Thursday, May 21, 2015

A TRANSIENT GOLGOTHA :Edward Dahlberg Does Not Leave Me

                        Memorial Day in four days. 
One.    How appropriate to read in a forth-coming Notre Dame Review a letter from Edward Dahlberg to William O’Rourke, “I shall soon be forgot although never remembered.

Two.    I think it is probably better to know this as young as possible rather than on the eve of one’s death.  I think I remember Dahlberg saying he had been posthumous for a generation even in 1971…

Three.   Now he is… who else can say they met Edward, were entertained and wined and fed by him and then of course found wanting, probably deservedly so?

Four.  I thought of Dahlberg and his BECAUSE I WAS FLESH while in the car on the way to Washington our guest said that her father had been inmate of the Jewish orphanage in Cleveland.  She did not know BECAUSE OF MY FLESH though she was educated at Oberlin and was a lawyer speaking Russian.  So not that unusual. 

FIVE.   “In April 1912, when he was eleven the boy became an inmate of the Jewish Orphan Asylum in Cleveland, the Forest City.  No Spartan ordinances could have been more austere than the rules for orphans.  The regime was martial; Scipio, who compelled his troops to eat uncooked food standing up, would have been satisfied with these waifs who rose every morning at 5:30 as though they were making ready for a forced march.”

SIX.  Only BECAUSE I WAS FLESH seems immediately available of his great books.  It is a model of how to remember and of his situation: a mother who was lady barber, a prostitute, a… but if you do not understand the demanding power of the opening lines you would be better off never to pick up a book, never to have picked up a book… though I well understand the foolishness of this thought as you who are reading these words are already so fortunately isolated, so separated from the trivial world represented by --- their names are too well known to be repeated---:  “Kansas City is a vast inland city, and its marvelous river, the Missouri, heats the senses; the maple, the alder, elm and cherry trees with which the town abounds are songs of desire, and only the almonds of ancient Palestine can awaken the hungry pores more deeply.  It is a wild concupiscent city, and few there are troubled about death until they age or are sick.  Only those who know the ocean ponder death as they behold it, whereas those bound closely to the ground are more sensual.  Kansas City was my Tarsus; the Kaw and the Missouri Rivers were the washpots of joyous Dianas from St. Joseph and Joplin.  It was a young, seminal town and the seed of its men was strong…
                                                My mother and I were luckless souls. She strove fiercely for her angels and was wretched most of her days in the earth.  Moreover, if failed, who hasn’t?  If she prayed for what she thought  was her good and none heeded her that had to be too.  Each one carries his own sack of woe on his back, and though he supplicate heaven to ease him, who hears him except his own sepulcher?

                                                My mother had two miserable afflictions, neither of which was she ever to overcome: her flesh--- which is my own--- and the world, that curses both of us.  “Let me, O Lord, be most ungrateful to the world, “ comes from the mouth of Teresa, the Jewess of Avila.”  


SEVEN SEVEN SEVEN
I thought to go down to the second to the last residence of Dahlberg in New York City, 64 Rivington Street,  and what better description than his own of this city:  "There are five trash town in greater New York, five garbage heaps of Tofeth. A foul, thick wafer of iron and cement covers primeval America, beneath which cry the ghosts of cranes, the mallard, the gray and white brants, the elk and the fallow deer.  A broken obelisk at Crocodopolis has stood in one position for thousands of years, but the United States is a transient Golgotha."

        64 Rivington Street no longer exists.  It must have been torn down and it was replaced with a larger building.


  SMILE AMERICA dental clinic would be thought an invention if read in a novel or an exaggeration if read in a book by Dahlberg.

"A TRANSIENT GOLGOTHA"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your writing about Edward Dahlberg sent me to my bookshelf to find my copy of Because I Was Flesh. Alas, it isn't where it should be--The Confessions of Edward Dahlberg is there (not an adequate replacement) as are some other books collected in an omnibus collection. But Because I Was Flesh is the searing document, and I wanted to follow through on your blog and re-read it.I have Charles DeFanti's biography, The Wages of Expectation. My memory is that it was a decent biography--that DeFanti got the ark of Dahlberg's life, but that is no substitute for actually reading the book it self. Because I Was Flesh takes pride of place: it is a masterpiece. It ranks for me with Alfred Kazin's A Walker in the City and Michel Leiris' Manhood as models of what a probing autobiography should be. I will search out a copy of BIWF as soon as possible. I hope people will use this blog as a discussion board. It will be a pleasure to read other voices on a writer now so saddly forgotten.