Themes Unbecoming – Victor Pambuccian

To Stefi i.m.

You wondered aloud
Last year
After that exhaustive
Study you made
Of the Spanish Flu

How strange it was
That such a catastrophic
Left no traces in literature

That none of the writers
Who lived through it
And made of the preceding war
Their defining disaster
Even mentioned it

To say nothing of
Turning it central
To some story.

I told you then
That there was
An exception
That Meinrad Inglin
Had made room
Within the space of a chapter
Of his Schweizerspiegel
For the Spanish Flu.

But I forgot to ask you
And now
With so much of you
Having turned into
An absence
It’s late
For dialogue.

There once was
A compulsive gambler
Who foretold
In 1871-72
A cataclysm
That was to unfold
In stages in that vast land
Between 1905 and 1917

Making explicit
The manner
In which demons
Enter a large herd
Of pigs
And painting the landscape
Of that embrace.

But who wrote
About the ways
In which

– As presented
By a poet
Lost in the geometry of time
To a traveling assembly
Of compulsive thinkers
In 1948, in Amsterdam –

“Mankind, possessed by
The delusion of causality
Will slide away
In a deteriorative process
Of overpopulation,
Serfdom, and
Devastation of nature”?

Who examined
The wedding of
Those demons with
That herd
The wedding that will
First destroy mankind’s
“Spiritual and then its
Physiological conditions of life”?

Is that mirror
Too close
To be seen through
Rejected by the
Rare, slow reader
Of such labyrinths?

Or is it the strange impossibility
Of sitting on a chair
And even more so
In front of a desk
On the surface
Of that secluded lake?

Victor PambuccianVictor Pambuccian is a professor of mathematics at Arizona State University. His poetry translations, from Romanian, French, and German, have appeared in Words Without Borders, Two Lines, International Poetry Review, Pleiades, and Black Sun Lit. A bilingual anthology of Rumanian avant-garde poetry, with his translations, for which he received a 2017 NEA Translation grant, was published in 2018 as ‘Something is still present and isn’t, of what’s gone.’ Aracne editrice, Rome. He was the guest editor of the Fall 2011 issue of International Poetry Review.