Wednesday, March 25, 2015

But Their Comprehensive Silence Stays the Same

The Official Egoslavian Bela Bartok birthday post:

Bartok born 134 years ago today. I've told this history before: my mother's grandparents are Hungarian, my mother's mother forbade my mother and her sister from speaking Hungarian. I learned about Bartok on my own; though my mother is an excellent pianist, her fingers never left the 19th century, though when I listen to Bartok I wish I spoke fluent Hungarian. Some version of this paragraph is posted every year.

This part is new My mother's father and mother built a freaky house in Fellsburg Pennsylvania up the hill from Donora in that weird finger of Westmoreland County that grasps for the Monongahela. My grandmother kept Time Magazines and remaindered books on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution on a dresser in the downstairs bedroom in the corner to the right of the window that looked down on the steep carport. I asked her why once, she gave me a look that said Shut Up. In that room I once was lying under the bed while listening to Bob Prince calling a Pirates game with my grandfather when my grandmother came in, didn't know I was under the bed, and cursed him out in both English and Hungarian for being the arthritic cripple he was when I knew him. I never heard Bartok in that house but when I hear Bartok I think about this. I made the link when I was thirteen, fourteen, first time I heard Bartok: it's a facile and tenuous connection, but it stuck. I've been trying to draw a floor plan in 3D of the three floors of the house since this past Saturday when I realized Bartok's birthday was approaching. I can't stop thinking about it. I have no skills to draw architectural floor plans in 2D much less 3D, though I promise a rendering tomorrow or Thursday at the latest if solely to rid myself of the motherfucking obsession. SeatSix, help. Hell, Elric, if today's the day you tune in, help. Oakton, you're the mathematician, I'll post a rendering of yours. Must be included: the broken stereo/radio in the front lobby; the piano in the living room as well as an arrow to the corner of the living room crushed by a car flying off Fellsburg Road; an accurate drawing of the stupidass hallway/dining room design, the point on the dining room table Frank sat at; the Philmore in the kitchen, the hoosier in the kitchen, the white radio on the hoosier tuned to KDKA; the basement, the root cellar, the door to the sky blue Ford Falcon in the garage under the back porch; the green and white davenport on the back porch; upstairs, the weirdest floor of all time, the captain's walk of the master bedroom, all the mazes of the attics, the secret kingdoms they lead to. I dream about that house to this day, last night. I was asked last week, what the fuck is with all the birthdays here? That paragraph written last year.

As promised, a rendering of the 2nd floor of the house built by my maternal grandparents, memories sparked by Bartok's birthday. Click, yo, to enlarge. There are at least two people I felt an obligation to follow through at least with this floor. This is obviously not to scale, so obvious my incompetence at architectural drawing. I could do the basement easily enough but I've found the 3rd floor completely impossible, not only the physical layout of the floor but the secret universes the maze of attics lead to are utterly unmappable.
Here are the keys:

  • A - Chair except at Giftmas; Giftmas tree goes there.
  • B - Corner of house wrecked when car flew of Fellsburg Road into side of house.
  • C - Broken Philco record player/radio console/cabinet - my favorite toy.
  • D - Small china cabinet.
  • Star - Where my grandfather, crippled by arthritis in his knees, sat staring out the window hour after hour day after day after day.
  • E - Philmore refrigerator.
  • F - Double-sink looking out window at vegetable garden
  • G - White radio always tuned to KDKA.
  • H - Bag of candy, never eaten, pink, chalky mint, think fat Necco Wafers.
  • I - Bottles of Lemon Blend.
  • J - Left side of hoosier had large, built-in, flour sifter.
  • K - Green and white sliding davenport. Summers I would sit on davenport with my grandfather and listen to Pirates games while he rolled and smoked cigarettes out of a red Prince Albert can.
  • L - Bathroom closet where a box of Chinese Checkers and a game of Racko were kept.
  • M - Kitchen stove/oven. Pilot light needed lighting each time. Oven door swung left/right, not up/down.
  • N - Dresser where my grandmother kept the Time Magazines and books on the 1956 Hungarian Revolution - the start of all this.
  • O - Creepy wooden mothbally wardrobe.
  • P - Secretary.
  • Q - Clock on piano that was broke at 1:35 forever, now on my bookshelf in my bedroom.
  • R - Bathtub - no shower, no hot water - all hot water in house had to be heated on stove.
  • S - End table piled with back issue of Readers Digest.
  • T - Notice, no TV.

The three of you who know this place send me additional 2nd floor notations if you'd like and I will add them. As for the 3rd floor, I'm still trying to get my head around its vast and tiny distances and the mysteries of the attics' labyrinth and where it leads to, I doubt I'll ever be able to ink it down. That written. That drawing and photo and post a day after last year's Bartok's birthday post. Posted mostly to note I am no closer to able to draw the third floor than I was a year ago, though I try several times daily.


Howard Nemerov

Before you can learn the trees, you have to learn   
The language of the trees. That’s done indoors,   
Out of a book, which now you think of it   
Is one of the transformations of a tree.

The words themselves are a delight to learn,   
You might be in a foreign land of terms
Like samara, capsule, drupe, legume and pome,   
Where bark is papery, plated, warty or smooth.

But best of all are the words that shape the leaves—
Orbicular, cordate, cleft and reniform—
And their venation—palmate and parallel—
And tips—acute, truncate, auriculate.

Sufficiently provided, you may now
Go forth to the forests and the shady streets   
To see how the chaos of experience
Answers to catalogue and category.

Confusedly. The leaves of a single tree
May differ among themselves more than they do   
From other species, so you have to find,
All blandly says the book, “an average leaf.”

Example, the catalpa in the book
Sprays out its leaves in whorls of three   
Around the stem; the one in front of you   
But rarely does, or somewhat, or almost;

Maybe it’s not catalpa? Dreadful doubt.   
It may be weeks before you see an elm   
Fanlike in form, a spruce that pyramids,   
A sweetgum spiring up in steeple shape.

Still, pedetemtim as Lucretius says,
Little by little, you do start to learn;
And learn as well, maybe, what language does   
And how it does it, cutting across the world

Not always at the joints, competing with   
Experience while cooperating with   
Experience, and keeping an obstinate   
Intransigence, uncanny, of its own.

Think finally about the secret will   
Pretending obedience to Nature, but   
Invidiously distinguishing everywhere,   
Dividing up the world to conquer it,

And think also how funny knowledge is:   
You may succeed in learning many trees   
And calling off their names as you go by,
But their comprehensive silence stays the same.


  1. Bartok, Dvorak, Boskovic...they're all just guys from the wrong side of both Europe and the Susquehanna to me. And I'm pretty sure Bob Prince changed his name to Americanize it. So take that, yinzer.

    Outsiders: that is some massively and tripartite inside baseball, so spare the outrage. But my great-grandmother, who was real sure about which was the right side of both Europe and the Susquehanna, asked the woman who was to become my first wife (whose ethnic/cultural origins were in both), upon being introduced to her, if she was a Hunkie. After asking if she was a Catlick.

    My great-grandmother, it seems, was not a tremendously nice person.

    1. I still say if Stevie Fucking Nicols hadn't ordered his thugs to stoichkov Boskovic in Deutschtown Branco would be second only to Diablo in United lore.