today from who I was yesterday?
I’m driven with more ideas in my head that I can possibly implement,
my new titanium hip switched ten years backward
the ticking needles of my biological clock,
I am not shopping for Viagra,
I don’t need eyeglasses to drive,
I don’t take medications,
my blood pressure is 70/100,
what the hell is this “sixty-something” labeling about,
why all this need to classify, to find common denominators, to average?
I have never been average of anything,
I have always lived in-between conventional definitions,
in praise of ambiguity, falling between the cracks,
consistent in the apparent inconsistency of adapting to change.
What is there in common between that underweight baby
born sixty years ago on a Thursday evening of an Argentinean summer,
and my present configuration?
Between then and now
I have changed language four times,
I have been witness to the eras
of Peron, Vietnam, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War,
Elvis, the Beatles and Hard Rock bang-bang,
architecture has moved from Modernism to Brutalism, Metabolism,
Post-Modernism, Deconstructivism, High-Tech, Sustainability,
art has moved from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art, Op-Art, Conceptual Art,
Performance Art, Video Art, Earth Art, Arte Povera, Installations;
Between then and now
many of the people who fill the photographs of my childhood are dead,
my buddy Felix is dead, my friend Miguel lives who knows where in Brazil,
our daughter lives in Budapest, Ruth’s mother lives in Givatayim,
I have cousins in Philadelphia and in Toronto,
some friends live in Rome, Paris, Tel Aviv, Bucharest and Palermo,
other have become grandparents and dream of evaporating into retirement,
while here, in Downtown Long Beach,
we live like a newly wed couple after thirty eight years of marriage,
scrambling our brains on how to start everything anew,
how to re-think architecture, art, our lives,
how to survive
the Age of Uncertainty,
the Age of Speed,
the Age of Terrorism,
the Age of Information,
how to disentangle the real from the virtual?
Between then and now all the cells of my body have changed,
between then and now
Buenos Aires is not the same Buenos Aires of my childhood,
Israel is not the same Israel I saw with the eyes of a teenager,
Los Angeles is not the same Los Angeles of our early parenthood,
even Rome, O Eternal Rome, is not the same
without Zevi arguing for the language of modern architecture,
without Pellegrin discussing well into the night
space, art, history, fashion, the body language of an African woman,
the story written in the face of a person, the relationship
between poetry, prefabrication and the human condition.
Between then and now, only memory is real.
Between then and now, what is the balance?
I was overwhelmed by love:
My mother’s love,
for whom I was an extension of her talents, an obsession,
the key to the aspirations of a feminist struggling for equal rights.
My father’s love,
for whom I was a projection of the childhood that he never had,dreaming for me the shield that professionalism supposedly would provide me with.
I was loved by aunts, cousins, friends, teachers,
maids and grocery sellers,
even dogs, who followed me everywhere.
I have been blessed by Ruth’s love and companionship
through a journey of creativity
designing together houses and neighborhoods, institutions and public art,
sharing dreams, places, people and ideas.
I have been blessed with our daughter’s love, a kid of her own, very different from us,
yet carrying the seed of restlessness not too far away from the tree.
With her I shared carpools, soccer games, birthdays, bookstores, choosing pets,
biking in Santa Monica, strolling through London, debating what to do, where, when.
I have been blessed with great teachers since I learned to read and write:
teachers of Spanish, English, Yiddish, Hebrew,
of Math and Physics, of Music and Poetry, of Structures and Philosophy,
teachers all along the way, without whom I wouldn’t be who I am.
I have been blessed by life-lasting friendships wherever we lived,
who make me feel that home is more than a single place.
I have been enriched by traveling from day one:
aboard trains, ocean liners, hydroplanes, DC-3’s, jets;
By the age of fifteen I had already seen
Europe’s great museums,
the shores of Nice and the beaches of Florida,
the skyscrapers of Manhattan and Castro’s Havana,
the temples of Teotihuacan and the Anthropological Museum of Lima.
I have witnessed the enthusiasm of Israel’s youth
and the youthfulness of its ideas.
I was more conscious than my friends of other worlds that were out there,
far away from the Paris of South America and the pampas filled with cows.
I was more conscious of other people
And yes, there have been liabilities.
Too many spoken words fallen over the cliff,
too many readings that should have never reached my eyes,
too much television banality, too much junk food, too much noise,
too little silence…
The artworks that I dreamed of doing and I didn’t,
the books that I wanted to write and never did,
the buildings that I knew how to build and were not built,
the songs that I should have sing and never sang.
Shall I look at the half-filled portion of the glass?
I chose the empty half,
the one with plenty of space to fill in, the unknown,
the blank pages of the resume yet to be written.
Don’t tell me how old was Mozart when he died,
tell me of Michelangelo who at sixty-something just started as an architect.
Sixty-something? For whatever that means, I will
keep on rowing, climbing, daring, being
ready to shock myself with works that I still can’t imagine,
ready to create new spaces, new color combinations,
ready to write, to generate new ideas, new images,
ready to see new horizons, to know new people, to gain new friends,
ready to become a prolific “ninety-something,”
when the time comes.
Long Beach, March 30, 2004
In the year twenty one hundred
In the year twenty one hundred
all my loves and all my lovers won’t be here anymore,
and all my haters won’t be here anymore,
although there will still be lovers and haters
loving and hating each other.
In the year twenty one hundred
no one will remember the names of the builders of my buildings
nor my name, nor the name of my helpers,
nor the name of all the blind and the petty and the power-drunk
that eat from my flesh all along the way
to demonstrate to me and to themselves who eats whom first.
In the year twenty one hundred
all the nails sparse on the ground
will still be there, under the concrete,
since the life of a rusted nail is longer
than the life of an architect dreaming about the days to come.
In the year twenty one hundred
I will not turn around on my grave,
because I know.
You’re a fanatic, man,
you’re a fanatic.
It’s in the topography
of your mug between blinkers,
it’s in your pupils focused
on the vanishing point of your programmed psyche,
it’s in the rapacious posture
of your torso leaning towards the defenseless prey,
it’s in your deafness
to the hidden languages of other species,
it’s in your overflowing belly
filled with venom,
it’s in your protruding teeth
ready to clamp,
it’s in the saliva
bubbling from your gums,
its in the sanctimonious smile
of your arrogant ignorance.
Your flag denies the rainbow
and your shield denies fantasy
and your marches deny music
and your skin denies the sun.
You’re a fanatic, man,
but I can’t tell you this
because you’re a fanatic.
Do you believe that a good enemy is a dead enemy,
and that truth comes from the barrel of a gun,
and that justice is the justice of your judges,
and that thought is the opium of the heretics?
Shall I inform you that your zeal is as old
as the ultimate truth
of Cesar’s crucifying Pax Romana,
of Saladin’s axing jihad,
of Torquemada’s incinerating inquisition,
of Robespierre’s decapitating democracy?
Shall I reveal to you that your clothes stink
ot blood spilled by believers of a cause,
of the Venetians of the Forth Crusade
and the cause
of the hordes of Genghis Khan
and the cause
of the Bolsheviks of Stalin
and the cause
of the Schutzstaffel of the Fürer?
Shall I explain to you that those bastards were humans too,
that they could smile with the giggling simper of a tickled child
and enjoy kissing cats in their snouts
and sob the death of their faithful dogs
and sink in love holding the hand of a miss?
Or shall I report to you
that they tore out the beating hearts or their virgin daughters
as an offer to a Deity,
or that they sent their sons to Heaven
chopped in pieces,
their penises sticked into their frozen mouths?
No, I can’t tell you all this,
it wouldn’t be tactful, diplomatic, subtle, perceptive,
It may offend your paranoia,
It may even become the circumstantial victim
of your father’s drunkenness,
of your fucking mother’s adultery,
of your testosterone’s imbalance.
We’ve got to become brothers, we’ve got to be
on the same side of the fence,
so I’ll tell you what, just listen:
I’m a fanatic too!
I believe that God
is in the rough walls of Altamira
and in the polished stones of Machu Pichu
and in the silent white of La Pieta
and in the yelling grays of La Guernica.
I believe that God
is in the changing light of Hagia Sophia
and in the organic order of Katzura
and in Mozart’s Requiem K.626
and in Lorca’s Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías.
I believe that God
is in the quasars at the edge of the universe
and in Jupiter’s Great Red Spot
and in the helicoidal threads of the DNA
and in the Mir space station hanging on up there.
And I also believe that God
is in the spiderwebs of my garage
and in the leaking from my roof
and in the slugs that eat our lettuce
and in the splinters that get under my skin
and in the odors of my armpits
and in the cavities of my teeth
and in the mucus of my nostrils
and in the bowels flushed back to Mother Earth.
I believe, with all my heart,
that you and I have the right to be fanatic,
that our passion should be lawless
and our freedom should be infinite
within the limits of our skull.
You’re a fanatic, man, and so am I.
Let’s arm ourselves
with quilldrivers and clay and brushes
and spit out our guts
and vent our lunacies
on steel and concrete
and wood and glass
and paper and canvases
and on the walls of our bunkers
and in the space between the walls.
Let’s toast together
to the Demons of Creation
and the madness of the artist,
or I’ll gun you down!
Los Angeles, 1988
It is Rosh Hashana
It is Rosh Hashana in Buenos Aires.
The house smells of feast.
In the kitchen, off-limits for children,
my mother has been busy cooking for three days,
giving orders to the maids,
yelling at anyone who may sabotage the deadline.
The fish, carefully chosen at the central market,
has been turned into a gefilte-fish
that is now boiling on a casserole half my height.
The dough lies on a counter sprinkled with flour,
waiting for its turn to be cut into small squares
that will evolve into kreplach filled with white sweet cheese
whose left-overs I will lick to the last molecule.
The knishes and the strudel are cooling off,
cornered into two trays and covered, unreachable,
like an electric train running behind the shop window of a closed toy store.
In the large dining room, the one that is always empty,
the fifteen foot-long table has been set.
An embroidered Spanish table cloth;
green, red and white crystal glasses from Bohemia;
custom-made silverware polished very shiny;
porcelain from Limoges encrusted with gold dragons.
Tonight, after shul,
the whole family will come
and eat and talk
and eat and talk
and eat and talk,
and I will run with my cousins through the house
and I will go to sleep as late as the grownups do.
My father is already in gear, as usual,
waiting for my mother to get ready.
He smells of perfume.
He reads Der Yidishe Zeitung and
listens to a chazunesh record
where Richard Tucker sings:
“Boruch Ato Adoinoi,
Eloheinu Melech Oilom.”
“Go to dress, sweetheart, it is getting late,”
my mother shouts at me,
her sweethart sounding like a sergeant’s order
in a military training camp.
Obediently I run upstairs to my bedroom,
my private kingdom.
I will have to get strangled with that idiotic tie,
and I will have to fix my hair with sticky gel,
and I will have to polish those hateful stretching shoes,
and I will have to behave
standing and sitting
standing and sitting
standing and sitting
by my father’s side
on the eleventh row of the Paso Temple
where the balcony’s handrails glow with diamonds
fitted into spongy fingers,
where my mother’s friends will kiss me to death
and pinch my cheeks
and say once again
“how tall you’ve grown since the last time I saw you,”
where my yarmulke will keep falling to the floor
and everybody will step on it before I pick it up,
where I’ll be sent out during Yiskor
to stand at the entrance’s steps of the synagogue
surrounded by a crowd of people cackling all at the same time,
where I will be pushed and I will have to wait
and wait and wait
until it is all over,
until we go back to our home and I willl be able to savor
the kreplach and the knishes and the strudel
and my cousins will come
and we will play cowboys throughout the house.
It is Rosh Hashana in Haifa.
I’m at the Technion’s dorms,
dressed in ripped blue jeans,
lying on an unmade bed, reading a novel.
My hair has never been so long,
my family has never been so far away,
and I am in an empty building,
in the middle of an empty campus.
It is quiet,
the breeze shakes the leaves of a pine-tree
against my bedroom’s window,
and I miss nothing, nothing.
It is Rosh Hashana in New York.
10:00 AM, on a September weekday.
I’m walking along 7th. Avenue, going uptown.
There’s plenty of parking space all over.
A man is sleeping on the sidewalk:
It’s just another day for him.
It is Rosh Hashana in Rome.
I’m standing at the chapel of the Temple of the Roman Rite,
a non-Ashkenazi, non-Sephardi community
as old as Jewish slavery in the Italian Peninsula.
The people look at me suspiciously.
“Maybe he’s a terrorist,” they seem to think, “who knows?”
The services are about to end: women and children,
descend from the balcony, join the men
and get under their tallises for a benediction.
“Shma Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Ehad.”
I wish I had a tallis.
It is Rosh Hashana in L.A.
At the University Synagogue
the choir is dressed in blue and sings in English.
Have I walked into a church?
At UCLA’s Religious Community Center
the tickets are cheap,
the rabbi is young,
and there is room for another chair.
At Hillel’s Orthodox Temple the women pray,
the men wear jogging shoes,
and I hid the car three blocks away.
At Temple Isaiah the services are conducted at the Century Plaza Hotel.
Samy is impressed by the gigantic chandeliers. I say nothing.
At Herbele’s Synagogue
for Spiritual Exploration
ritual and art mingle into something different, fresh.
Even Ruth enjoys it.
It is Rosh Hashana in L. A.,
and in Moscow,
and in Istanbul,
and in Paris,
and in Johannesburg,
and in Hong Kong,
and in Toronto,
and in Mexico City,
and in Amsterdam,
and at the apartment of a Leningrad’s refusnick,
and at the cell of a Chilean desaparecido,
and at the dining room of a Miami retirement hotel,
and at the stretcher of an army ambulance
blasting the siren through the desert.
It is Rosh Hashana in L.A.
and I am with friends
and Ruth and Gabriella are by my side
and Samy and Niunia pray in Givatayim
and my father, eighty-four years old,
is Baruch Hashem davening
at the eleventh row
of Buenos Aires’ Paso Temple.
Avinu Malkeinu forgive me
for dying alive,
for having my fingernails too clean,
for wanting to win a competition more than I wanted to find the truth,
for wearing shoes too large
for feet that walk too little over too much asphalt,
for dreaming of building jewels for people
who never smell the perfume of grass,
for being too polite to those
whose faces I should spit at;
Avinu Malkeinu forgive me
for my teachers ‘hopes and energy wasted in vain,
for soaking up too much news of weather forecasting
of negative political propaganda,
of golden-calves’ bedroom affairs,
of half-truths advertisements,
for digesting too few principles of the human cosmos,
for desiring more books than I’ll ever be able to read
without reading those that I should have read;
Avinu Malkeinu forgive me
for letting the demon drill words into my brain
when I should have been knocking at doors
to sell myself for bread,
for giving alms to beggars
instead of putting my arm around their shoulders
and tell them that we are made of the same stuff,
for switching channels when I see hungry children
with flies walking over their faces,
for falling asleep when I am tired;
Avinu Malkeinu forgive me
for being afraid of Israel’s Jews more than I am afraid of Israel’s foes,
for being nostalgic
of the faces of Jerusalem,
of slackening with Greek music in a Haifa’s harbor bar,
of listening to a radio talk-show on a quiet Saturday morning
while lying on the terrace of the penthouse
that I no longer own,
of Buenos Aires’ language in the voices of the street,
of the Atlantic’s waves crushing against Mar del Plata’s boulders,
of walking through the streets of Rome after midnight
talking to Viviana;
Avinu Malkeinu forgive me
for not disobeying enough,
for not having nightmares,
for not bending steel,
for not killing lies,
for not knowing the language of my enemies,
for not being with my friends at the funerals of their loved ones,
for not preaching to the deaf, for not re-inventing Villa Adriana,
the Sistine Chapel, La Divina Comedia, The Song of Songs,
for not being a hero,
for not being enough,
for living only once.
I am a poet because I say so
I am a poet because I say so,
even when nobody reads my lines
even when someone exclaims wow!
someone else says bullshit
almost everybody says nothing
even when what I write is out of focus for one editor
and for my old man it is so good that he keeps it in the safe
even if my poet-mother never read my poems nor will she
even if my wife will love me or hate me for what I write
even if my daughter will love me or hate me one day for what I wrote
I am a poet.
I am a poet because I say so,
even when I don’t write for entire days
even when I don’t write at all
if I would be dropped in an abandoned island
without paper nor pen nor humans to hear my voice
I would still be a poet.
I am a poet because I say so,
a great poet
a terrible poet
an egocentric poet
a poet sometimes genial
a never too modest poet
a usually balls-scratching poet
a poet without hair growing on his tongue
a bearded and long-nosed poet
an ignorant poet
a poet with misspelling horrors a caged poet facing the Pacific
an explosive poet
a poet addicted to cappuccinos and scribbled napkins
a poet with a sore throat singing “Que bonitos ojos tienes…”
a poet sweet like honey buying shoes size eight
and crazy hats for his wife
an aggressive poet
a fucking poet
a poet losing his hair
a poet losing his time
a poet losing his mind
a poet with an identity problem
a bureaucrats-hating poet dealing with bureaucrats
a poet making business with legal rapists and illegal workers
a poet trying to convince idiots of their idiocy
an idiotic poet
a poet with crazy dreams
a blind poet searching for his glasses a visionary poet
a sweet-toothed poet that loves strudel and tortellini
and mussels and filet mignon
a poet observing a musician that doesn’t eat too often
a poet giving alms to a child that will never smile
a poet telling a cab driver how to solve Argentina’s problems
a poet in bed building a circus tent with his morning erection
a poet designing concrete cocks to keep his hard-ons
for future generations
a poet certain of the cancer that his old man doesn’t know to have
a poet not telling his mother-in-law
that her sister was buried yesterday
a poet telling many stories, many stories, but not the whole story.
I am a poet because I say so,
not because I am the center of the world
but because the center of the world is where I am at
it is from that center that I can touch your center
it is from the way I stand at that center
that I can give you the only thing
that you won’t be able to find at the shopping mall
that you won’t be able to read in the newspapers
that you won’t be able to hear
from your neighbor
or from your lover
or from god
and that is what it is all about.
Inflamed drills crush on crippled courts while thunders blast
the twilight thickness of blurred dreams
shouting deaths condensed in printed thoughts
corroding glaciers of fire spitting bowels,
trans-vested, decaying, rotten in luxury,
smashed like lizards dwelling in rocky deserts,
squeezed like racks blowing up words
twisted by winds strapped from moths’ wings,
drizzling smooth petals plowed in space,
screwing my blood yellowed by paper pads
that act as shallow lakes brushing sands
crawling under drafted soldiers of hate.
Oh, stripped dwellers of my daydreams,
when will the trembling ground shout ashes
wrapped in blistered blankets of faith,
when will the blinking mantle dilute the protruding glamor
carved with teeth thrown in the dark,
when will gliding woven quilts trenched in wrath
hang their blooming clubs in splendor?
Isn’t that true that the stranger’s stools
smell like dispossessed tulips bending at dusk,
can’t you listen the weight of hair clotting in clusters
in the plunging fluids flown from memory,
are your youthful ears deaf to the bawl of horror
roaring un-muffled waives of hopeless despair?
My sinking soul slashed by sleeping stars
unfold dehydrated traumas stored in swollen shelves,
my stomach vomits statues of stench
erected over extruded pedestals of fear,
needles nested in my skin scrap tissues
hiding from monsters mourning mud.
No, I won’t let feathers fragment the muscles of my mind,
I won’t bend to the pressure of inverted hierarchies of wealth,
I won’t disintegrate in the strangling claws of fucking gods;
I will declaim for you, maimed Moon hollowed in Hell,
until the Earth’s crust will breathe the Sun,
I will sing the song suffocated in your chest
until the walls will crumble to the sounds of my trumpet,
I will shake the shadows that eclipse your claims
until the slugs of slavery turn to diamonds shining in the daylight;
For I, poet, am your voice,
yelling forgotten fractions of truth,
screaming with laughter the flaws of the inept powerful,
shedding my tears transposed into scribbled bullets of love
that lick your wounds with the thousand tongues of my burning brain.
We Danced all Night
We danced all night,
for all the nights we haven’t danced,
for all the nights of business-talk,
for all the nights in bed
reading a book, watching TV, sleeping,
her head under the pillow.
We danced the carnival all night
like resurrected teenagers,
rocking-rolling, twisting, shaking,
breathing music, sweating instincts,
watching people hide
to be themselves,
watching ourselves out of the nest,
flying away from the greyness of habit,
flying away from the claws of estrangement.
The Piano Lesson
It’s Gabriella’s piano class.
“Let’s start with the scales.
G sharp minor.”
That’s a hard one. Two octaves.
It’s learning to understand.
It’s learning to cope with life. “Arabesque.”
Wow, this is a great improvement!”
to control her fingers, to feel,
to create emotion,
to work hard. “Minuet, OK…
that sounds beautiful but you messed up
with your third finger.
Crescendo, stronger, like this”
“Short…watch the staccatos. Third finger there.”
She’s doing great.
Today she’ll get
and TV Saturday morning.
“Let me show you this.” It’s a Bach Minuet.”
A Bach Prelude.
A Clementi Sonatina.
“So, which one do you choose?”
“The Sonatina. My dad plays it.”
“I figured so.”
They share a bench. They share an hour.
One teaching, one learning,
music filling space
with the sounds of those
who never die.
This was a good lesson!
It is Past Midnight
It is past midnight.
I sit at the bar of a coffee shop,
across the hospital where Ruth is sleeping and Gabriella,
five hours old, is breathing.
A few men sit next to me, busy with their own cup.
“More coffee, Sir?” asks the waitress.
I want to tell her everything but I only say “Yes.”
She pours and leaves,
without knowing the color of Gabriella’s hair.
It had been our choice to be away from all:
family, friends, language, rituals.
It was our decision to choose
the uncertainty of life,
now and not sooner,
now and not later,
now that my mother
is a photograph buried in a closet,
now that war exists only on TV,
now that degrees
tell people that we know.
My mother dreamed to see this day,
but I wouldn’t let her. It was she or us,
a grandchild for her or our child.
We won, she sank.
Now we are a family afar from her grave,
afar from my father,
from Ruth’s parents,
from aunts, cousins, noise and celebrations;
a nuclear family,
a nucleus without electrons.
Now my mind has switched
from building buildings to life-building,
from urban utopias to diapers,
to cribs, to baby clothes, to toys.
Yesterday my mind was
in today’s long awaited meeting with bureaucrats
on the fate of our marina project.
We’ve been working on it for months.
“Are you sure?”
I asked Ruth at 4:00 AM.
“That’s it” she said,
as I counted minutes
We left home taking nothing but ourselves.
It was dark. The streets were empty.
At the hospital I filled forms
While Ruth was taken away on a wheelchair,
She disappeared behind the elevator’s doors.
I called from a public phone
to cancel our scheduled meeting.
“We understand” they said. Did they?
The waitress doesn’t know
that we have been in labor
for twelve hours
on Gabriella’s skull
starting to show up;
that I saw her face
when she was half way out,
wet from blood and amniotic fluid;
that I marked the time of her birth: 7:08 PM;
that her first scream was weak,
as if asking to be excused for the interruption;
that I took her to the nursery
pushing the cart
on an empty corridor
as if a crowd was waving flags
on either side;
that Ruth was exhausted,
her legs numb
from the epidural shot
that she didn’t want to take;
that in her room
there was a crucifix and no flowers;
that an Egyptian nurse took care of her
like a good neighbor would crossing a yard without fences;
that Dr. Garber sat on her bed and held her hand
and talked to her as if his daughter’s suicide
last month had never happened.
The waitress doesn’t know, she’ll never know,
nor will her customers already gone.
The day is over. Gabriella is born. Ruth is OK.
The planets are in position
ready to re-start their cycle and I,
walking alone into the night, do know:
I am a father.
La Signora della Musica
Sunday afternoon at Betty Freeman’s
“La Signora della Musica.”
Tomorrow’s sounds today,
a gathering of artists in Beverly Hills.
It’s avant-garde, vintage ’87.
The music is told by the composer,
David Rosenboom, an artist.
He looks scientific.
Maybe he is scientific.
“Systems of Judgement,
cosmic, biological models of evolution.
Words like ontogenic and stochastic
fill the atmosphere.
The room is crowded.
Most people listen.
A man reads a book.
Somebody yawns politely.
An obese woman holds herself against a wall.
The music starts.
Sidereal sounds rip the Universe,
followed by profound, cavernous voices.
The composer, withdrawn into his opus,
pushes switches, plays the violin,
scribbles over the keyboard,
changes diskettes on a Macintosh.
wide, dark hardwood boards,
Two Lichtensteins witness the scene
from a black-velvet wall.
Outside some people wander.
I can see Hockney. He moves around,
he laughs, he leaves. His painting stays.
Ruth watches out, curious,
then she jumps back to the concert.
A man holds his head between his palms,
his knees bearing his elbows.
Timbals and thunders puff the air.
Some eyes are closed:
feeling, imagining, learning a new language.
A young woman sits on the steps:
she plays with her hair sensually.
Then, noticing my scrutiny
With the corner of her eye,
she crosses her arms around her knees
and stares straight at the musician,
Tambourines, maracas, bells, wind.
The sounds are logical,
It’s the 250 Digital Synthesizer,
the Oberheim X Pander,
the Lexicon PCM-70 Digital Effects Processor
the Emulator II Digital Sampling Instrument.
Now it is the piano, old fellow:
The music dissolves.
Wine, California white.
My eyes cross Slominsky’s.
He wants to talk, I don’t.
“You missed a chance,”
Ruth would later say,
but that’s the way it is.
I sniff some books spread on a table.
There’s one that turns me on,
it’s Betty’s photographs of artists:
Cage, Cunningham, Glass,
Slominsky, Stockhausen, Henry Miller in bed…
what a collection!
Franco looks pop-op in black and white.
“The second part is starting”,
Alan Rich calls (KUSC, KFAC).
I park my rear on a bench by Mies
in the southwest corner of the shrine
where art comes from God’s hand.
Ned Rorem’s turn, a poet. He has style,
a scarf hanging ’round his neck.
“A symphony for strings, taped,
and a cantata for piano and baritone:
twenty-three and eighteen minutes respectively.”
Rich leaves (nothing offensive.)
There is tension in the symphony,
there’s passion, drama,
followed by a waltz, ironic;
Fellini would have loved this!
The tape is over. Rorem walks in,
followed by Villanueva,
(I’ve seen his face before,
oh yes, he sang at Verdi’s.)
The baritone sings Whitman,
from his diary of the Civil War.
Rorem plays the piano.
I focus on the lyrics.
“Future years will never know
the seething hell
of countless minor scenes.”
The women sitting on the steps
moves to another level.
Rich is back.
Rich watches his watch.
Another man watches his watch.
I finish my napkin
and continue my writing on my check-book
(finally the deposit slips are getting filled…)
The women on the steps reads a book.
Rich keeps watching at his watch.
A couple on the third line embrace:
The violins are sandblasting my fibers.
Franco appears, wearing a mask,
the spaghetti are ready, “al dente,”
like the music.
“Encore, encore, andante, ma moderato”
I will say later, asking for a second.
“La Signora della Musica”
steps in and snaps some shots.
The music stops.
The Sand is Soft in Venice
The sand is soft in Venice.
“Tam, ta-tam tam,
taram, ta-tam tam,
ta-tam…” the drummer chants
a lonesome tune
to the spirits
of his island – gone.
“Can I..?” interjects my little one,
of the smooth mantle
The sand is soft in Venice,
it’s glaring sensuality
by a trail
of tangled socks
and buried sneakers
towards the scaled-down
between the mega
and the micro.
The soft sand of Venice
the pressure of my foot
as a sapient teacher
I scan Gabriella
playing against the background
of a wet horizon
the granular stage
of invigorating laziness
and an amorphous
by the silent waving
of a blue and yellow
as the screeching friction
of the swinging chains
the rhythmic tam-tam
with s song of liberty.
The human parade
it’s weekend ritual
as Venice’s soft sand welcomes
the unleashed inhibitions
of the sober
in a life-fraction
of un-limiting time
where the overflowing
voluptuousness of flesh
can mean more than
and corporate climbing.
Pedaling-along the shore
between God within
and God without,
I watch the real and the pseudo
as my daughter speeds
her happy innocence
by the soft sand of Venice.
At via de Lucchesi 26
At via de Lucchesi 26
life starts after dinner.
I walk out from
a simple Trattoria Romana
where I had
a simple meal and
a never too simple discussion with a friend
about how to solve
the world’s problems.
Now it’s time to head back to the studio.
I walk through streets
thickened by time
noisy tourists throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain,
suburban boys making passes at American girls,
artfully set up shop windows with unaffordable merchandise,
a newspaper stand’s lady offering a lottery sure winner,
a theater’s poster announcing a movie I’ll never go to see,
a wall-less bar with barmen arguing about tomorrow’s soccer game.
I stop at the bar for an espresso: it’s a ritual.
As I stand drinking, smelling the toasted coffee’s aroma,
my mind starts flying back to work.
I leave a tip on the counter and I walk
another fifty yards to the studio’s entrance door:
It’s closed and I don’t have the key.
On the second floor windows,
twenty feet above a pebbled street without sidewalks,
there is light, as always.
I whistle the way my father taught me to,
two fingers from each hand pressing my tongue,
and then I wait.
A figure that I can’t recognize opens a window
and throws a sketching paper ball: the key is inside it.
I push a human-scale door cut within
a heavy entrance gate designed for carriages
and I step into a court where statues stand guard to memory.
I rush up the rounded marble steps in twos,
reaching a hall where many doors lead to offices
that once were something else.
I walk towards a double door
where a pinned business card reads
with mathematical veracity: LUIGI PELLEGRIN ARCHITETTO.
I push: It’s open.
I cross a first dark room without turning on the lights and
I enter a second large empty room with many drafting tables.
Albinoni’s Adagio fills the fifteen feet high space.
A couple of lamps are on. The walls are covered with dreams:
schools, habitats, towers, resorts, theaters,
houses. Many aren’t dreams any more, they breath.
As I walk in, my pace slows down. I enter a third room.
He sits at his drafting table
holding one marker on his right hand and three on his left,
his eyes fixed on the colored lines laid on
an unrolled white paper illuminated by a single lamp.
Carlo and Marta sit by the table in silence: they know
that this is pay time for their total dedication to the master.
Without lifting his eyes from the drawing,
Luigi mutters in a hawking voice: “Ricky”
continuing to draw. As his hand moves on, he speaks
his mental process aloud, opening his brain to us, disciples.
He takes us by the hand like little children entering a mysterious world.
Without leaving the room
he walks us into the school evolving on his table
and as I wander through the sketch
I start perceiving light coming from skylights,
I can feel the texture of concrete, the coldness of steel,
I can watch horizons never seen from windows never built,
I can hear the noise of children running through a corridor
or playing with water in a restroom
or bouncing a ball in a gym
or hiding candies in a locker.
The telephone rings: nobody answers. It rings again:
Carlo stands up. “I’m only for my mother,” says Luigi.
Carlo answers “The architect is not here” and comes back.
“Who was it?”
Carlo tells him. It can wait.
The process goes on till 4:00 AM, as usual.
the draftsmen must know what to do,
the phone calls must be answered,
the letters must be written,
the clients must be pacified,
the lenders must be persuaded,
the bureaucrats must be convinced,
the engineers must be consulted,
the invoices must be mailed,
the bills must be paid,
the copies must be ordered,
the models must be built
the details must be drawn.
At via de Lucchesi 26
I am learning to see the unseen, to make it happen:
I’m learning to be an architect.
An Organic Manifesto
When daybreak heralds the beginning of a creative journey
and the horizon, the stones, the trees, intone their hymn to Life;
When Organic signifies that the whole is more than the sum of its parts
and to build a house becomes an act of faith;
When day is Day, the earth – Earth, and man – Man,
and rational beings will say more with fewer words;
When Science and Art become instruments of a more dignified life
and Architecture becomes the synthesis of Man’s highest aspirations;
When fashion grows into folklore
and folklore comes to symbolize belonging to the Earth;
When to be organic means to hoe one’s own garden,
becoming totally one with it;
When the machine serves only to free man
and work is the foremost source of his happiness;
When common-sense has superseded politics
and philosophy has abolished ideology;
When children learn the wisdom of history at their mother’s knee
and inventing the future is their daily bread;
When to be a poet is everyone’s desire
and the person of genius is the norm;
On that day, “Village-Earth” will have entered upon the newest stirring sweep
of its long evolutionary spiral.
From the Black Tower
The following is an excerpt from an incomplete poem. Searching for the source
of a light emanating from one of the windows of an unoccupied 250 story
high-rise building, the narrator encounters the room from which the light comes.
“We must clean up the Earth.”
The sound of a deep voice came from the middle of a large, almost empty office
space. I could only distinguish a desk with three monitors on it, forming an
L-shape with a drafting table and the back of an office chair from which the
silhouette of a man with his legs crossed over the desk was facing the horizon of
the sleeping city. A single drafting lamp was on, lowered towards the desk’s top,
almost touching its surface, generating a long shadow on the floor.
“We must clean up the earth”, he murmured once again.
“Excuse me,” I started to say,
but the gray eyes of a bony face turned on mine and cut off my sentence.
“Do you see those lights down there?” he continued,
as if I had been there all the time.
They can’t fly. They are well-meaning lights
with well-meaning anchors
burning the energy of the dead.
They exist without past, without future,
they can’t see beyond their shadows,
they never travel through the void,
they never trespass.
You wanted to explain to me why are you here? I know why are you here.
You are here
because you lifted your eyes from the ground,
because your quest for knowledge is greater
than your fear of punishment,
because you hate mediocrity,
because you love the intangible,
because you walk over your dreams,
because you breathe the rarefied atmosphere of ideals,
because you can stand the pressure of darkness,
because we the living need you alive.
You are here because that something that brought you here,
that impulse, that sparkle,
is the only thing that sets the difference between being and existing.
There are no exit doors once you have crossed the threshold of awareness,
you can’t unknown what you have learned.
If you want to run away, you’ll have to drown your senses in
alcohol, cocaine, opium
football games, horror movies, soap operas, social events
military marches, flags, pledges.
You are here because you have chosen the difficulty
of not understanding too soon why are you here.
You are here,
I am here,
because we must clean up the Earth.
I am an architect,
I designed this imperfect building,
this vehicle of human energy
that is not more important that a single house,
that can’t compete with the architecture
of a spiderweb, of a beehive, of a stork’s nest,
I design skyscrapers, cities, ocean liners, schools,
prisons, space stations, chairs, lamps, door handles,
I build with steel, glass, concrete, wood, bricks, stones
mud, fabrics, air,
not because I condition
the stage in which people perform without rehearsals;
I am an architect
because I think as an architect,
because architecture is a state of mind.
Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky,
Sophocles, Shakespeare, Brecht,
Galileo, Newton, Einstein,
Raphael, Rubens, Siqueiros
The rapists of the land, the manufacturers
of obscene suburbia
of sterile downtowns
of fascist public buildings
You, I, we, architects, are tools that the wind uses
to whisper the hidden history that lies under the invention of the future,
not of this or that fashion,
not of this or that personality,
not of this or that tragedy,
but the history
of a multimillion years colloquium of suns.
must clean up the Earth.
We must eradicate the asphalt that suffocates its crust,
we must raise our cities from the ground,
we must bring playing children to the gates of our dwellings,
we must give technology a dimension that will make us freer
from the tyranny of the car,
from the smell of gas,
from the death toll of our freeways,
we must dethrone the dollar from the house of God
and put it to work to create symphonies
we must multiply the uses of space and matter
at all scales, at all levels,
we must seed our rooftops,
we must contain the expansion of our cities,
we must re-learn to worship
the rain, the wind, the rocks, the trees
the cycles of life, the cycles of the universe,
we must re-learn to walk naked,
carrying beepers implanted in our conscience,
we must reinterpret history to reinterpret
the future of architecture,
because the future of architecture
is not the future of this or that technology,
is not the future of this or that gadgetry,
is not the future of a Star Wars-like imagery;
the future of architecture is the future of humanity.”
You’re not ready yet?
We’re leaving in exactly three minutes and you’re
undressed, unwashed, uncombed,
you didn’t eat your breakfast,
you didn’t feed the cat,
and your back-pack
is not ready…I’m leaving,
I’m going down to warm-up the car
and if you don’t make it by 7:40,
I’m gone, you get it? Gone!”
At 7:45 she’s ready and I’m not gone.
“I know, I know.”
KABC – Advertisement.
KUSC – Mahler, too heavy for this hour.
KFAC – Something baroque. Perfect.
“Abi, are we going for a snack this afternoon?”
“We’ll see,” -which probably means yes.
First stop: Dana and Mathew.
“Who seats in the front today?”
“That’s not fair. She sat last week.”
“No, she didn’t.” She didn’t.
“I don’t want to double belt”
“Get in and shut off the door, we’ve got to keep moving.”
He’s never ready.
Pink backpack into the trunk. (It’s so heavy, what
does she carry there?)
We wait for one minute, then I honk again.
There he comes,
his dog running to the sidewalk.
“Go back, William, go back.”
It’s 8:00 AM.
“Are we going through Bel Air?”
Hilgard, the Bel Air gates, Bellagio, Chalon, Sarbonne, Stradella.
The kids chat kid’s chats.
We pass the reservoir:
Unbelievable. This view
in the middle of the city.
Roscomare. We have to turn left
We are stuck. No stop sign
and ten cars ahead of us.
It’s 8:12. School
starts in three minutes.
I don’t want to look aggressive, but if I don’t push,
we’ll never make it.
There we go.
Maximum speed: 35 miles;
My speedometer is 20 over.
We finally get there.
Everybody jumps out.
Mathew leaves the door open.
I walk Gabriella to her classroom: I don’t have to.
“Have a good day.”
II. Thursday afternoon
2:50 PM. I’m waiting
in the car-line, ready
to start moving at 3:00
towards the pick-up pad.
I could park and walk, but I don’t feel
like talking to anyone.
I need paper.
Damned it, no paper.
I can’t write on Kleenex.
Here’s a receipt. That’s enough.
We start moving.
Doug comes by my window
holding the megaphone.
“You’re coming for…”
Dana and Mathew Loebman, Jamie Freedman
and Charles Belville.”
DANA AND MATHEW LOEBMAN,
TO THE CARPOOL PAD.”
“Who sits in the front?”
“It’s Gabriella’s turn.”
“Yeah, Gabriella, Gabriella.”
“Move on, Mathew, hurry!”
“Are we going for a snack?”
“Any afternoon classes today?”
“Dana has Hebrew school at 4:00, we have time.”
“OK, let’s go.”
“Yippee…ice cream at Penguin’s?”
“It’s hard to park there, let’s go to Irvine Ranch.”
“What do they have there?”
“Do they have ice cream?”
“…and cakes, and…”
The pastry section: there’s so much stuff there.
“What do you want, Jamie?”
“I don’t know.”
“One I don’t know, please, with toppings?”
“Oh, Aba, c’mon, he’s kidding, Jamie.”
“Can I have chicken soup with noodles, Mr. Meghiddo?”
“Chicken soup with noodles at 3:15?”
“You said they have everything here.”
“Do you have chicken soup with noodles?”
“Yes Sir, we do, on that counter, over there.” One is solved.
“Can I have those?”
“How are they called?”
“OK, one chocolate meringue.”
“Two chocolate meringues.”
“Can I have two? They are small.”
“You finish one first and then we’ll talk.
What do you want, Charles?”
“I want a drink from there.”
“Hey, kids, wait a second,
we all stay to ether here, one at a time.’
“I want that cake.”
“One strawberry mousse.”
“Did you make up your mind, Jamie?”
“That’s on the other counter.”
“Is that all, Sir?”
“I want one cappuccino and that cake.”
“You are fat, Aba.”
(Where did she get that from?)
“Where do I pay?”
“At the cashier, over there. It’s $11.35.”
(This is more than a bag of Famous Amos cookies, but what the heck.)
We seat outside. Silence. Everybody is eating.
“Can I have a New York Selzer?”
“Yeah, me too.”
“I finished my meringue, Mr. Meghiddo, can I have another one?”
“Hurry up, we take the stuff to the car.”
Back outside. To the car.
“Am I going to be late?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
Sepulveda, Montana, Gayley, Le Conte,
Malcolm, Weyburn, Le Conte, Hilts,
Lindbrook, Beverly Glen, Rochester.
I unload my passengers.
Special delivery. On time.
I made it once more.
Back to work.
Birth of a Poet
To hell with everything:
I’m not going to die!
I’m not going to let
dictate my time, to crash me daily
like a polished shoe crashes cockroaches
hunting crumbs in the night.
I’m going to survive
the bureaucrats hiding under codes to avoid risk,
the bills that tax me for the right of being,
the social and domestic obligations,
the phone calls, the traffic, the junk-mail,
I’m going to outlast them all,
at this precise moment:
I’m going to write!
Every line that I lay down is a line of survival,
every duty imposed on me is a kiss of death.
I’m going to be what I have always been:
My mother knew it and she was proud of me.
My father knew it and he was worried.
My peers knew it and they mocked me.
My teachers knew it and they treated me by other standards.
Only I didn’t want to know it.
I didn’t want to face the truth.
But now I know the truth
and nothing, nobody can stop me:
writing is my breath!
Where does it all come from,
what is in the code of my DNA
that drives me to the blank page
like a ripe plum is driven
to the Earth’s center,
who pulled the trigger of my psyche?
Was it my mother
praising my abilities
and screaming at my mistakes
and sending me twenty-page letters week after week
for fifteen years
never missing the appointment,
always demanding an answer?
Was it the poem
that she inscribed
in the joint gravestone
of her sister and her mother
to keep them company
during the cold nights
of a Buenos Aires’ Jewish graveyard?
Was it my father
hammering on my ears
incomprehensible Hebrew prayers
and telling jokes to laugh at tragedy
and repeating tales again and again
until nothing was left to be known
but the truth?
In the beginning
I wrote a diary: I was eleven.
I wrote a poem. I was thirteen.
And then I withdrew, embarrassed.
To write poetry wasn’t manly,
to be emotional was a weakness.
“You shall be
a doctor, or an architect, or an industrialist,
writing is not a profession,
it’s for bohemians
willing to starve.”
So I starved my genes for three decades.
But my genes are old and smart and hard to fool,
they kept on dreaming,
they kept on daring, they kept on writing
with dust in their mouths
and blasting in their eardrums
and soreness in their fibers
and stench in their nostrils
until that night, that clear scintillating night
in which they dared to look at the stars
straight into their eyes.
That long agonizing night
I was born.
I’ll Take You to the Moon
“On my birthday
I’ll take you to the Moon.
Round trip. A cruise.
They’ll provide us with everything:
suits, tooth-brushes, air.
They’ll teach us
how to walk, how to talk, how to eat,
10, 9, 8…
“I feel like peeing.”
3, 2, 1…
“There we go!”
The view is out of this world.
The Earth’s curvature,
the line of night and day,
the sky getting darker, darker, and suddenly…
“We are floating, we are floating!”
Free from gravity,
our limbs obey now only
the instructions of our brain;
Time is on the panel.
Greenwich time, Western time, Tokyo time?
Body-time tells us
to be hungry, thirsty, sleepy, driven
by the force of life.
As the sphere turns into a distant marble, the moonscape becomes readable:
the Imbrium Basin, the Copernicus, the Agrippa,
the glaring lifeless Seas
of Nectar, of Moisture, of Cold
hypnotize us with their rough, ashy texture.
“Get ready, we are landing”, said the captain,
his voice carrying the authority of knowledge.
We are silent. We are tense. We are almost there.
The Equatorial night is freezing:
-280 F (it is written in the instruments.)
We climb the lunar-mobile
that will take us to the base.
“Are there any children there?”
“Sure: Russian, German, Japanese.”
“Do they speak English?”
“Some do, some don’t, you’ll manage.”
We bump over the dusty, windless surface,
our eyes lost on the Earthset.
Bucky’s structure appears in the horizon
surrounded by immobile colored flags.
We get there. We hop in.
We embrace with people we’ve never seen before.
The children start playing in their language, as usual.
The boundaries have been broken, forever.
In the tent
The tent was a womb,
soft, protective, warm.
God’s finger pierced the darkness through an open skylight
between worlds within
and worlds without,
between existence and nothingness.
I followed the king’s shadow as an invisible presence,
moving under a weightless cloth like a summer breeze.
In the middle of the tent
I saw a pond
with life under and life over,
serene like Buddha’s face.
From the middle of the pond emerged an island
of powdered gold,
an amorphous glaring surface of dispossession.
In the middle of the island stood a table,
round and hollow at the center,
a wedding ring the size of a soul.
In the middle of the table’s hollowness there was a bonfire,
where dreams burned into reality.
People sat around the headless circle
of earned nobility, un-hierarchically.
The king, the queen,
a farmer holding humid soil in his palms blistered by winters of desolation,
a gardener holding nature by the hand in a quiet romance,
a nurse changing bandages on the amputated arrogance of youth’s follies,
a maid picking up the waists of impudent opulence,
a builder carrying stones on a back curved by visions,
a teacher molding souls with never ending riddles,
a rabbi questioning the meaning of the law,
a philosopher questioning the meaning of meaning,
a scientist searching the truth with magnifying lenses,
an artist searching the truth with colors on a canvas,
an astronomer reading the future of our past in the void,
an archeologist reading history in the dust,
a physician bringing out lives from a lake of amniotic fluid,
an actress resurrecting lives hidden in a trunk,
a composer blowing words with waves,
a choreographer turning bodies into language,
an architect tuning knowledge into wholeness,
a poet cracking nuts with piety.
Breathing calmly, as if inhaling time,
the noble party joined hands
in a necklace of human beads.
I stopped by their millenarian expressions,
absorbing the energy of their pulsing radiance
and then, walking into the flames,
I raised as smoke through the tent’s oculus,
melting my ageless atoms with the voices of the night.
My Father: A Portrait
Life is a present at eighty-three.
Life is a present anytime.
The pace slow,
the hearing weak,
the breath short,
the mind awake.
“I want to be independent.”
“I want to weather many winters.”
“I want to court many women.”
“I want to strike many deals.”
1904: Kalarash, Besarabia, Russia.
1918: Kalarash, Besarabia, Rumania.
Ice-daggers tempering the spirit
of an aging without childhood,
of a wealth made out of dreams.
“If I am not for myself, who will?
“And if not now, when?”
Rotterdam: Waiting for the visa. Two years.
Rotterdam: “My first love.” In Hebrew.
Rotterdam: “Good people. They clean even the walls.”
Rotterdam: Unemployment: 90 days to leave the country.
America is closed.
Cuba: “The yellow-fever, don’t go.”
“Argentina? Indians with feathers.”
Third class, there was no forth.
Twenty days on sardines and tomatoes. “Like sardines”.
Glaucoma on board. Quarantine.
Buenos Aires, 1925.
Only God and a will
to defeat misery, to save his family,
to raise above the flock.
“God helped me, but I helped Him too.”
“I helped myself, but not only myself.”
“Also my parents,
and my brothers,
and my sisters,
and their children.”
“Fourteen people, saved from the claws of Hitler.”
“Fourteen people, that are now seventy.”
“That is my pride, that’s my redemption.”
“That is my passport to the Next World.”
“Sins? Sure, I’m not a saint.”
“Kashrut? That’s for my elders.”
“The shull: for the High Holidays.”
“Zionism is not for me.”
“My family is what I have”.
“A family, that’s what I want.”
Fanny. “I fell in love.”
“She was beautiful. She was a presence.
She was different. She was born free.
She knew the language. She knew the manners.
She was my eyes. She was my taste.
Three months of passion, and we were wed.”
Forty-three years of stormy seasons,
a few hot summers and maybe a spring.
Forty-three years of adaptation
to the incompatible, to the unique.
“She was the actress, I was the public.”
“She was the singer, I was the listener.”.
“She was the artist, I was the collector.”
“She was the writer, I was the reader.”
“She was the cook, I was the gourmand.”
“She was the leader, I was the follower.”
“She was the mother, I was the provider.”
“She was the sky, I was the earth.”
“After ten years, she gave me a son.”
“She gave me life, she gave me hope.”
“She gave me pride, she gave me a fruit,
she gave me a key to immortality.”
“For my son had a daughter,
and his daughter will have children
and those children will have theirs
from the son that Fanny gave me.”
“Now she’s gone,
but I’m not finished/
While I am, I want to be. What I am is what I leave.”
A Great Poet is Gone
To the memory of Yehuda Amichai
A great poet is gone
leaving behind seeds and yearning,
as great poets do;
I know that when I don’t know
whether to fight or to flight,
whether to gather stones together or to cast them away,
I will find, by just casually opening one of his books,
comfort or encouragement, or at least
a ray of light to orient me
within the surrounding darkness.
I first met him at a private gathering in Los Angeles:
I will never forget his simple shoes,
that no one can fit into them.
The second time I met him was in Nitzana:
He was like a teacher in a children’s classroom,
helping each one to find his way all by himself.
The last time I saw him was on television,
his skin close to his bones, his hair sparse,
his serene eyes still filled with his love for life,
as in the old days.
Now he also belongs to my private Pantheon of fathers
that once breathed and laughed and held my hand
and spoke into my heart like a loving father speaks
into the heart of his son,
his first-born and his Benjamin.
Tel Aviv, September 25, 2000
Twenty Paintings by Ruth
and the prophet dined
in a field of lilies,
from the eye,
slowly flowing, in a timeless time-schedule
the cut was deeper
than the length of the knife
and yet from the
metastasis that signaled the end
came a song of life
in a high pitched wave
it was in Havana
where he found Berlin,
the sea wave saluting the city,
the soul of Africa engulfing Bach,
the long hair of an old beauty accompanying a love song
seventy times silence was the answer,
seventy times, seventy deaths
to remind him, her,
that when the snow melts hit by a ray of sun
the ground, grateful, salutes a new cycle
the last diner was not the last,
was not the first,
was not what it was meant to be,
was his idea of an idea,
bread, wine and human passions
how could Dante’s Inferno be a comedy,
how could the brush of Botticelli paint the birth of a goddess,
how did cadmium and eggs mix on a canvas,
why are Agrippa and Medici remembered?
the master was a master of shadows,
the source of light meaningless,
the living apple turned into a living natura morta,
radiant like a children’s fable
thinking the unthinkable was unthinkable:
a rose petal smelling a lover,
weightless rain, the breath of a star
they went by spitting on the floor
without raising their heads,
without knowing the sound of a bell,
the waves of the sea chatting with Neruda
where an orchard once was
now stands an arrogant chimney of progress,
blind to the seagulls that fly around it,
blind to the sand of the shore that knows better
the thin mantel adhered to her skin,
dew still napping over leaves of grass,
the hands of the Indian potter
giving life by the gray boulders of the forest
all what remained from years of thinking
was a photograph stacked on a canvas,
not a story of the past but a story itself,
a story invisible to eyes that can’t see
the silent piano knew it all:
the allegretti graziosi,
the andantini con espressione,
the minuetti, the cantabili,
the hands that played it,
the hands that applauded the playing
do dogs dream?
do ants hope?
does the wind know how it feels
the touch of a squash’s leaf,
of a hanging apple,
of a woman’s hair blown over her face?
the palette of colors was infinite,
yet no color knew where to go
until commanded: there,
right there, only there
while the leaders discussed life and death
the interpreters talked about nothing, fear all transparent,
the visions of few prophets forgotten;
forgotten were the fine arts, the search for truth, architecture,
blurred reflections on a pond,
the sound of crickets in the night
the truth was ice-cold, hard to bear, senseless to feelings,
minds distorted by lack of meditation couldn’t grasp it,
couldn’t imagine other worlds, other perceptions,
other rhythms, other colors, beauty of different proportions
there is a cypress by my window like the ones
that grow in cemeteries or divide properties in the country;
a cypress left alone in the city, surrounded by boxed habitations,
a witness of my walks with the dog,
a witness of shutters beyond which
things are created out of nothing.
i miss the look of suspicious raccoons wandering in the night,
the sound of dry leaves cracking under my shoes,
the texture of boulders,
the company of big plastic jars of bear on rustic tables,
the howling of a distant coyote,
the light of a single lamp casting a long shadow in the living room
there are still pealing walls full of beauty,
there are still people who can live without noise,
there are still horses running wild in the prairie,
there are still lovers of the unknown, creators of the non-existing
I’m sitting on the beach,
alone, naked, empty,
without thinking, without dreaming,
the sea breeze blowing on my face,
my eyes lost in the horizon.
I turn my head
and I see a rusted steel handle sticking off the sand.
I pull. There’s resistance.
I dig around it with my hands.
It is attached to a three by three feet concrete slab.
I pull again: it moves.
I lift it. I see stairs
descending into the unknown.
I step down, like a curious cat.
“Welcome,” a voice says in the darkness.
A man in a white robe,
his head covered with a hood,
stares at me with a smile.
He looks like me, with a white beard.
“Who are you?”, I ask.
“I am you”, he answers.
“What is this place?”
“It is a gathering of friends. Come.”
We are walking in a cave, our pathway sloping down towards a lake.
The cave, lighted by torches, is filled with people
dresses in clothes from all times.
“I’m naked”, I say.
“Do you feel embarrassed?”
“No, I’m just freezing.”
A lady comes to me
and puts a woolen white cape around my shoulders.
“Madame de Beauvoir” he explains.
“Thank you. You are a great woman.”
“I am a woman.”
“Let’s walk”, says myself,
taking me by the arm.
“I want to introduce you
to some people. Mr. Columbus.” I shake his hand.
“You are a courageous man.”
“Life is discovery”, he answers humbly.
I see Wright among the crowd. He’s distant, cold.
I also see Le Corbusier. He’s busy with himself.
I see Hertzl and I instantly understand what was his problem:
he lacked a sense of humor.
My eyes crosses Einstein’s:
we smile at each other, without talking.
He’s short, robust, covered with marble dust.
“Maestro, what an honor.”
“I wasn’t born Maestro. Work hard, son,
push yourself to your own limits
and you’ll learn what you can do” he says,
patting my back affectionately.
We keep walking towards the lake.
“Who is that man, over there? There’s energy coming from him.”
“He is Moses. Would you like to meet him?”
“No. Where are the women?”
He points to a side..
My mother sits around a table
with her sisters, talking and knitting.
“I didn’t mean that.”
“I know,” he says, smiling. “Come.”
I enter another cave.
There sits a woman dressed in a white tunic.
I can’t recognize her peaceful face.
“I’m tired”, I say, “I’m very tired.”
“You had a long journey,
and you still have a long way to go. Come, rest on my lap.”
I lay my head on her lap, closing my eyes.
“Sleep, my child, sleep,”she whispers,
brushing my hair with her fingers.
“Don’t be afraid.
tomorrow will be another day
and I’ll be with you to protect you.”
“I’m not afraid,
but who will protect you?”
“By being what you have to be.”
next month she’ll be nine.
We explain to her
what democracy means.
We moralize about her luck
of not living under
a dictator’s regime,
“What do dictators do?”
“They tell people what to do, or else…”
Her eyes sparkle with an idea:
“I want to be a dictator!”
My favorite aunt.
Always ready to accept
my grandfather’s collapsing on your arms,
Helenita jumping from a train?
Israel and Raquel turning schizophrenic,
Chichi hanging from you,
my mother giving you orders,
Max everywhere but home,
Alberto running through the streets,
Corita she’s OK,
your nephew the prime minister
fucking a whore on your bed
while you were in Mexico
You took us to the movies,
three films on a row
and brought us bananas
and hot dogs
to survive the Odyssey
You understood me when I left
and you cried cause you knew and I didn’t
that that was it,
that very soon you would be
warming Max’s bones,
giving a closer look at the Earth’s crust
I didn’t cry when I got the letter. I don’t know how to.
Years have passed since then
and so many faces that used to be around
are with you.
The borders between here and there are blurred.
During those days when I feel
like an animal pacing back and forth in a cage
I see your smile
and I hear your laughter
and I live a little longer.
Kroy is Dead
out of bed
feel like slipping back
slide in right foot on left slipper
put off alarm before music cracks dream
pick up magazine in the dark don’t know which
head to bathroom
toe hits heater BANG shit
ruth turns around keeps on sleeping
reach bathroom close door switch lights on
pee scan yedioth’s weekly supplement
table of contents
photo of a mourning girl kroy’s daughter seventeen
kroy is dead suicide
can’t be can’t be why
what went wrong
why did he do it
a is a
god is the collective subconscious
where is objectivism where is god
where are the forces of light
four years younger
beat my iq by sixty points
phd at twenty seven
dead at forty
i’ve got to go to gym
i’ve got to live a little longer
why did he do it
i go to gym i’m not there
are you ok teacher asks
i’m ok i lie
drive back home blind to prepare breakfast
gabriella is not ready carpool honks
she leaves without breakfast gone
sit to drink coffee leaf through la times
what else is there to know
rushdie is a marked man he thought too loudly
kroy thought too loudly too
a computer mind perfect almost
but no space for ambiguity
kroy is dead i tell ruth
she looks at me
her eyes sound i’m not surprised
but it’s not that simple
no time for kroy
write down to do list electrical plan
buy foundation vents
exchange shower diverter
check building sites bentley
i shower dress rush
copies park on the red line
leave lights flashing
have to wait ten minutes maybe more
not another ticket, please
why did he do it
lumber yard out of vents
another lumber yard get four vents no problem
Pedro and Aquiles are nailing down the roof
they need more nails
5 lb two inches
they need more than nails
they need a roof
Northvale windows are off-line will have to be reset
it’s easier to erase mistakes on paper
a mistake is a product
of a contradiction
and the identification of that reality
moshe kroy wunderkind
and one mistake
Kroy is Dead Once Again
The poets said
that they couldn’t learn who Kroy was from my poem;
that my poem was not about Kroy’s death, but about myself;
that shorthand writing works;
that shorthand writing worked very well in the poem;
that the poem’s disconnections are
like the disconnected experiences of the day I had;
that they would like to know why I was that shocked
with the news of Kroy’s death;
more about my poem than what I said about theirs;
The poets said
that I should try once again.
Kroy is dead.
Few people mourn him – how could they?
He killed their religious icons: Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha,
he whipped out twenty-five centuries of philosophy
between Aristotle and Ayn Rand,
he mocked Freud, Jung,
he denounced all the world’s established systems of government,
justice, taxation, welfare.
of egoism the key to the secrets of human nature,
of Objectivism the key to the mechanics of a rational society;
People didn’t like what they heard. Kroy had many enemies.
He was convinced that, sooner or later,
they would get him,
they would crucify him for thinking too loudly,
so he anticipated and outmaneuvered their move:
he killed h himself.
Twenty-seven years old,
Ph.D. in Philosophy and Psychology,
teaches a course on the Psychology of Philosophy
at the University of Tel Aviv, Winter Quarter.
He’s trying to change the world
with a philosophical Utopia.
I, a thirty-one-year-old architect charging at windmills,
am trying to change the world
with architectural Utopias.
I enroll in his class.
He stands at the podium.
He has a small body frame, he looks fragile,
like a child grown up too fast.
I can barely see his eyes
through the thickness of his eyeglasses.
He speaks in fast, short sentences, with precision:
there’s no space for contradictions.
There are about ten people in the class,
some are white-haired,
a few are his dedicated followers.
I have other gurus, distant or dead.
I’m here just to learn, to know.
Next to me sits Dan Ben Amotz, the writer,
barefoot as always,
his toes crossed one on top of the other.
We establish eye contact but we don’t talk.
The class starts:
“…to be is to be identical to oneself. Everything is identical to itself. This is the principle of the law of identity: A is A. (…) In reality, there are no contradictions. (…) A concept is the product of the relationship between reality and human consciousness. The word that identifies the concept is not indispensable: different words in different languages identify the same concept; therefore the use of the same word to identify the same concept is not indispensable. (…) Logic is the art of identifying without contradictions.”
He’s asked many questions;
I don’t ask any.
He answers the questions quickly and to the point,
then he turns to the subject of egoism:
“…Every rational man lives for himself through the use of his reason, and therefore he is an egoist. The maximum objective of an egoist is his own life. A true egoist doesn’t live for another person, nor does he live at the expense of another person. He’s independent of others in his ends and in his means. (…) The distance between the conventional concept of egoism and the true one proves the degree of falsification of western society’s thought, brought about by
the intellectual spokesmen of altruism: Plato, Jesus and Kant.”
His lecture is dense. There is no time for digestion. I’ll buy his book.
“Rational Existence – The Conditions for Objective Happiness”.I read it.
I read it in bed, at the studio, in the bathroom.
I re-read it. I underline it.
I translate ninety pages from Hebrew into Italian during the long-dead hours
of my army reserve service, to send them to Zevi.
I talk about the book to my friends: they don’t like it.
I talk about the book to Ruth: she doesn’t like it.
Zevi writes back: he doesn’t like it.
I try to understand the roots of Objectivism:
I read Ayn Rand’s books, all of them.
I try to go back to the source: Aristotle.
I take a course on Greek Philosophy:
I get a meaningless A on ethics.
And then Kroy leaves. To Australia. For good.
A reserve officer in the Israel Defense Forces,
he dumps Israel, Zionism, the Jews
and leaves the land of milk and honey
in a coherent act of total egoism.
By the time he leaves, my altruistic Zionism
is under heavy pressure:
Debts, frustrations, disappointments,
anxieties and restlessness.
Egoism makes sense: the answer is America.
1989, in America.
I have lived the last twelve years
with debts, frustrations, disappointments, anxieties and restlessness.
One daughter, some achievements,
reality is more real than it used to be.
A is still A,
the poet celebrates tragedy
and Kroy, a memory in my mind,
is dead once again.
Buenos Aires is my father
knocking at doors
to earn his pride;
Buenos Aires is a humid sidewalk
covered with the rotting leaves
of my thirteenth winter;
Buenos Aires is a dark cafe
with dirty floors
sheltering me from common sense;
Buenos Aires is going to the movies
with all my family
because that’s the way it is;
Buenos Aires is the old rivalry
between my mother and aunt Elisa
about who’s knishes are the best;
Buenos Aires is peeking
under the maids’ skirts
to find out what’s all the fuss about;
Buenos Aires is learning from
who loved me for what I am,
and from Mr. Giglione
who was what my father wasn’t,
and from Professor Sanger
who taught me math
because I’m bright and lazy
and he also has to live
and why not?
Buenos Aires is pushing my politeness
to get into the subway
and it’s stealing cigarettes from my father
to breath like a man,
and it’s playing poker with my gang
to grow up faster.
Buenos Aires is writing on fresh concrete
without knowing what it means
and it’s studying architecture
with a caliber .22 under my jacket.
Buenos Aires is my mother
hosting four hundred guests
that won’t come to her funeral
and is her singing tangos in the car
cause they’re her driver’s license
and is my mother electrifying an audience
with verses recited in a smoker’s voice
and is my mother trimming my rebellious wings
because they want to fly.
Buenos Aires is riding on a bus
hanging from its door
and it is jumping out before it stops
and it is giving my seat to an old lady
and it is eating that chick’s boobies with my eyes
and it is meeting and avoiding other eyes,
and it is reading and reading and reading
while the bus bumps
over bankrupted asphalt.
Buenos Aires is being in love with love,
it is giving my first kiss
to a girl whose name I can’t remember
and it’s being a sixteen years old kid
hunting sixteen years old women
and it is heating up with a nymph
that I wouldn’t dare to touch
and it is cooling off with a whore
that I wouldn’t dare not to touch.
Buenos Aires is pebbled streets
molding my shoes,
and it is the noise of the tramway passing by,
and it is Piazzola playing a reinvented tango
that ties up brain and guts together,
and it’s drinking a nostalgic tea
at La Esmeralda,
and it is walking through a human ocean
lighted by a sun of neon
and it is saluting every morning a flag
that won’t wrap my coffin.
Buenos Aires is night after midnight,
books and magazines after midnight,
parrillada after midnight
the best ice cream in town after midnight
chasing Nazis after midnight
solving the world’s problems after midnight
Buenos Aires is being brainwashed
that Buenos Aires has
the longest street in the world
and the widest street in the world
and that in Argentina nobody can starve to death
and that Peron brought social justice to the working class
and that Roca is a hero because he freed us
from the Indian problem;
he killed them all.
Buenos Aires is me,
playing ball with the porter’s son
whose father’s bank balance I ignore
and is yelling in a stadium
for a league that I couldn’t care less for
and is understanding the folding of a taxi-driver’s language
explaining to me how the world turns
while driving at 60 through the city
and is me following the rituals of a restaurant
to bond a relationship with beefsteaks
and is me walking ten blocks
from a miserable neighborhood to a ladies party
the cause of the largest diamond
and the cause of the softest fur
and the cause of the last fashion.
Buenos Aires is me
leaving a mass of gray
dissolving in the horizon of my memory;
Buenos Aires is me, Porteño,
The Day I Died
The day I died
I didn’t want to die.
I died alone, as usual.
It was a bloodless, stench-less, silent death;
no tears, no funerals, no eulogies.
Ruth turned around in bed
and buried her head under a pillow.
The birds trilled outside.
The warm dawn entering through the window
announced a day in the upper 8O’s.
My blood pressure was 70 to 110:
“Excellent,” said the doctor the other day,
although to me it was unbearable.
I read a magazine sitting on the toilet.
I washed my teeth, I shaved,
and I dressed up for gym.
I picked up the paper from under the car:
Another teen-age girl has been killed,
this time an Israeli;
Who killed her? I did.
The engine of my Volvo started up
at the first turn of the key: amazing!
Life is not that easy…
The gym teacher came late,
but she came;
she raised my heartbeat to 130.
The day I died
I prepared an ordinary breakfast
to survive an ordinary day.
I read the paper sipping coffee,
to find out what’s relevant
to a dead man.
I ordered my books and magazines
to save them from Ana’s order.
I finished my income tax return
to pacify the beast.
I shopped at Mrs. Gooch’s
to die on a healthy diet.
I filed an application
for Gabriella’s Social Security number
to make sure that she becomes somebody.
I answer many inquiries for my listing
because I had to;
I filled the gas tank with unleaded,
enough to reach the horizon.
It was strange to die on a Friday,
the day man was created.
It was strange to die so drily,
like a peach forgotten in a plastic bag.
Cause of death: unknown.
If it was suicide,
I must have pulled the trigger
a long time ago.
Murder? Unlikely, although
involuntary manslaughter by a hit-and-run comet
should not be excluded.
Cancer? May be
from reading too much.
Heart failure? Sure,
It’s the dreamer’s disease.
The day I died
my father didn’t change:
he never changes.
My mother appeared in the twilight
and said: “I understand, my son”.
“I know,” I said,
“but you’re my mother.”
I opened the street map
to find out
the location of my neurosis:
all the bridges have been erased.
I took a blank page
and played being
rational, responsible, mature.
And then I died.
My death was neither painful nor painless:
it was human.
I vaporized, and yet,
I never disappeared.
I left and came back,
with nobody noticing it.
The day I died
was a long day.
The Universe’s Calendar
When I was born I didn’t know that I was born,
I didn’t know words, I didn’t know
the distance to the moon,
I didn’t know that I didn’t know. And
yet, without knowing, I found
my mother’s breast, which was dry.
The distance between the time of my birth
and the time of this writing is,
in the universe’s calendar, non-existent.
That is all I have, something.
In Hebrew, it is written שבעים לשיבה,
Shivim Le Shiva, Seventy to Shiva.
Shiva. Homecoming. Return.
When? I know where to.
The 2014 Winter Solstice morning is cloudy in Long Beach.
I find Ruth’s greeting in my inbox:
“HAPPY BIRTHDAY Abalino!
You are the youngest 70 years old I know.”
Who is the other?
Gabby calls from Israel. She sings “Happy Birthday”
and emails a video with dancing animated penguins.
Jorge and Mery call from Philadelphia.
Tincho calls from Brooklyn. We talked roots, intellectual Odessa.
Chichi, Cora and Alberto call from Buenos Aires.
I get an email from Norberto.
I get some greetings on Facebook.
Traffic on LinkedIn, YouTube and my three websites is low.
We had decided to keep it low-key,
to picnic by the beach.
No surprise parties. No hoopla celebrations.
Just the two of us,
at the Annenberg Beach House, in Santa Monica.
Ruth prepares sandwiches:
two ciabattas with chicken breast, two English muffins with meatloaf.
She adds cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers
and carrot juice. I pour Chilean red wine
into a small plastic bottle of water.
I order tickets online
to see “Mr. Turner” at the Landmark, in Westwood.
We head north thirty-two miles.
Fast-backward ten years.
First hip replacement. Back to spinning in seventy-five days.
Redevelopment: the Promenade, public art, the PACs.
Being in touch with
politicians, bureaucrats, the rich, the homeless,
a hard-working middle class, struggling artists.
Samy dies suddenly in Tel Aviv. I fly on four-hour notice.
A few years later Niunia dies. I fly again.
I flew four times, to bury my parents, my in-laws.
Pine on Seventh, the Lummis Lofts, Park View,
Anaheim-Pacific, Urban Corridor,
the Queen Mary Master Plan, the Globe Theater,
Koo’s, Hillcrest, the Chinese Bazaar,
the Killing Fields Memorial, Magnolias on Magnolia, Beacon Fire.
Ramot’s Master Plan in Beer Sheva gets finished and archived.
We fly to Chichi’s 80’s birthday in Buenos Aires. An out-of-this-world party.
Gabby graduates in Tucson. She moves to Budapest.
The 2008 fall down. All projects get canceled.
The 2010 trip to Israel. Feeling at home for five weeks.
Gabby’s graduates as a physician. We celebrate in Budapest.
We visit Rome, Paris, New York. We see old friends.
Second hip replacement. Back to spinning in seventy-five days.
Discovering filmmaking. Shooting and editing over thirty docs.
Shooting “The Blue Boulevard Vision” in Israel.
Shooting “Westwood LA.”
Back to real estate, to the Westside’s bubble, still my pond.
Discovering Costa Rica.
A different value-system challenges the First World.
I try to fight pessimism vis-a-vis the growth of
religious fanaticism and literate illiteracy.
My TO DO list is long. Money. Marketing. Never-ending chores.
Stepping up on filmmaking professionalism.
Finish writing “Crossing |Borderlines.”
The unexpected: is guaranteed.
The expected: homecoming. Shiva.
No emails to delete or read.
No googling for synonyms.
No files, old or new.
The Wi-Fi is off – no phones.
No range pilot, no matches, no gas, no cooking.
The parking gate is locked.
I read a book cover to cover
until darkness comes
and I can see Michelangelo,
his face covered with paint,
plaster under his fingernails,
eat bread and cheese,
a carafe of Tuscan wine on the table.
I go to sleep.
I am in a room of my own
thousands of miles away.
By my desk I can see<
the Mediterranean, green emerald.
I draw quick lines on a blank sheet of paper.
I write. Start with “He.” No idea where it will take me.
Exposed concrete walls mingle with pampas-grass.
He walks alone in the park. He enjoys the wind blowing on his face.
He sees her, sitting on a bench, reading a book.
He throws a ball of paper at her. She picks it up and smiles.
Freedom at last.
I stopped competing with the dead.
They all beat me.
I live on overdraft time.
There is no much on my suitcase:
worn-out jeans, two T-shirts, three external drives
and my Swiss knife.
I board alone.
Day and night mix up quickly.
I land. “Welcome home,” the policewoman sais
while stamping my passport.
“Take me north, by the beach,”
I tell the driver.
I tip him, pick up my suitcase
and walk shoeless
over the afternoon sand.
Is it time for the long rest?
Off the Trap
My time is over, they thought.
I was in the desert, alone.
Anger came first. Then it was hate.
And then the blackness that cures it all
came upon me.
I saw the flash,
like God may have seen
the Big Ban, violent,
starting to evolve outwards
at the speed of light.
by the brown sea. Sunday-Bohemians paint rusting ships under the
steps of a passerby – he’s whistling a tune that I can’t
of feuding barrios. Children play ball on the street –
the soccer fields of future heroes. Women bounce their hips
with European elegance. A man shoots his wife, her lover
and himself – to save his honor;
of somber faces and aristocratic arrogance. I swallow its
streets filled with strangers that are no strangers to
me – I know their passions –
love and disillusion
wet whores of neon fucking
fathers and sons
hate and despair hate the boss
death and myth Peron, Peron
que grande sos…
I was a boy in the grey city
where filthy water running along curbs were rivers to
my paper boats and grassless parks were racing tracks to
my toy-cars and real-car accidents were the circuses of the
day and a three-movie show was the place where great
I was an adolescent in the grey city
where humid paving stones scraped the soles of my winter
dawns when I walked halfheartedly to school five blocks
away from daily hell and shallow cafes where life sprang
with smoke and soccer-chattering was heaven to my weekly
runaways with books smuggled in the pockets of my high school
I was seventeen in the grey city
where strident parades of Nazi-uniformed soldiers that
wouldn’t look at me in the eye not even once sent me the
message – run, baby, run…
Grey city, grey city,
solid stage of my becoming man built with books for bricks
and dreams for mortar, the peeling paint from its French
facades is still stuck under my fingernails and don’t
want to wash away.
I come from the grey city of the south,
that fed me
and molded me
and marked me
like a horseman marks its cattle,
to make sure that
I never disappear
into the crowds of other cities.
Los Angeles, November 1990.