Death of the Poet
The poet succumbed at eight o'clock AM.
Five minutes prior to his death, he made use of a stained rotary dial phone, its duct-taped parts precariously clinging to each other. His speech was slurred but his interlocutor - a fan - thought it nothing extraordinary.
Sighing ostentatiously, she reluctantly agreed to come to him, volubly replacing her receiver in its cradle.
She was not surprised to be met by others he had called, nor was she astounded to learn that he had died all by himself, wrapped in two dusty khaki blankets, sprawled on a tattered mattress, flung on an iron frame that served as both bed and escritoire. It was so like him, to die like that.
Removing the rigored cadaver through the narrow doorway was tricky. The medics rolled it down the claustrophobic and penumbral staircase (there was no lift). His ink-tainted right hand kept striking the peeling yarns of greenery that hung, flayed, from crumbling concrete walls.
Panting, they laid him on the bottom stair, an outsized embryo with jet black hair and eagled nose. His nostrils quivered.
The radio reported his passing and lengthy obituaries adorned tomorrow's press. The critics cloaked with affected objectivity the overpowering disdain they held the man, his lifestyle, and his work in. They claimed to have been his closest friends and recounted some futile anecdotes.
The ceremony held by the municipality in the Writers Hall was open to the public.
I said to Nomi:
"Why don't you approach the organizers? Tell them that you have composed music to some of his poems and that you are willing to perform them.'
They were thrilled and Nomi settled on two songs - one that I liked and one that was her preference. She had a fortnight to rehearse them ceaselessly.
Then Dani phoned me. Years ago, still adolescent, he costarred with the poet in a television show. They spent the night discoursing, which rendered them inseparable thereafter, the apprentice and his mentor. Because Dani is what he is - he turned into the poet's fan. And because he is what he is - he abruptly brought it to a halt. They never met again. Dani never thinks of himself in terms of extremism but his relationship with the dead poet was such.
And now he enquired:
"You heard? He is dead."
But he did not pause for a response. He went on to recount the by now familiar story of how they met, and how he admired the poet's ingenuity, inventiveness, aplomb, the love he made to the Hebrew language. And how it was all over.
"I am not attending this fallacious wake." - Dani is soft-spoken even when his words are not.
That evening, Nomi and I went to the Writers' Hall. A woman with anorectic eyes compared our invitation to a clammy list. We slumped into some wooden deck chairs, attired steamily in our discomfiture. People climbed onto a squeaky stage and then retreated, having recited the poet's work in a post-mortem elocution. They argued with venomous scholarship some fine points.
The poet's raisiny and birdlike mother was all aflutter in the front raw, flanked by the agitated organizers. She flung herself at the poet's ex spouse and at her son, protesting creakily and waving a hefty purse:
"Away with you!" - she screamed - "You killed my boy!"
The divorcee approached, her black dress rustling, hand soothingly extended, but midway changed her mind and climbed the podium.
She promised anodynely to preserve the poet's heritage by issuing a definitive edition of his writings, both published and in manuscript. Her voice was steady, her gestures assured, her son clung to her dress eyeing us and the scenery indifferently. He dismounted as he climbed, obediently and unaffectedly.
On cue, Nomi sang two bits, her voice a luscious blond. She looked so lonesome onstage, a battered playback cassette-recorder, a wireless microphone, her quaking palms. When the last note died I discovered that I am not breathing and that I turned her notepad into pulp.
On her odyssey from stage to seat, Nomi glanced coyly at the poet's still roiled mother, who hastened to hug and compliment her warmly.
The night was over and the mob dispersed.
The poet's mother stood forlorn, tugging at the impatient sleeves of the departing as she demanded: "How shall I get back?" - but she wouldn't say whereto. Roundly ignored by the pulsating throngs of well-wishers, she watched them comparing impressions, exchanging phone numbers, mourning the poet and, through his agency, themselves.
"I knew your son" - I said.
I really did - perhaps not as intimately as a friend, but probably more than did most of those present. Once I visited that warehouse of weathered books he called his home, sat on his monkish bed, played the effaced keys of his battered typewriter.
I offered her a ride and she accepted, sighing with childish relief.
Nomi drove and I listened to the poet's mother. Like him she wept in words.
"He used to visit me every week" - with pride. Invited us for a drink in her room at the seniors' home. The evening chilled, she observed. How about a warm libation ("I have even hot chocolate"). When we declined politely, she tempted us with exclusive access to letters the poet wrote to her.
We took a rain check and made a heartening spectacle out of noting down her address and her phone number.
The night guard at the entrance, besieged by a polished wooden counter and facing banks of noiseless television screens, winked at us.
"Thank you for bringing her back. A wonderful woman but lousy kids. No one ever visits."
He turned to face the poet's mother, raising his voice unnecessarily:
"And how are you tonight?"
Ignoring him, she eyed us inquisitively:
"You have children? No? What are you waiting for?" - her shriveled finger spiraling - "Make a few children and hurry about it. Believe me, nothing in life is more important. Nothing if not ..."
The swooshing elevator doors, an amputated sentence, and she was gone.
At home, we lay on our backs, each in its corner of our bed, trying to pierce the darkness blindly.
We never mentioned that evening, neither have we returned to visit the poet's mother. We came close to doing so, though. One Saturday we mutely decided to climb the hill and drop by the seniors' home. Instead, we ventured further, to Jaffa, and bought Sambusak pastry, filled with boiled eggs and acrid cheese.
Side by side we lived, my Nomi and I.
And then she divorced me and so many things transpired that the poet and his mother and this story were all but forgotten.
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
This part is meant only to provoke thoughts. It is not a substitute to independent thinking, criticism, and analysis.
Both the poet and his mother in the story are narcissists - but of two different types. How come one variety of narcissist gives rise to another?
Do you feel the emotional incest between the poet and his mother? Do you think it played any part in the formation of his narcissism? Do you think this is the reason he refuses to visit her?
The mother denies the reality of her estrangement from her son. Is strong denial an integral part of narcissism and how does one facilitate the other?
Would you regard the mother as abusive? Are smothering and doting forms of abuse?
The poet dies lonely and desolate. Is this the way narcissists typically end their lives (no wishful thinking, please ...:o))