Julie Bruck

Mr. Palomar’s Wave
September 25, 2021 Bruck Julie

MR. PALOMAR’S WAVE
 
A long time ago, I went with my aunt to hear
Italo Calvino at the 92nd Street Y—so close
to where she lived then we could walk there.
 
My aunt loved all things Italian, especially literature.
She was the Italianate aunt, who happened to come
from Cleveland. To me, Mr. Calvino looked very old.
 
He read the story about Mr. Palomar, who tries
to isolate a single wave, though of course the sea
keeps moving and changing, and he read in his own
 
English, which sounded more like Italian—that is,
he described Mr. Palomar’s impossible task
in a sing-song voice that made the feat sound
 
quite possible, the way a child might, if that
child were an Italian child. On an Italian beach.
Determined to isolate an Italian wave.
 
Or so it seemed to me. Charmed by Mr. Palomar,
I understood nothing of his fury to isolate what
would not be fixed, nor how his effort to trick time
 
wasn’t a choice, but a fervent belief he might
ambush the world’s complexities, no longer be
this tense, neurasthenic man, unsure of everything.
 
If my aunt, who was starting to grow old
knew how little of this I absorbed, she was kind
enough to say nothing, knowing that when
 
I re-encountered Mr. Palomar and his wave,
twenty or forty years on, Calvino’s story would
be a hook to the heart, and that there was
 
no rush for such knowledge—none at all.
There was her hand on mine (the frail wrist
with her Venetian gold snake swallowing
 
its tail) signaling time to head for the exits
and find a cab before the rest of the crowd
got out, because this was Manhattan
 
in the early eighties, and it was late
of an evening, when she still lived
so close we could have walked back.

Julie Bruck received Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award for her third book, Monkey Ranch. Her new collection, How To Avoid Huge Ships, was published in 2018. She lives in San Francisco.