- Viejo Verde by Gustavo Pérez Firmat
Some poets whisper sweet nothings, and then there is Gustavo Pérez Firmat in the guise of a Dirty Old Man (D.O.M), a Viejo verde—"green old man" to translate the Spanish expression literally--who whispers slightly off-color and sour somethings. The dirty is a little bit bawdy and body, with cracks and wisecracks, wrinkles and tinkles and an eye that twinkles. Choteo is the Cuban word for it, a concept that GPF has developed in previous poetic and essayistic work. The poignant "somethings," often internally rhymed, but unrhymed at verse end, tear at the heartstrings and cause tears of laughter and of sadness to spring and fall. Followers of Pérez Firmat will recognize about half of his Dirty Old Man collection from previous appearances as individual poems in literary journals. Thoughtfully, he has combined the earlier poemas sueltos along with new ones, as a present, he claims, to himself on his seventieth birthday. It's not the color, but the off-color that makes a green old man fresh and fertile. That's a good way to think of these poems, dirty old man jokes that reveal a lot about their author, both the humorous and the serious way of gliding along the edge of taste and gilding every observation with old-manly wisdom, self-evaluation and revelation.
Pérez-Firmat dedicates the volume to Mrs. D.O.M., his wife Mary Ann Pérez. She gets the credit for the author's back-cover photo and for everything from dying his hair in 15 minutes to putting up with his rants that should be directed at his ex-wife "(the only / error she will ever admit to is having married him)" (11), to keenly evaluating his [End Page 223] dreams, "My dear, dear Dirty Old Man, you never change. / Familiar things in unfamiliar places always scare you" (33). She is only solid personal relationship he clings to, the "blind spot" on his glaucoma eye chart (70).
The D.O.M. reminisces in a conversational interior monologue that combines third-person talking to—and about—himself, babbling and sharing confidences. He discloses details of his New Year's Eve breakup with his first wife and breakaways from other family members—the scotch-drinking Cuban father whose aquamarine and diamond ring he now owns, that does not make a difference ("He slips it onto his finger. It changes nothing"); his parents ("Are you close to your parents. Yes, they are both dead."), siblings, who he disregards, and his "bequeathed by marriage" granddaughters, who tease him by grabbing a cigar from his hand. Barely acknowledged, the D.O.M.'s family members seem to have slipped out of his life. So has his desire to return to Cuba, "so sure that he will not return/that only the odd chance of waking up one morning in the country his father lived for rattles him" (18). His memories, literally, go up in smoke, as he asks a woman at carwash to blow second-hand smoke in his face because it makes him think of his parents (68).
Certain prose snapshots depict him as aging--propping a heating pad against back of chair (53), listening to Lawrence Welk reruns (83), and musing out the window at birds and squirrels (53). Yet, the D.O.M. still takes pleasure in: his "dropping a pencil trick" to look up blonde's skirt on train; or having a dermatologist write her phone number on the back of his prescription (58); or remembering and regretting Other women (62-64); or planning a medically enhanced "date night" with his wife ("No prostate… No problem") (61), and admits, "What you lack in virility you make up in affection" (39). The biographical in-beddedness and embeddedness of GFP's forays give us insight into this poet as D.O.M., but also as a caring old professor. He learns his students names, discusses Borges poetry with them (45), and "He never found a reason to treat students the way he treats...