“Mr. Leonard Cohen has left the table,” someone tenderly posted on social media. You telegraphed it. We knew. But I didn’t want to find out like that. I didn’t want to find out at all. It was November 11, the Feast of St. Martin, and where I come from the folk wisdom says to have a bottle of wine for every Martin or Martina that you know. So here’s to me and you, Dear Leonard.

I was eighteen and introduced to you by a sensitive, confused poet and musician, who also for three years reluctantly thought of himself as my boyfriend. He brought me Screaming Trees, Nick Drake, Lead Belly, and you. We were English students, high on Russian formalism, deconstruction and archetypal criticism – the whole golden boughs, burning bushes, fratricides shebang. Back then it was all about “I’m Your Man” and “The Tower of Song,” and the music we made was better than the love. Not only did you fit in perfectly, but that is what you remained for me all this time – a poet of the archetypal male and female, of war, of sin, and – as you said about “The Traitor” – the redemption of coming to terms with the fact that we were not meant to succeed, but to fail, and accept that failure.

Even though Field Commander Cohen has been in my car for months now, I am still working up the courage to listen to You Want It Darker. I apologize. I am not ready yet. For someone who has breathed and exhaled literature for most of her conscious life, I have the quaintest tendency to forget how novels end, and may the blessed Catherine Tekakwitha forgive me, I need to revisit Beautiful Losers. But I always say Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla together, as a mantra, much as I love the Webb sisters’ cartwheels sass. Visits to Vienna make me put Lorca on the backburner and subversively hum This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz, With its very own breath of brandy and death, Dragging its tail in the sea, just to mess with its Freud and its Wittgenstein, its Empress Sissi and MUMOK rubbing elbows in Potemkin-village complacency. Your “Heart with No Companion” at the Zagreb concert six years ago moved me in the same way that Lipizzaner horses move me – with beauty and grace carefully honed through centuries of strife. For a short spell in my life, “The Gypsy Wife” was the only name I could give to how I was carrying on. And when my mother, who doesn’t speak English, asked me to translate “Suzanne” for her, I choked at reciting Jesus was a sailor in my language.

They anointed Dylan this year, and I – like many others – said, they forgot the little Jew who wrote the Bible. Like Dylan, like Springsteen, and other clever lyricists, you are a ‘splainer. You look a woman in the eye and say, let me tell you about you. And yet, as dear Mr. Frye tells us, “If superior in degree to other men but not to his natural environment, the hero is a leader. […] If superior neither to other men nor to his environment, the hero is one of us: we respond to a sense of his common humanity, and demand from the poet the same canons of probability that we find in our own experience.” You are the gallant older gentleman I’ve let touch me in sensitive places, Leonard, and you’ve never let me forget it. You’ve ruined me for other poets, but you would be proud of the storyteller I am with.

I sat on his lap in our home on a drunken Friday night. I played “Don’t Go Home with Your Hard-on,” and he air-drummed the entire song, calling me his beautiful, complex lover because he knew it was the rackety rhythm that got to me. Just like it was the longing and fury of Your beauty on my bruise like iodine that got to me – your singers carried that one and not you, I must say. It was the raspiness, the musical meander of that entire record, the braying, dying wail of being cut so bad that we don’t know if we can ever come back from it that was my archetype.

“Closing Time” has always been the epitome of your archetypal celebration for me. An emotional Titanic of sorts, where the band plays on even though everything has gone to shit, and we may as well go to hell dancing. The Mask of the Red Death is among us, and Eliot’s Hurry up please, it’s time! wags its finger at our decadence. Your snakes and ladders rescue me from time as inescapably linear or circular. On the contrary, history is ebb and flow, like the shoreline and the sea, like my boy Melville.

So, now that the gentle grace of your There is a crack in everything, That’s how the light gets in is giving us hope in the midst of planetary turmoil, with choruses of “Hallelujah” eclipsing helplessness, what is it that we mourn with you having left the table? For, unless they are family or friends, artists never really leave us and you have given us enough for lifetimes to come. Also, I hate to break it to you, Leonard, but you are unmournable. You are a lock of hair from a lost loved one, tucked away in a locket, never to get over. You are melancholia.

Our inner snowflakes are ill at ease with the collective affair of life, as if no one had ever loved, suffered or fought before us. Giving in to the archetype, we acknowledge that nothing ever happens for the first time, and that when we voice our suffering, we are in fact recognizing this underlying darkness. We have already been there, and made it back. Some of us are artists enough to tell the tale of this night journey.

Now, at twice-eighteen and several failures later, my mourning is selfish: there will be fewer familiar faces at the table as years go by, and yours will be a hard one to miss. As past, present and future are forged in turn, all of us become the future generation’s hearth and history. We will keep gathering around the fire pit, roasting chestnuts, drinking mulled wine. I will help build the next high tide, reading, working, writing, loving for its own sake, no questions asked, even if it all goes to hell. And come Martinmas, I will tip a glass for you and for me, eternally grateful.

 

Martina K

Translator, Fulbright fellow and flamenco dancer, Martina Kado holds a PhD in English from the University of Zagreb. She has worked in nonprofit higher education project management and policy-making, as well as university teaching in the fields of literary and cultural studies. Like her interest in sea narratives, her personal life has been a "traveling genre," currently thriving between Croatia and the United States.

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