To Avrum Fenson
In view of an historical certainty I send you
birthday greetings that may break your heart.
You turn 43 today; reunified Germany turns over
in its paradoxical grave. A renewed calendar —
An ancient and immovable agenda — begins
a cavalier and shameless age, an age neither you
nor I either knew or cannot help but know.
Knowledge remains a slippery business for us,
Avrum, we who see what we cannot believe
and believe what we cannot see. Today, for some
reason, I recall a train trip from Bracebridge
to Montréal with changes in Toronto and Ottawa.
CN then. Seats facing each other,
an orderly fashion of students on its first political
field trip, its primary foray into secondary sources.
I sit across from Ingrid, my best friend
from Grade Seven, my natural ally in times
of anxiety. (I never made friends easily;
I believed, even then, the stories on my Rosary.)
We put the finishing touches on Rhodesia
and moved into a pair of world wars.
I look back on my projects and remember
only Javex. Funny thing, really. The kid
in front of me could never pronounce it
properly. It took me years before
I figured out about bleach; the way
it makes clean, whitened, pure.
Funny, too, that I sit here remembering
Ingrid on your birthday. I don't know
what she finally did with her life, whether
she got an education or not, or if she ever
returns to our old stomping grounds
the way I do, occasionally. (Usually
in winter.) Ingrid and I, in anticipation
of the Big Smoke, the Huge Joke, and the Large
Coke, travelled essential terrain that day
and night on the train. For all our political
false starts we knew next-to-nothingness
in all its intolerable restraining truths.
Or variations. I knew, for example,
about Ottawa because I had seen it once
(from the Peoples' Gallery the day
Paul Chartier miscalculated his range);
Ingrid knew Montréal from her parents'
perspective — for them it stood as a symbol
of the conspiratorial and subversive Jewish
capital of the world. Both of us dreamed
of French fries with gravy. And ketchup.
I suppose, when you hit the end of the line,
you experience the blessing of unconsciousness —
But I cannot actually speak for those who come
to rest so. Avrum, I don't know. And I don't
know why I, neither WASP nor Jew, would want
somehow to expunge forever from my official
memory something that never happened directly
to you (especially on your birthday). I mean,
Ingrid probably never met you, told you
her secrets, listened to your laugh. Perhaps
she married. Perhaps she changed her name.
I know only this : I never forget political lessons,
especially when they're delivered in trains.
"18 February 1990," Ultimate Midnight
(Windsor: Black Moss Press, 1992).
© 1992-2008 Judith Fitzgerald.
All Rights Reserved.