Fifth Commandment by David Lieber

A poem to my father, for better or worse,
Has blown in like a storm, in a flurry of verse
It’s been brewing awhile though I’ve waited to send it
In hope I’d find reason to burn or amend it.

Alas as he shambles the last lonely laps
Round his mindfield of old grandiosity gaps
It appears that for now and as long as he lives
He’s unlikely to learn how to take what he gives.

For it’s near thirty years since the old man retired
And in all of that time he has solely aspired
To re-write himself in memoirs with a view
Of embellishing all he accomplished thereto.

And his life is a canvas upon which he’s posed
In a private museum: a vault self-enclosed
With a dog at the door who’s ferociously mean
If you fail to view him as he wants to be seen.

(It’s his curious notion, like all self-endorsed,
Hypothetical, tongue-in-cheek-clever of course)
That Prince Hamlet and Freud would be driven to drop
What they’re doing to contemplate him. Methinks not.)

But just who is this man whom I’ve known for so long?
Can it be after decades I’ve got him all wrong?
Is he all that he claims? Is he telling it straight?
Was his son a rogue gene by some cruel twist of fate?

* * *

Though the morsels he drops here and there when he can
Suggest genie manqué or some Renaissance man
He’ll be sure to obscure what he’s talking about
Like it’s all his to know and for you to find out.

On all manner of subject from fugues to psychology
Thomas Stearns Eliot, human ecology
Bach and Ibegis and brisket he’ll spew
Like a fountain of knowledge, a wellspring of views

That he will not make clear. Could it be his obsession
To spin bafflegab but convey the impression
Of learning that soars where the atmosphere’s thin
And so rare that to grasp it you’d have to be him?

Overwrought, overlong, Byzantine, convoluted
The bulk of his opus will go undisputed
Though riddled with factoids and lies of omission
Since not contradicted, he claims erudition.

He’ll rev up the verbiage to furrow your brow
Like the Doppler effect does to car-gazing cows
But if asked for concision he’ll stop on a dime
And make haste from the place like you’ve wasted his time.

For it’s all but a mountain of empty digression
Compiled to create an outstanding impression.
If asked for credentials he’ll flaunt his degrees
And suggest that he picked up the rest overseas.

Though he’s dipped a few toes in those oceans of knowledge
He’d have to have spent many lifetimes in college
To know all he seems. Dig a bit and you’ll find
He pretends to the throne in the Land of the Blind.

I’ve a sneaking suspicion there are on his shelf,
Many books he believes he’d have written himself
If his life had gone better and he to the bother
He’s cashing in royalties due to their authors.

He cooks a dog’s breakfast of Richler and Roth
Lifted childhood from Gorky. With echoes of Toff
Ler: “The reason,” he muses, “society’s doomed
Is that folk make mistakes.” Drum-roll, please: Badda-boom!!

He’ll effuse about fugues, though his theory is lacking
Or make fun of Eliot (he’s back at his hacking)
But that doesn’t stop him. Can anyone tell
Why it’s there, in the dark, he’s so likely to dwell?

Wrote that “Love Song” and “Triumph” were somehow inspired
By a marriage that hadn’t begun or expired
Disclaims common knowledge regardless of who
Might be reading. “Bullshitters, like me,” he presumes.

* * *

He’s mastered the manner of tenured professor
Condemned to a world full of insolent lessers
Except for a handful of like-minded fairies
Who soil their drawers at the sound of Guarneris.

On music recording his views are aligned
Quite contrary to science. He blandly opines
And withholds, in his war against sound engineers
That sound enters his brain through an aid in his ear.

He’ll attack Prelude Two fairly agile and limber
But stop at bar three, as if testing for timbre
Then snort at the keyboard his affect undaunted
As if he could finish that way if he wanted.

Omniscient he! It was no happenstance
He once claimed, off the cuff, he could read at a glance
A full orchestral score penned by old Maurice Zbrigher
And hear it so clear it would trigger a snigger.

(He ridicules Zbrigher for giving out tickets
To preempt defeat that he’d meet at the wickets.
Beware as that egg, in mid-air, turns about
For he ridicules Zbrigher in books he gives out.

Though he may have outdone Mister Zbrigher this time:
To be grand on his stand was on Zbrigher’s own dime.
If the price on the books was at forty bucks each
They were all written off by the Bronfman of Bleach.)

* * *

He will drop acronyms from Benin to Botswana
Retired on his laurels to metro Torona
Boasts CIDA, UNESCO but seldom will mention
The Protestant School Board that pays him his pension.

To battle the boredom he polishes pearls
Of invective to ridicule those whom he hurls
Them at. Often as not they are white Christian rednecks
Who make easy prey for a man born Lazebnik.

But now in his nineties he’s still digging claws
Into those he chose twice as his future in-laws.
Though they may well have hated that he was a Jew
It’s a safe bet who fired the first shots and at who.

Observing his offspring his vision grows dim.
For how could they be but feeble echoes of him
When by seeking out Narcissus’ grudging approval
Poor Echo became her own grounds for refusal?

When life throws you a curve, he’ll cry “Oy vey ist mir!”
In a maudlin display for the whole world to hear
But when things go your way he’ll stay mute and annoyed
That’s your lot when your Pa’s got acute Schadenfreude.

I learned early on, when I was about twelve
He enjoys giving people bad news of themselves
Although part of a general empathy lapse
He’ll pretend that it’s only for you he has gaps.

He will treat you as if irredeemably flawed
For in judging you so he feels closer to God
It’s a woebegone man who will shed a sheep’s clothing
And howl at a boy to dispel his self-loathing.

To everyone else he’ll be seem cool and informal
Aware he’s being watched through the eyes of the normal.
But different is he when he gets you alone!
He’ll berate you in private or do it by phone

Then his words become weapons, selected with relish
All aimed to negate you; himself to embellish
He’ll jeer and belittle and scoff on a whim
As if words cast your way will deflect them from him.

And that’s how he’s been for at least fifty years
A liquored-up jackyll of heckles and sneers
With a Dexedrine chaser to stifle the fear
He’d been trapped in the mirror by old Vladimir.

Now I’m no Carl Jung and no Melanie Klein
But consigned to the dark of an obdurate mind
Is a shame beyond reason, a shame he won’t see,
And the shame of himself that he wipes off on me.

* * *

Now I’ve written this down, I will set it aside
At this thirty-fifth verse and take time to decide
For it’s up in the air if this epic I send
And I’ve finished the wine. Poem over. The End.

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