Monday, September 26, 2016

`The Secret Handshake'

“In Yiddish, Yahrzeit. There is no English word
that serves correctly. Anniversary
is gay, wears party hats, has dinner out,
but Yahrzeit tells the time by throbs of pain,
mourns the turning of each season’s screws
and can predict by inner aches the outer
             as the wounded learn to do
from predictable cycles of agony and numbness.”

David Myers was good at remembering the dead, his own and the world’s. He noted their passing, rousing us to reflection and hallowing memory. Now it’s our turn. When David died two years ago, the bookish precincts of the blogosphere lost their finest – most acutely analytical, most stylish, most widely and deeply read -- representative, and ever since it hasn’t been quite so much fun. David was the most difficult friend I have ever had. He was touchy, contrary and argumentative. His deportment before the world was unlike my own, and yet we felt some essential, brotherly affinity. I miss him every day. The passage quoted above is from the title poem in David R. Slavitt’s Equinox and Other Poems (Louisiana State University, 1989), and here are the subsequent lines:

“Pain and its diminution are the two
companions we trust, stars in our firmament.
We also have the telephone and each other.”

I miss our long discursive telephone conversations and almost daily exchanges of emails.  The best way to honor David, or any worthy writer, is to read him. A Commonplace Blog is a rare blog that remains vital and memorable long after its author departs. It rewards rereading. I remember the morning more than seven years ago when he took Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehog/fox dichotomy and personalized it for all congenital foxes.

“These are writers united not by doctrine or ideological commitment, but by an ambition to copiousness and eloquence—and the secret handshake that passes between those who have spent a life among books. They are proud to be foxes. They don’t avoid hedgehogs; they just don’t want to be one. They are happy knowing many small tricks. Or, rather, such knowledge brings them great happiness.”

1 comment:

Edward Bauer said...

I just happened to notice the other day that Commonplace is still in your blogroll. I have searched both the internet and the Commentary website for David's writings (I didn't know him, but we corresponded a time or two). I miss his insights and suggestions, even though they cost me about as much as you have in new (or used) book purchases. Thank you again for your daily work. It is very much appreciated.