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Reading a Poem and Remembering a Friend

By Dr. César Chelala Created: November 16, 2012 Last Updated: November 19, 2012
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A view of the Empire State Building and a partially powered Manhattan on Nov. 1, 2012, as seen from Hoboken, New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy left New Yorkers struggling to cope, which one man did by remembering words from an old friend. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

A view of the Empire State Building and a partially powered Manhattan on Nov. 1, 2012, as seen from Hoboken, New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy left New Yorkers struggling to cope, which one man did by remembering words from an old friend. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW YORK—We are inside our home in downtown Manhattan suffering the consequences of Hurricane Sandy. We have no electricity (and therefore no working computers) no telephone, no heat, and just a drip of running water. Discouraged, I sit at my desk and I find a piece of paper in front of me. It contains a poem (“At last, no longer”) sent to us some time ago by our friend Arthur Bergida Binder, who died in April, 2011, after a long illness.

Arthur was one of the first friends I made when I came to New York with my wife and daughter 40 years ago. Arthur was, and remained to his last days, passionate about his art, which he expressed in many ways. He was a very good flute player and composer, a playwright and a novelist and, always at heart, a poet. That he was rarely published didn’t faze him; he continued writing his poems as long as he was physically able to do so.

Close to his death, learning that all his writings were going to be archived at Adelphi University seemed to fulfill his greatest aspirations. When he died, my wife, who had been visiting him that same day, was able to hold his hand to his last breath. He died in peace. The poem by him I found, printed below, was accompanied by a few lines expressing his desire to get together with us soon again. In the poem’s last lines, he seemed to have been foreshadowing his own death.

At last, no longer

Cheering each other on,
sharing recent works,
news of late accomplishments,
prospects, plans, doubts, wishes…
admiring each other’s good looks—
sharing space, watching each other eat—
little communal bits celebrating
life and hope—before one gets to be
over the hill—seeing the far sea
(not the “Pharsee” [Farsi]; nor the “Pharisee”)
The farce, see? and the FAR SEA—
And the dim sunset – greening, greeting—
when one gathers about
family and friends—when one—
tired and alone—still questioning—
gathers (all about oneself) skin and bones—
curls up somewhat like a fetus (like a farting dybbuk)—
waiting—wanting—to close one’s eyes.

Dr. César Chelala is an award-winning writer on human rights and foreign policy issues.

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