III. There was a workingman’s tavern by the station, so Boris went in for a drink. Eight hours later, he was surrounded by Yiddish speaking factory workers coming off a shift. Train after train left the depot for the provinces, but Boris continued to drink. All the talk around him was of imminent war. But Boris could not make out what was being said.
“What war, Comrade?” he kept asking, again and again. Men kept telling him war with Germany or Russia or both. A secret pact. They would carve up Poland like the Passover lamb. The workers debated the merits of Jews falling under the Germans or the Russians.
“Thieves and murders all,” Boris grumbled. One of the workers recognized him.
“But you are a known Communist,” he said.
“What they’ve done there Comrade isn’t Communism,” Boris answered, “its Butcherism.” Boris so swelled with anger a cordon of space around five feet in circumference surrounded him. He drank in dignified but rage laden silence.
Then Boris found himself surrounded by two men. On was Meir, a Yiddish poet. The other was Bronsky (Boris could not remember the first name) or whether the man wrote poems in Hebrew, Yiddish or Polish.
“What gives, Boris?” Meir asked. And then, gingerly: “I heard you are going to find Yasha Schulevitz? Is that why you are here, so close to the station? A fortifying drink before you search? You are like Samson going down to Gaza, but instead of drinking honey from the jaws of a lion, it is vodka, and instead of going to your Philistine intended , it is a poet!”
“Leave him be,” Brodsky answered for Boris, sitting at a stool next to him and ordering a drink. “Kahanowitz is a genius. His poems are like dripping honey. And what are your poems like: like the sounds a mute man makes when he has the temerity to try and speak,” and then Brodsky made some grunting noises. Meir laughed.
“But why the fixation on Schulevitz?” Meir asked Boris, moving closer to the big man. “Let a dead dog lay, I say. If he wants to be the Baal Shem Tov reincarnated, let him be. Let him be Moses if that is what he believes. You know Schulevitz spent time in an insane asylum. Half these zealots are mentally ill. I read a learned article about it. Religious enthusiasm is a form of narcissistic mania. Schulevitz is a traitor.”
“To whom?” asked Meir, stamping his foot on the bar railing. “To the Communists? The Socialists? The Bundists? The Zionists? To the Golus Nationalists? The Yiddishists? The Hebraists? The Assiminationists? To the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals… shall I go on?”
“You forgot the Chasids and the Rebbes,” Meir added.
“Ahh!” Brodsky intoned, “to them especially. What is the rumor? He lives in a hut all by himself in that swamp. What is it called?” Both men went back and forth and could not produce the name.
“Farstuken…. fools,” Boris boozily answered through clenched teeth. Meir and Brodsky looked at him as if a golem had finally figured out how to steal the power of speech, and continued on.
“Yes,” Brodsky said. “That swamp. He lives in a hut in the reeds. With only himself and his Zohar. No wife. No minyan. It is not Jewish. There are no Jewish monks . Even when he is pious, he is a heretic!”
“The wonder rebbes lived in the woods and fields,” Meir added.
“Sure,” Brodsky answered, raising his glass. “But they always returned to their wives to climb aboard and fulfill the first commandment, Be Fruitful and Multiply. As I said, there are no Jewish monks! Every Jew must have a duty to something. And I don’t give a damn what it is: God, the Party, Zionism, the Bund… it is the doing that matters, not the believing. Isn’t that what being a Jew is about? What Schuelvitz is doing is just another extension of his swinish poetry, egotistical, self-referencing, sexually maniacal bull..”
Brodsky found himself on the floor, blood spooling down from his nose. Boris hardly looked at him as he walked over his sprawled form and out the door. He had heard the last whistle of the last train to the provinces.