Elisabeth Cardonne Arlyck

1. –It all started with a piece of junk – or was it an undetected treasure? – a slim little pseudo-persian rug that Harry bought for a dollar or so at a garage sale we had on Raymond Avenue, probably not long after he started teaching at Vassar. My Father-in-Law thought Harry had got himself an outrageous bargain, but, since I’ve never seen the rug again in Harry’s house or studio, I suspect Cathy agreed with my assessment of its value. I remember seeing Harry and Cathy several times at Upstate Films before we got to know them, but I have no recollection, alas, of a first meal, or first great conversation – and there have been so many of them since, many of which I remember well.

2. — I grew up in a city where people know how to bargain on rugs, Algiers; my mother was terrific at it, but I have inherited none of her unabashed skill. I left Algeria to study in Paris a year before the country became independent in 1961. But, as Monsieur Blanès, who worked in my father’s firm, used to say, “You pay for your daughters to study, and then they meet some schmuck (literally “calamar”, i.e. squid) and it’s money thrown down the drain.” The squid in question was Ralph Arlyck, who’s the reason why I now live in Poughkeepsie, instead of Paris. But the studies my father paid for landed me the job at Vassar. I write about contemporary French poetry. The poems literary critics write about are, in a way, the borrowed face they present sideways to the world. That’s why, instead of an article of mine, I’m including here a poem by Philippe Jaccottet, translated by Derek Mahon. It’s about gaps, which is not unconnected to my life, between two languages and countries.

July 2007