Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Friend Passes

Csaba Polony, friend, editor and publisher of "Left Curve" journal, and core to San Francisco's North Beach literary crowd and Spec's bar, died mid-March, 2014.
He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in mid-January; 8 weeks later he was gone.
As I write this, it is early April and I'm still "processing" the speed with which my friend left us.
In early December, he reported he was able to sleep even less than usual. I shared a sleeping pill; it didn't help - he said it made him fuzzy the next day.
At his usual winter solstice party, before Christmas, he was his normal party self: a quiet host ensuring his many guests had food - lots of it, including his signature Hungarian goulash - wine, and music. The "usual suspects" sat outside the apartment smoking, talking, sharing poetry, singing, and playing music; inside - the no smoking zone - we ate, drank, talked, and danced. Those of us who frequently contributed articles to Csaba's annual journal, Left Curve, looked forward to another issue. It was, as usual, due out in late April with a publishing party at City Lights in North Beach; after that, those of us who could, crossed Columbus Ave and gathered in Spec's for a drink and more talk.
This year, cancer intervened.
At the first medical visit, Csaba's doc said the preliminary examination indicated an ulcer...or cancer. Then next examine revealed cancer - advanced.
I volunteered to help produce this year's issue of Left Curve. Csaba, meanwhile, worked as hard and as fast on the issue as he could while he could. When he and I talked about it, he'd download as much info as he could to me ...then fatigue would overtake him.
He began chemo. I introduced him to someone who had beaten stage 4 cancer and, 3 years later, was still in remission. We all took heart from this miracle man.
Chemo knocked Csaba sideways.
And chemo is, well, dreadful. I learned, for example, that the person administering the chemo dose must wear gloves; the chemo pill may not touch the skin of a healthy person. (Yet we dose a person already weakened by cancer with this chemical?)
After a week of chemo, Csaba - and his family - elected to forgo that treatment.
Ten days later our friend was dead.
I said goodbye to Csaba about a week before he succumbed. I thanked him for being my friend, for being the one person I knew who understood, and could talk about with honesty and intelligence, the actual experience of being an immigrant to the US.
Csaba was a child of war. His family fled Budapest for the US when he was four. When he was five, his family set up a home in Ohio.
His memorial at the Emerald Tablet in North Beach showed photos of the young Csaba, a lovely lad with white blonde hair.
It would be hard to find someone less likely than Csaba to remain in Ohio and, after college, he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area and attended SFSU and earned a Masters in Fine Arts.
I knew Csaba for 14 years and, each of those years, he traveled back to Budapest during the summer for at least one month.
While I knew my friend never forgot his homeland, it was only when I worked on the production of the last issue of Left Curve, that I discovered how deep was his attachment. More than that, he considered himself far more of an European/Eastern European than an American. Indeed, cultural dislocation was one of the elements that bound us as friends. Our views of our adopted culture were similar and, instinctively, we talked to one another from the point of view of travelers in an alien land, populated with ideas alien to our own - even as our own ideas were our adopted culture. Interestingly, Csaba was a city boy from an historical European city; I am a country girl from an authoritarian British colony yet our views of American culture and society were congruent.
How true that one can take the boy (girl) out of Hungary (South Africa) but one cannot take Hungary (South Africa) out of the boy (girl).
One goodbye story stands out.
Accomplished poet Jack Hirschman and Csaba were friends for at least 40 years. In the last couple of years there had been a period of ...estrangement?... between the two; not uncommon for good friends who are also strong characters. When Csaba was diagnosed, Jack came down with a cold then pneumonia...and, around about the time Csaba was using, then forgoing, chemo treatments, Jack ended up in the ICU for a week. About a week before Csaba died, Jack's wife, a wonderful woman and great poet, Aggie Falk brought Jack and his oxygen tank to Csaba's house, then helped Jack up the steep stairwell and to his friend's bedside. Then Jack, as only Jack could do, paid tribute to his friend and their friendship: he sang. I was not there - alas - but among the songs I heard Jack sang to Csaba, who was semi-conscious and holding Jack's hand, was "Sonny boy."
I cannot think of a more apt, moving, and perfect way to say goodbye to one's friend.
Here's a picture of the friends, Csaba Polony, foreground, and Jack Hirschman, taken on my cell phone, in Spec's in 2013.

Left Curve, No. 38, will publish in June. After 30 years, this will be the last issue.

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