Pavol Hudak, the poet,
Pavol is drinking hard cider for breakfast. You would not guess this, but he is a very good pickpocket. He travels to pretty Levoca, a prosperous town. I could make a fine living here, he thinks. Rich merchants, doctors, foreign tourists. I can slip money from their coats and trousers like a magician. So this is what I do, I move here. You yourself, Gary, can see how successful I am as I drink cider for breakfast while others slave away.
"One morning in the Main Square I observe a beautiful woman walking toward me. She is such a wonderful sight, my eyes go weak as she approaches. I can only look at her face a few moments, then I must look down, at her basket of flowers. I am suddenly bashful, like a boy. I even stumble as we pass each other. I am in the clouds, a confused and lucky leaf. I touch my chest to calm my heart. Wait. Breathe slowly, Pavol. What is this? My purse is not in my shirt here, where I always keep it. I'm certain I brought it with me when I left my room only moments ago. I stopped nowhere, saw no one—no one except the beauty. Is it possible she took it? I am ashamed and astounded at this thought, and curious too. Very curious.
"I turn, I run after her. My heart is beating. I say to her, 'Excuse me, please. I must ask you a stupid question.' Her eyes are a glory to look at. 'I am only Pavol, a poet and, to tell the truth, a pickpocket. I ran after you because I am curious. Did you by any chance take my purse? Please, you can relax, I won't tell the police if you did.'
"She looks at me a long moment. Up and down. I tell you her eyes are the color of grass and sky. Impossible, I know, but that's the truth. Finally she says, 'Yes, in fact I did.'
"We talk. I want to say a poem to her, but this other news, of her great gift, as good as my own, is what we discuss. In short, I suggest we work together. We can be fantastic! So this is what we do, Gary. We become a team. We make so much money we buy a house. We become lovers, of course, it is inevitable. And one day we decide to marry. Why not? We can have children. We can teach them what we know. We can retire into a nice old age and let our kids do the work.
"So Slavka becomes pregnant. It is amazing how this new condition makes her an even better pickpocket. Because she doesn't seem the type, does she? She can get closer to people. They trust her, offer their arms, and so forth.
"Then the baby is ready. I run for the midwife. The best one. She brings out from Slavka a boy, Pavol, named after me. He is fine looking, has those beautiful eyes of his mother, and is healthy except for one thing. He holds his left arm close to his chest. I try very gently to pull it away, but he resists. He will reach up to me with his right hand, but his left he keeps to himself, clutched in a fist beside his heart.
"Time, I think, will fix things. Perhaps his coming into the world during winter was too shocking, too cold, although the midwife took care to bundle him quickly and hold him close. I watched, so I know.
"Thus we wait, doing all we can to encourage little Pavol to relax his arm, open his hand. We bathe him, caress him, sing to him. Not even my best poems, whispered in his ear, will help. The doctors (some whose pockets I once picked) all tell us the same thing: do not worry, nothing physically is wrong, after all, he is only an infant. But I am impatient—Slavka too—and we take Pavol to a woman in the country who is said by some to have old wisdom. Some even call her a witch. In truth, she looked like one, her hair all stuck out, no teeth.
"She gazed at Pavol a long time. She started to touch him but pulled her hand back. This made me nervous. I was ready to leave. She said, 'No—wait.' She tossed some sticks on her fire. Then she threw a handful of grain into the flames. 'Give me money,' she said, 'and I will tell you what to do. Give me money now.' I paid her. She counted it, the witch. Then she said to go home and tie a small piece of gold on a string and dangle it over the baby.
"We followed her instructions. We tied one of Slavka's gold earrings on a string and I held it like this. I could see him look at it. He raised his right hand. I moved the earring closer to his left hand. Slowly, very slowly, the little hand came away from his chest. The little fingers began to open. They opened so slowly I thought a week went by—and this is why, Gary: he was already holding something! Something very shiny! Do you know what it was? In his little palm he was holding the midwife's wedding ring!"
Pavol the poet looked into his own left palm, then he looked at me and winked.
I raised my glass. "Very good," I said.
"Do you think so?"
"Will it make me rich?"
"Don't you mean richer?"
He clinked his glass against mine, gave me another wink, and said, "To happiness!" He finished his cider in one gulp. Then, lifting his face toward the sky, eyes closed, he recited the following poem:
swooping without mercy
on yellow hens...
on to childhood.