Tony Brinkley

Aristide Blank

“There are such things as hours and eternities. A whole wealth
of eternities exists, and not one of them has any beginning.
At the first opportune moment they come bursting forth.”

—Boris Pasternak,
“The Mark of Apelles”

Blank is my hero
Where is Blank? Combing and gleaning
the Michaelmas daisies, huddled down or

curled up in the changes, white as asters,
pausing at the juncture like a stranger.

Poor Blank—who never learned to swim—
rocks cloud his feet wherever he looks for life,

wind-crickets ringing from the gusts
of wind jump out onto his ledge with colors

from the meadow (when you look, they
are gone from Blank’s vicinity), burnt

umber, daddylonglegs blending into mica,
mimicking a seed. Will Blank go to

heaven? Blank is already in heaven. Blank
is happier than he thinks. Grasshoppers

bring a meadow to his table. Blank offers
catnip to cowbirds—milk clouds at his

footsteps—Blank in the catbird’s seat
is like an owl at sea. Blank is a poseur.

Blank has lunch
At lunch at Blank’s with Leni
on Sunday. Bouquets of asters, tiny prescient

stars, reflected in the polish of Blank’s table. Rumors
outside the shutters, tremors that threaten the quiet.

Blank’s decorum eases with disturbances—his
room arranges to alter a moment’s interruption.

Change is Blank’s forte, he engineers the combustion.
Leni shudders. Where would she be without Blank?

I wonder. Blank stretches like a cat beside the heater.
“Come to the window.” The sun slips past on his

fingers. Blank is the wizard of minutiae. In his hands,
your muslins are silk, your skin, silk’s rhymed liquidities.

Blank is shameless
At times at a loss, Blank wonders what
Blank would do. Blank imagines standing

by the window, feathering your wings. What should
I make of Blank’s antics, the doors he does not

keep closed, the locks he unlocks as precautions,
the night he lets in on flood-lights and polishes on

his bed-clothes, then boxes for you to eat? My love,
Blank writes on the outside, and darkness softens within.

Blank is beaten
Blank remembers the beating,
cascading anger around him,

a break-water for blood rage.
Was it the moon, tidal? Blank

remembers remembering, wondering,
more intrigued than fearful, that his heart

would race in this way while his blood
pooled in reflections, mirroring fervor.

I don’t go back, Blanks says, but he does,
to mid-June, holding its breath . . .

Blank adopts a devil-may-care attitude
But why would the Devil care about Blank,
that Blank is still happy although the world

is beset? Blank is happy in a happy world,
Blank is oblivious—the grasshopper stirring

the goldenrod, Blank among quotations
—from his ledge, surveying the season.

The Devil might care, but Blank is giving
up banking—his views are turquoise, today

reflecting the mixtures of fading clouds that
leave Blank unruffled—he does not recall

the young men who beat him—they beat but
he feels unbeaten; instead he alters the balance.

Blank at the altar
I never ask what Blank is thinking.
The fires burn down but Blank flares,

Blank’s history is burning, my stillness thrives
in Blank’s memory, the mushrooms spored

from burnt offerings, the critical mass where
the dreams are, their ragged simplicity . . .

Blank avoids the wreckage
It isn’t always so easy—not when it rains,
and falling water turns the rising ashes

into mud. By preference Blank’s face
is clean, his dress as immaculate as

he is, albeit somber—a man on the way
to his office—but not without colors

Leni learns to associate with birds,
the red or yellow shimmer among wings

—Blank’s ties and handkerchiefs,
the silks that remind him of Leni and

happiness. Blank prefers
to avoid the devastations

that are always on his mind
but hidden in his colors.

Leni takes the side of Blank’s reader
Painting a coffin, Leni asks Blank for colors.
Red? Not red. Then yellow? Not yellow.

Blank wants to be buried in blue, Prussian blue
with gleams from welcoming fires—lacquered

to see your face in, but Leni takes the side
of Blank’s reader. Leni wants an inscription,

she wants to reflect Blank’s moon-phases—
Blank in memoriam—with captions.

“How shall I dress?” she asks Blank.
“As you would like me to dress?”

Blank’s dementia
But at night it is never so easy, not as easy
as during the day, when Blank changes

character, as varied as character offers—
his characters, perhaps—Blank likes to be

more than one, to shuffle his cards—but at
night the simian voices—Blank’s friends—

are often unkind, not awed by his facility
and conscious beneath the polish of the nerve

that howls—exposed to their ministrations, to the
chattering in which each betrayal Blank knows,

every sordidness, is his, infesting the clear-cut
edge Blank presents to the world as a work

of Leni’s appetites. But now: “Go to sleep,
dear voices, sleep well—you will still be famished

in the morning.” This tenderness extends Blank’s
nightmares that cherish his night-life’s after-hours.

Blank writes to Leni in her absence
Dear Leni, Blank writes, I don’t know
what to write. Are clouds like that? I am

not a cloud but like a cloud about to be
a cat or owl or the mouse for a cat

to prowl for, but I pounce, and Leni, being
Leni—you compose the changing weather.

And Leni again
“I do not think Blank is crazy”—or, “aren’t
we all crazy at times.” “Look what Blank has

gone through—to start with, the 20th century—
and now in its endless afterword”—“the exclusion

of Blank from the commentaries that exhaustively
catalog margins”—“not that Blank complains,”

but “he visits me at odd hours . . . unable to see
Blank’s face.” Excerpts from Leni’s daybook.

Leni and Blank’s exposure
Today, at lunch, with Leni
and Blank—for the moment
their faces are terrifying. “Blank,” Leni
says, “is the fish swimming in my belly . . .”

Whispering love
Leni is lost to the cloud-shapes in which rain
is imminent but not yet—she has no umbrella

nor interest in shelter, the rain is one of her
elements, just as wind is for Blank—and wind

lashing the rain in my eyes, their insistence together—
their furious pleasure whispering my love.

Blank at night
Blank enters his liquid phase, at home
in the water even if he drowns. This will

be dangerous—Blank, turned liquid,
shivering his way under, entering the water,

his nerves the wind-ripple, imagining Leni,
swimming night-channels’ desertions.

Blank sailing
When Blank looks out from his boat in warm
October, he sees dark water in sunlight, the sun

low at its height, the water Blank reclines
on—he would die there if he swam there—

his boat floats above where
drowning is otherwise his option,

this is how death seems to Blank now, a place
where he drowns but now floats above—

but only because he has friends who can sail
Blank’s boat—but it is not Blank’s boat, it is

their boat, Blank is only their passenger—
speculating the cost of falling in—but no

danger really, not this time,
next time . . . sienna of the rocks

in the sun-glare and the dark
pouring out of its recesses,

in between, foam reaches into,
which Blank imagines without sight,

not blindness in place of vision but
no sight at all—my love, my dear love—

only sound below lapping, a kiss, perhaps
a kind of tongue, a hungry gravity.

Without antecedents
When Blank takes his time, he turns clocks on
their faces—hours go unnoticed—others take
their place: Leni’s face as mirrored and Blank’s,

my own—my stillness, close by—pleasure
as if drinking were all we could desire—eyes
timed briefly by glancing for each other—

precautions set aside for kindred desertions,
blessing for the moment become a minute’s
semen, Blank with Leni and my satisfaction—

unexpectedly—clocks are forgotten—I
welcome the transport, Blank moistens
tempos and Leni collects time in rivulets.

To Leni, from the country
Crows follow in Blank’s footsteps, but
Blank prefers starlings—little stars—because
they are despised. Today, four crows and no

snow as yet. “Food will be scarce this winter,”
Blank writes, “time wasted, cold—though even
this cold is not cold enough. If crows, Leni, were

like starlings and chances for little stars
optimal, the transports might also be favorable,
you might still find a way to the country.”

Leni’s and Blank’s night-words
Night-words have fingers through the tendons,
their unclipped nails hooking Blank half-awake

and easing, as if from his insect-shell—although
Blank is vertebrate—experientially. “It is time,

Blank, to come out soft-skinned”—Leni’s night-
words are forceps—Blank whimpers, half-sleeping,

“Leni . . . Is there still time for the emergency?
Are your friends still waiting in the street?”

Leni fishing
Leni begins beneath the surface, closely
in the dark, although Blank does not see her,

Then a momentary surface darts—
Leni likes fishing underneath.

Missing in action
When angels came looking for Blank,
Blank was among the missing, summering

without Leni on a ski-slope, stealing sun-
glare from crosses, alloyed with iron.

Conductor invites Blank for coffee. Blank
knows Conductor well, too well to be startled

by his laughter—cruelty, light-hearted
in this setting, expecting to be paid for

a twinkle in his eye, and Blank is poorer
than Conductor, business with Conductor

is costly—this much for this life—less
for the next—“You were the banker!”

And Leni? Blank sips carefully, unimaginably,
gently; Conductor sips greedily, unimaginably,

thirsty. Both feel sickened by their napkins,
the monograms like raspberries.

Blank’s recoil
Secretions of a snake skin—
Leni—Blank for the moment,

subtle with the boundaries
of a grass snake, near

a poised stone, shadow-
edged, miraged to recoil.

Leni, showering—imagining rain—
as if she were rain—as if rain were

free—as free as she feels at
the moment. Blank thinks that

rain is freer than she knows because
Leni showers him with freedoms.

My tinctures
Leni’s incinerations have
burned me back to childhood

where every word is an ocean, and
Leni and Blank, like parents,
swim me between them,
tincturing betony . . .

This is for me
Blank and Leni find me improbably
where I most hoped to avoid

everything possible.
They lure me into

the promise, shape-changing as cloud-like
as I can to slip past—but they hold me tight,

predictably variable,
offering me their constancy—

creating me as they can
until I take them—

not as I hoped—
not on my own—in my power—

but only as they might persist
nursing a child.

Mountains of two fingers
Up from below,
Blank’s mountains from

his loneliness—Leni,
among the cumulus.

Look, Leni. Mountains
from a shadow-play.

Blank’s hysteria
Blank is writing a history of dead feet.
He remembers when even the heroic

was alive. Then the bad times
came, misfortunes in the mountains,

of which he still wishes not to speak,
the marches dead-ending the promise,

euphemistically on the way to April,
accumulating the reminders, signs

of the beloved, dead to touch, arches
of delicate bone fragments, so much effort

in the feet, the architect’s triumphs, scraps
of tendons from Blank’s visits to his dead.

Of course Blank survived—not like the others,
Blank always survives. We arrive for

oranges and tangos—like early transports
to the country—where Blank and Leni preside.

Dear Blank, it is not what they want but because of their force
Angels come with crosses
and desires—they break
the backs of women—

carefree dawning for
the landlord's organs—phalanxed,
his angelic orders snake the penetralia

and the spine snaps, loosening
the veinstones. Then toward dawn
we understand, the back breaks.

Blank forgets to take the horn out of his mouth
The thought-scope instilling—
the search for Blank, out of impulse,

the way of being
in Blank’s dwelling, Leni,

finished not completely
with the storm-door slightly open to

the light wind and the little sun—a budding stick,
albeit pruned, so not for long, a clipping.

Leni calls “lover” inadvertently—
as casually as saying my name in a whisper,

and Blank, years after, remembers his pleasure
at a name that does not alter like swallows

. . . but moss, she remembers,
moss the next morning . . .

Standing on my head
When it was colder than I thought possible,
I imagined you as happily as I could, swallow-

tailing the letters, circumstances being as they are,
challenged, darker than I expected and ceilinged,

the way my skull feels weighted by your impossibility.
If I call my impossibilities “Blank,” sometimes they

seem possible. When I call possibilities
“Leni,” impossibilities breathe freely.

Leni, like Sophia by the Black Sea.
It may come down to minutes,
the time before he starts up,

Leni awake, the night put aside,
the skull-shell open to leave—

a dancer’s split—into herself—
opened to welcome you out.

Aristide Blank, the fiction, is not Aristide Blank, my Grandfather’s cousin, the Jewish-Rumanian banker, who died in Paris in 1960; I have only borrowed his name and occasional details from his biography including the name of a casual lover, the actress Leni Caler.

Blank’s namesake, the banker, was the President of the Banca Marmarosch, Blank & Co. He came from a family of court-jews who funded Rumanian royalty and aristocracy. His father, the bank founder, was the first Jewish citizen of Rumania. These connections probably saved Blank’s life during World War II, when his intimacy with the Rumanian Conducator, the dictator Ion Antonesceau, placed him in a position to pay exorbitant bribes. Before the war, Blank was a founder of the airline that became Air France. During the 20s and 30s Blank’s generosity helped support innumerable artists like Leni Caler and the dramatist Michael Sebastian. In return they paid him court. Some rumors speak of a liaison between Blank and Queen Marie of Rumania but this is far-fetched.

An April 14, 1924 article in Time magazine reports an incident that no one in my family recalls: “Aristide Blank, the most prominent banker in Rumania, was discussing the monetary policy of Rumania at the King Carol Economic Institute when the lecture-hall was invaded by a band of fifty anti-Jewish student terrorists, armed with clubs. They beat the Jewish banker unmercifully until he was rescued by M. Titulesco, Rumanian minister to London. The incident inaugurated an anti-Semitic reign of terror that lasted in Bucharest until several regiments of troops had been called out to get the situation in hand. The outbreak was openly encouraged by the Bratiano Cabinet, following the opening of the trial of six students at the Bucharest University on the charge of attempting to murder M. Rosenthal, prominent Hebrew editor, and of plotting to kill Aristide Blank, his father, the editors of all the Jewish newspapers and several Cabinet Ministers suspected of having ‘sold themselves to the Jews.’”

In 1932, in retaliation for a close working relationship between the Banca Marmarosch-Blank and Italy’s Mussolini, France’s Laval government (at the time, anti-Fascist) forced the bankruptcy of Blank’s bank. The bank was reorganized, however, and survived under the same name until 1948, when it was nationalized by the new Communist government. Blank was arrested. After some years in a re-education camp, he was allowed to emigrate to Paris. I met him once—an elderly man in a luminescently white hospital room, who emerged from under a white sheet, raised his right arm, and said something that pleased my mother but that I did not understand.

Tony Brinkley’s poetry has appeared in Another Chicago Magazine, Beloit Poetry Journal, The New Review of Literature, Cerise Press, Drunken Boat, Otoliths, and Poetry Salzburg Review. His translations from Russian, German, and French have appeared in Shofar, Beloit Poetry Journal, The New Review of Literature, Cerise Press, May Day, World Literature Today,and Hungarian Review. He is the author of Stalin’s Eyes (Puckerbrush Press) and the co-editor with Keith Hanley of Romantic Revisions (Cambridge University Press).
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