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Introduction to Czech Studies

Brno, Czech Republic

In a pub off Veve?i street, the linguistics professor,
sweating, neckerchiefed, rails that Kundera
still comes to visit the city, though in disguise.
We know this to be false. At least that’s what we hope.
We don’t want to imagine him in a fake mustache,
wide-brimmed hat pulled low, refusing to speak.

We have all been drinking. The professor peeks
at us through his fingers, the sobering process
beginning already. He says it was a sad mistake,
Kundera’s exile. Inside the man had lived a chimera—
part socialism, part artist’s temper, part dope.
It had been the seventies after all. We discuss

his plight, wondering how one might disguise
oneself to return home in secret. One’s speech
must surely modulate—a new accent, the loping
intonation of a foreigner. He grew progressively
more French with each year away, and so Kundera,
by now, would not need the thin mustache

we pray he never penciled on. The man must act
lost and foreign with ease, flawlessly disgusted
by the locals. The professor mimes a camera
with his fingers. He tells us that Kundera speaks
English in the shops like a tourist, and might profess
his love for France in Freedom Square. We hope

he is mistaken. The professor does not cope
well with slivovice. He admits drinking is a mistake
for a man like him—a sad, washed-up protestor.
All those years damning the Marxists he despised
wore him down. Now only two things make him speak
his true mind: hard plum liquor, and Kundera.

The Czechoslovakia of his mind is its own chimera—
part mother’s milk, part hopelessness, part hope.
He’s never seen Silesia or the Tatras’ peaks,
but he’s climbed library stacks, knows the musty, ashen
corners of every church beneath gray Moravian skies,
knows Kundera—his fallen star—and us, his confessors.

Posted 04/06/12
"Introduction to Czech Studies" was first published in Revolution House, vol. 2, no. 1.
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