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Saturday, October 5, 2013

With a vengeance. by John von Daler

                The old man looked like Fidel Castro disguised as Buddha. For years he had sat in a worn armchair behind unwashed windows filled with potted plants that probably could have lived off the smudges on the glass. From his place behind an antique table covered with spots from forgotten meals he read his paper, ate his meals and told his stories.

                His stories were always about him.
                He had been raised in the shoddy part of Copenhagen by his beloved mother who died when he was about twelve and by his syndicalist father who taught him pride but not privilege.
                He was apprenticed as a plumber and when he got his papers he practiced the trade mostly high-up on the copper roofs of Copenhagen. This would impart valuable knowledge to him to use when the Second World War and the Germans arrived in Denmark. Then he helped make and plant bombs among the buildings he already knew so well in the old part of Copenhagen. Soon he was involved in the deadly intrigues of the underground. His world fell into two halves, friends and enemies, and slowly the two parts became unreconcilable.
                At the end of the war he took part in the final clinch of the fist that pounded traitors and fellow-travelers into submission or into what was worse.
                When I knew him he sat at his table and told his stories while he poured wine and cut his cheese or puffed on his pipe.
                I went to him once with a translation of an epic poem by #Ibsen. I had taken the great Norwegian poet's ode to forgiveness and had made my own Danish version, retelling the story of the sailor who loses wife and child to his worst enemy and later rescues the man from a death at sea.
                I am no religious person, so when I run into a quality I like somewhere, I steal it as brazenly as any relic thief and stash it away in my bag of valuables. I got a certain love of the present moment from a passing Buddhist. From a Hindu I learned pleasing lessons of eternal beauty. I even got a certain kind of reasoning from the satchel of an atheist. From a Jewish acquaintance I learned to strive for wisdom and from a Muslim I got cleanliness in many different forms. From my Christian friends I lifted forgiveness.
                And that was what Ibsen's "#Terje Vigen" was about. Forgiveness.
                I took the long poem to my old friend and he read it while smoking away in his chair. I sipped on wine and tried to look out of the smudged and opaque windows while he read. Then he said words that often have filled my mind since. I do not want to judge them, yet they often plague my thoughts.
                The old man looked up from the typed papers in his hand. He flicked his long beard aside and put the poem on the table face down in front of him. Then he looked at me across the upper edge of his reading glasses and said the first and last words in our discussion of my poetic venture:
                "I take my revenge."


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