"Polgar’s writing is intelligent and this is evident across all nine of the short stories in the collection. His historical and socio-political knowledge is vast and attuned to the human condition; these stories explore the headiness of love, base human desire, our past and the way it defines us, fantasy and the future...an intelligent exploration of the human condition; our vices, desires, ambitions and fantasies..."
This book features nine short stories of literary fiction in a quirky mix of genres that camber, shuttle and swerve between introspective compositions containing social commentary, fantasy, dreams, confessional reflections of imaginary autobiographies, and elements of “sale” as in the sale espoir” of realism.
The stories contrast outward experience and the interior self, the mythical and the elegiac, within a time continuum that encompasses future anachronisms with real endnotes that are part of the overarching fictional narrative.
Throughout these nine stories, the sadness of loss forages between desire, guilt, remembering, secrecy, forgetting, mourning, horror and invention combining imaginary surrenders, survivals and rescues.
The stories are set mostly in New York City and New York State over nearly a century that begins in the 1930s and extends past the turn-of-the twentieth century millennium into a dystopic future.
Among them, the once hidden manuscript of a writer living in hiding with his four avatars (Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Marinus Van der Lubbe and Georgi Mikhailovich Dimitrov ). Also, evocations of an adolescent midsummer New York City night to the sound of humming air conditioners in the streets.
In addition, there are memories of exiles in upstate New York that seem like lifelong bail with an electronic bracelet around one’s ankle with recollections of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s reprieve before the firing squad. In another story, a hero experiences a secret pleasure in contemplating past and present doomsdays and months of errancy from San Juan’s lower depths to jail with the ghost of Pedro Albizu Campos and then from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City across the border to Canada.
The collection concludes with variants of a dream about dancer Vaslav Nijinsky dreaming more than one dream at the same time and about a dream dreaming him on the edge of a precipice thinking that God did not want him to fall.
Readers are perhaps familiar with the juxtaposition of epigraphs from Kafka's diary and the quote from a 1931 letter from Walter Benjamin to Gershom Scholem selected by Hannah Arendt in her essay on Walter Benjamin. Kafka refers to anyone who cannot cope with life while still alive as "being dead in one's own lifetime and the real survivor." That line is followed by Benjamin's reference to being like one “who keeps afloat on a shipwreck by climbing to the top of a mast to give a signal leading to his rescue…"
These references might not explain much. But these stories may have been once dead in their own lifetime too and they still survived shipwreck on the horizons of consciousness, remembering and forgetting. Even as the stories keep afloat, the past rules the present as an eternal spatio-temporal memorial to the past.
Ever must the pilgrim go heavily in a strange land,
where there is none to counsel and direct him on his path.
—Marie de France, The Lay of Lanval
When you see a funeral cortege approaching, turn around and hold onto a button until it passes by or else you will spend your life breaking into tears at inopportune times. For some, breaking into tears comes when they open the refrigerator door in a dark kitchen in the morning. For others, it is a night terror and sudden awakening in the middle of the night, sinking alone in the warm depressions of a mattress when the household is fast asleep and being afraid to fall asleep again for fear you will never awaken.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau cried under a tree in the forest of St. Germain thinking about humankind in its pristine state. His epiphany inspired the hope that we could start all over again though his account of the revelation during a walk in the forest in The Confessions combined invention and fabulation. He freely admitted he had no scientific proof that humankind was corrupted by civilization.
Just open the New York Times, scan the front page, read about deaths of abandoned children from the California Welfare rolls forced to drink poisonous Kool Aid in Jonestown, the crash of a planeload of rescued Vietnamese orphans at Tansonhut Airbase in the final days of the American withdrawal from Vietnam, the death of actress Jean Seberg from a drug overdose, the suicide of her partner French writer Romain Gary, the death of Diane Oughton in a Village brownstone bomb-factory and you might cry like Jean Jacques Rousseau and hope civilization could start over again and still wonder how it is possible to start all over again when you hear people still crying over executions of the innocent, wrongful convictions, reprieves, pardons and exonerations after the many years of incarceration for crimes they didn’t commit.
I might have borne all this in silence were it not for the photo in the New York Times obituary of umbrellas in the rain under which a small group of people at a cemetery on the banks of a lake in Switzerland were mourning my life’s only joy. They were dispersing Alexandra’s ashes.
We had not seen each other in many years. We never saw each other again after she left for Hollywood. We never saw much of each other at all because Alexandra was a Virgo. According to her horoscope, Hollywood offered new opportunities. I still saw her from time to time in a movie on television and would cry out her name aloud in recognition as if she were in the same room with me. Even now.
It is no-one’s fault we were born under different signs though the music of the spheres was in synchrony one summer afternoon in 1962 near Paterson, New Jersey as I hurtled down the ramp of Route 46 West in my 1956 Plymouth and swerved to avoid a distressed car parked ahead on the ramp. As I came to a halt, a spindly blond with a ponytail signaled and ran towards me.
“I’m stuck. Can you give me a lift?” Alexandra asked.
I credit myself with saving her from being stranded in the onrush of traffic. A stranger had come into my life fully clothed and unscathed by any knowledge of me, the kind of friendship I had dreamt of.
“You’re safe with me,” I assured her as we sped on.
A few weeks later I invited her to spend the afternoon with me at a friend’s house in the New Jersey countryside. I knew I had forgotten the keys to the house and circled the house countless times to find an open window. It was a great day for riding horseback.
We did not go horseback riding. We had a picnic. The food was spread out on a blanket on the warm hood of the car. We returned to New York City as dusk descended over Secaucus, striations of light piercing the saffron sky, through the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan, intoxicated by the blast of hot summer air, the scent of Alexandra’s lily of the valley perfume and fumes leaking from the manifold of my old Plymouth, the car radio blaring to the sound of WNEW-AM.
We embarked upon a platonic histrionic cosmopolitan adventure, sitting beside each other in darkened cinemas, me feeling her elbow on the armrest, gazing at her profile and then her countenance in the glimmer of the movie screen and under the light of the marquee as we walked out into the street. Another summer night we sat on warm rocks at sunset watching Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in Central Park, witnessed the agons of Julian Beck and Judith Malina’s Living Theater, Lillian Hellman’s Toys in the Attic with Irene Worth and Rochelle Oliver, Tony Richardson’s production of Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun with Zachary Scott and Ruth Ford.
Titled "Chronicles & Elegies," the work by the French-born American poet is, in his own words, "an anachronistic narrative of transatlantic memoir, nostalgia and a Euro-American sensibility forged out of a convergence of poetic genres and forms; the epic of contemporaneity shaped by the historical imagination, the lyric of experience and elegiac allusion - with classical rhetoric instruments of apostrophe, imprecation and synecdoche."
ASHFIELD SUMMER AFTERNOON
From Bird Hill Road’s southerly end
off the Williamsburg Road,
we leave the dirt road, pass the stone wall beyond
five headstones dated the 1830s in the Guilford Family Cemetery,
they died of the consumption,
climb over the trunks of trees left from the ice storm
littering the forest floor,
trudge downhill, Marie-Claire in the lead,
Bootsie, the Welsh Corgi circles behind,
reach the meadow above Ashfield,
where tiny red salamanders dart around in the heat of day so fast
a glimmer of color leaves me wondering
are they the vision of the last flash announcing
a seizure in my head?
or the world’s end?
it happened once to someone else
I worshipped from afar,
My momentary glimpse of calamity is now past
but I am only halfway there,
we have to double back to the house,
twice the distance from the beginning,
an uphill climb.