Poems in English
The following poems have previously appeared in literary periodicals:
“Forbidden Fellini” in the London Review of Books;
“The Birth of Anarchy” in The Literary Imagination;
“A Shave,” “Dig,” “The Three of Us,” “Matchmaking,” “Landscape with Laundering Women” in News from the Republic of Letters;
“Komsomol Act,” “Christmas,” “They Called Them Blue” in Jacket;
“Gogol in Rome” in Ploughshares;
“A Paper Plane to Nowhere” in Harvard Review;
“Blacklisted Titles” in The American Scholar;
“In the Bathhouse” in the Antioch Review;
“Orpheus in the Subway” in The Massachusetts Review;
“Something to Oppose” in Leviathan Quarterly (UK);
“Anna-Maria and the Others” in Press;
“The Tale of Clear Pond” in Slate;
“Death,” “Things in the Morning,” “My Sense of Time” in The Antigonish Review;
“Haircut,” “A Prison for an Architect” in The Dark Horse (UK);
“Tanya,” “Beggar” in the Poems & Plays;
“Stanzas to the Stairwell,” “Golden Fleece,” “Gogol in Jerusalem,” “A Fly on the Faucet” in Salamander.
The Union of Moldavian Cinematographers
had a film archive
where they showed European and American movies,
but only to members of the Union itself.
Located in a large crimson villa
built by the Dutch architect Bernardadsey
in the New Tradition style,
the place was surrounded by a handsome
wrought iron grille
and guarded from within by a Soviet militia woman.
The villa faced the city prison on the other side of the plaza.
A square “park area,” scantily planted with trees,
lay in between. In winter the park
became translucent, black and white.
Two distinct crowds would often gather there:
those coming to see a film,
and those coming to see a relative in the prison.
The former loudly debated Visconti and Bergman,
while latter stared at the snow and shared booze,
smoking self-rolled cigs and spitting.
Every member of the Union was entitled to invite
one adult guest. One evening, in late December 1980,
just a few days before New Year’s Eve,
my friend Liuba, a young animation artist,
called to remind me to bring my passport
to “verify my age,” so that she could take me to see
We met at an empty bus stop and walked
across the icy park. It was freezing cold,
the air was pregnant with snow.
The olive trees and mulberry shrubs
stood bare, waiting to be covered.
We entered the foyer;
a warm velvet dusk wrapped around us.
Liuba insisted on treating me to Champagne
in the buffet. “It’s dirt-cheap here,” she said,
“for the elite.” We waited in a line;
nobody seemed to be in a hurry.
Soon we plumped down on purple seats
in the huge and almost empty auditorium,
and the lights went out. The film
was like open heart surgery.
Amore cordova—a deep bright wound
on the body of my life!
Three hours later
gray-suited gentlemen in the foyer
were receiving their coats.
Someone stepped on my foot; I raised my eyes
and recognized a celebrity of the season. He was drunk.
Many of them, as Liuba would explain later,
came here to drink, rather than watch a “restricted” movie.
We stepped out into the winter night.
It was even colder now, so cold
that the cigarette almost froze to my lip.
Random human shapes criss-crossed by street-lamp light
ran along humpbacked lanes as we walked
home across the town. The buses had stopped running
an hour ago. After ten minutes of walking it began to snow.
Liuba shook her blond head like a dog and yelled
“Amore cordova...”. Two echoes returned
from limestone houses
drowning in the lucid darkness.
Snow fell on the river, even under the bridge,
on the equestrian
Monument to the Revolutionary Rider,
turning the horse into a winged sphinx and the man
into an angel. It fell on government buildings
and railroad workers’ homes alike,
on wineshops, buses in the bus park, on asphalt
and the glazed surface of the pond.
Crossing Lenin Street I turned my head
and saw the ghost of a bus glowing white.
I raised my hand and it stopped and opened the front door.
The front seats were in those days
upholstered with imitation leather.
The driver’s strong Moldavian accent
was mellifluous as he told us a joke:
“It’s winter. Two street vendors are having an argument.
The first says the temperature is 5o Centigrade.
The other says no, it’s 10! The first thinks for a second
and agrees: “OK, 7 and the temperature’s yours!”
Yellow bamboo shoots stand in a pool of water
like sharpened pencils, ready for winter.
An electric mower leans black against the wall
on a bed of mud.
“No trespassing!” sounds like an invitation
to share a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade
with the spirits of this deserted space.
The old Victorian house wears black curtains
mourning the deceased owner. We open the gate
held together by a rusty bar, and in the driveway
stumble on a heap of old Sunday Times
wrapped in blue plastic.
Death animates the most inanimate objcts.
“No trespassing” sounds like “Be my guest!”
We can finally see everything
that was invisible through the dense fence:
a rain-battered rose on a battlefield of weeds
points out toward a star.
The silence seems unbearable,
but as we sit down on the high porch
a telephone rings inside the house
and the answering machine picks up
in an old man’s voice.
The figure of their story may be compared
to the diagram of a heart attack
as it starts under Khrushchev in the late fifties.
My father, a student of architecture for years,
always had his hair cut by the same Jacob,
a Jew with a long wild beard.
His barber booth at the intersection of Lenin and Pushkin
Streets was popular for its anti-Soviet
atmosphere. When my father got his first architect job
at the Civic Planning Institute, he helped Jacob
to get hired as an Institute barber.
This meant a big warm room with a great view,
intelligent customers and, of course, a bigger salary.
Jacob even trimmed his intimidating beard
by an inch and a half as a gesture of gratitude
to my dad, who was responsible for the whole enterprise.
When five years later, under Brezhnev,
my father got a promotion, Jacob too was promoted
to become the Institute’s chief barber, and was requested
to hire three new assistants to work under him.
Jacob brought over his old Jewish friends,
colleagues from the booth. Now with the four of them
wearing similar beards over their black uniforms
of barberhood, the hair parlor seemed more like a Yeshiva.
The place again became popular
thanks to a profusion of political jokes
told by four dark figures in great wall mirrors.
There were some good days in the early sixties.
My father walked up and down the marble staircase
of the local Ministry of Construction, where he was
the head architect. His office windows on the fifth floor
looked out on Victory Park, the Arch of Triumph
and the Lenin monument. Very soon old Jacob and his trio,
again thanks to my father’s soliciting,
came to work at the Ministry. The view
in their windows also improved greatly,
their wages doubled, and their beards were abridged
by four inches. Their new salon again became popular
for its classy style and fantastic jokes about Brezhnev.
My father’s hair was starting to go gray.
Then there came some bad days, in the late seventies.
My father was arrested and sent to the central Kishinev prison.
He was kept in a solitary stone cell with an invisible
window under a high dark ceiling, but spent his mornings
doing work for the prison administration,
who requested that he renovate the outside wall
and a few of the offices. He was an architect after all.
In 1980, Jacob too was arrested. He became a prison barber,
shaving criminal heads and beards. Like my father,
he had lost almost all of his own hair
and wore a number on his back—a big black 17
painted on a square piece of cloth and sewed upon
his new blue uniform. When they met again,
they didn’t talk much, a guard watching them
through the open door. Jacob gave my father
a very gentle shave, and they shook hands.
There were good days and there were bad days.
Gogol in Jerusalem
for Donald Fanger
It remains unclear whether Gogol really
made a trip to the heart of Christendom
four years before his death. He surely did
borrow a significant sum for this pilgrimage
from his religious mother and disappear
from St. Petersburg for a few
months in 1848. He was severely
depressed after the literary scandal surrounding his
Selected Passages from My Correspondence with Friends.
Many former admirers were disgusted with him.
Gogol wanted to escape,
hoping that God would “inspire his soul.”
He wrote letters throughout his journey,
whether imaginary or not.
He described the beauty of the Promised Land,
praised the underground sewers built
by Roman architects in Old Jerusalem,
drew a pencil sketch of the Second Temple. Still,
there is something suspicious about these letters.
The witness seems too detached from the evidence.
The style of his Jerusalem travelogue
is more reminiscent of the Jerusalem chapter
of a nineteenth-century travel guide
than of St. Petersburg Tales or Dead Souls.
The letters, addressed mostly to his confessor,
arrived postmarked, but it was easy
to forge such things in those days,
and Gogol the amateur alchemist
would have had no trouble handling sealing-wax.
If he did visit Jerusalem, then why did
the greatest storyteller Russia had ever known
remain forever silent about it afterwards?
But if he did not, where was he?
The Tank Farm
Green tarpaulin radiates over sleepy heads,
dusty sunshine building a pyramid under the tent roof.
When September comes, the rusted bed springs
intone in a high pitched chorus.
The bitumen mixer snores like a demobilized soldier.
The bulky shadows of the surface gas tanks shrink,
like clouds after the rain. The other tanks
are subterranean, their black thick necks
sticking out here and there among the stones.
You can see ripening vineyards in the distance.
I, an assistant calibrator, must pour two tons of water
bucket by bucket into a tank through its gouge hole
and insert a metal pole to measure the water’s level,
filling out volume tbls in my mad handwriting,
which the supervisor collects twice a day.
Twice a week he sends a report to his manager,
who sends one every month to the local capital,
and so it goes on, until one day a black Volga
stops near my tank and a gentleman emerges,
scaring the clucky chickens and eyeing me critically.
Water gushing from the hose into an overflowing pail,
I am engrossed in a novel. As to the gentleman’s reproach,
I cordially invite him to mind his own business.
“That’s exactly what I’m trying to do!”—
mumbles the perplexed oil and gas minister.
In lethargic October
worn sneakers hang from a tree,
a plastic bag dances a dervish dance
in the driveway, high pitched
ambulance sirens grow louder every day,
as if trying to shout each other down.
and I sit down on the balcony, facing the rain.
A homeless man in the private parking lot
packs his blankets into a black plastic trash can.
He’ll soon go away for the winter
and the trash can, his summer home,
will be chained to the fence.
A Landscape with Laundering Women
for Lisa Nold
Back in the Urals the torches of stars
burn dimly in the frozen swirling air.
People’s long shadows die under cars,
rushing from city darkness to nowhere.
Up here in the Urals, where I serve
the sentence of my youth, a winter comes in fall
and never leaves, like that proverbial guest
just out of a Soviet jail.
My window faces a pier. Near-sighted water
in the lake’s gray eye reflects the wooden bridge.
On Sunday women come to do their laundry.
From where I sit I see them on the edge
of the bank. Their red hands fall like roses
in the narrow ice-holes with linen shirts.
In the deserts of snow this is the last oasis
for travelers and migrating birds,
even for God himself—on one of the days
when a crescent sun sets
early above the mining town, extending its rays
to clutch at naked branches in the forest.
The women rinse and squeeze their bedsheets, shake
their wide-spread wings. It’s done. The light is gone.
The landscape is dead: the bridge, the bank, the lake—
each in itself alone, at last alone.
A dry northern wind at Christmas
brings clouds of seagulls to Cambridge,
landing them at 10 A.M.
upon Harvard’s stadium.
I am dishonest,
I steal my way in to run here
once in a while without authorization,
but right now I’m just passing by.
Tall bleachers to my right
across the hollow amphitheater of winter
seem ready to surrender
to snow, but there is none.
A man in a greasy Santa uniform
ambles from the direction of Mt. Auburn Cemetery
with an empty cigar box in his hands.
He sets it down on the curbstone.
“Free. Take anything you need,”
reads the handwritten inscription
in fat purple highlighter.
The Green One over There
My half-brother had dark sad eyes, wheaten hair
and the same gorgeous skin his mother had.
He was cute and smart and innately kind,
unlike me at his age, according to our father.
Five years younger than me,
Tim attracted all the love
my father had frozen in his heart
when I was growing up.
Tim was brought up on my old books.
He did better than I with poetry,
reciting by six some “grownup” verses
which I couldn’t memorize at eleven.
At eight he wrote a poem
at the back of his math exercise book
and forgot about it.
It was a love poem
with an underlined dedication, “To A.”
It so happened that I knew who A was.
The poem read as follows:
“I loved and missed her so much
that I forgot what she looked like,
and when she entered the classroom
in the morning, I did not recognize her.
I did not recognize her long face,
nor her slow neck, nor her skinny hands,
I had completely forgotten her green eyes.”
It was quite a work of art, in my opinion,
but I told him that to sigh about
legs and necks and eyes
was sentimental and girlish.
He listened to me with dry eyes
and then tore out the page and threw it away
into the wastebasket.
He never wrote poetry again, but I did.
At fifteen I wrote a short story
which had some success and was even
published in a teenager literary magazine
called “Asterisks.” It was around that time
that I stopped visiting my dad’s house
that everything about this boy
put me down, humiliated me
and filled me with jealousy.
I would meet with dad on one condition:
if he wanted to see me,
he had to come to my place
or to stop by at the artsy cafe,
where my older friend Lena and I
would go after school
to sip strawberry milkshakes.
One day my father
came to my school during class hours
to take me to a hospital: the night before
my half brother had got sick.
We arrived in the middle of the doctor’s rounds.
The waiting area was noisy
and smelled of urine and medication.
Dad had gone inside,
I waited for him to call me in.
Through the door left ajar
I saw a row of iron bunks with striped mattresses.
Tim’s was next to the door.
He lay leaning on a big gray pillow,
a glass of water in his hand.
The doctor wanted him to take a pill,
but he wouldn’t hear of it.
He was willful, obstreperous,
he pushed away the hand of medicine.
“I want that ship, that ship...” he whined.
“What ship?” My father turned pale
and stared at the doctor. “Can’t you see?
The green one, over there!” cried Tim,
inserting his finger in the glass of water
where a green ship, a three-funneled steamer,
was slowly sinking at the time.
Black and White
Twice a year—right before my birthday
and on Christmas Eve—I climb on a chair,
fetch a dusty Adidas shoebox from a shelf
and lay out ancient black-and-white photos
from Russia on the dinner tbl,
noticing that the glossy paper
has collected some tan in the corners.
One day, in the year, say, 2012,
I’ll be spreading this ritual solitaire
over a bluish tblcloth, and my teenage daughter
will storm out of her room, head in earphones,
look at the collection and ask with lukewarm curiosity
“How do you get them to be black and white like that?”
Stanzas to the Stairwell
Here is the stairwell where my shadow lives,
where I smoke inexpensive cigarettes,
where a plastic lion will never catch a kangaroo
in the sand-filled ashtray on the landing.
The stairs in a fresh makeup of blue paint.
The sixth step wears a brown birth mark.
The cement remembers legions of rubber soles—
thank God no one goes barefoot nowadays.
This whole space explodes like an alarm clock
when guests are being buzzed through the front door.
The ramshackle walls can barely hold the ceiling,
but support my back reliably enough.
Come and sit with me here on the stone floor,
like the Biblical Joseph in his dry well,
in this vessel of smoke, where splitting echoes
cascade along Euclidean railings.
Be a guest of honor in my stairwell.
Sit down, unfurl this atlas of emptiness.
Loneliness is a mysterious disease.
Nothing cures it better than a blank wall.
Rendezvous on Sand
Stiff wind rips remnant chimney smoke to shreds,
invades the dark porch, fumbles with the door-bolt,
lets itself in, ruffles up your empty bed,
announcing how you are loved far beyond
these walls, in a new world where now your soul
concludes the concept "wind" cannot be found
in the vernacular, nor in the sagging sails
still at full mast on vessels run aground.
Your breathing quarters no longer limited
by sand, but by the edges of the sky,
this fresh ebb steals the sea from under your toes
and pauses as millennia go by,
while memory, as swift in backward race,
trips on the very spot where once the sand
bore the clear imprint of your shoulder-blade
and yet recovers no such sunlit place.
Things in the Morning
For Ellen Barry
Somebody from the past, as in Chinese predictions,
calls after New Year’s Eve.
The year is still so young in the Victorian mansion.
Then you squeak up the stairs.
A bright red drifting float, the sun disc bobs forever
there, in the winter sky.
And you pick up the phone. Gosh... Not at all... I promise...
Will see you soon. Good bye...
No past is real at 8 after a drinking party.
Things sleep like guests:
in armchairs, on the couch and even in the bathroom,
survivors of the feast.
Old friendship, do not call! Do not invade the garden
of stones and bleeding glass!
Befriend somebody else, my solemn winter Eden,
I want “to miss my chance”.
I shunned you and escaped in swift peregrination
your rigorous fine grind.
I’m a trashy gene of a stone generation.
And I don’t mind.
Cut, Occam’s blade, cut off clockwise in all three windows,
a bird—from its gray flock,
a single flake of snow—from all the winters
when I was missed.
My Sense of Time
The three conditions of classical drama
are fulfilled. There is a season for sowing
seeds, stones, drachmas and words
in a little yard with a bamboo backdrop
where it’s my turn to do the weeding now
in this unity of place, time and action.
This is my second life after all.
I have inclined the hourglass toward the fall,
turning the furry sky upside down,
and now see a fresh moon at my feet
confined to a puddle.
Let this be my new old house
with wet paint on the walls of the world.
Wait till rain cleanses
the ground of its latest signs and imprints.
For she lives best who doesn’t know
where she is from or where to go,
but makes ends meet in the end.
I’m a woman of thirty. I look older.
Mirror rain puddle, I take no offense!
There is a season for a woman’s face
to turn to a different sort of landscape.
There is a time to settle down,
because everyone settles.
Rain. The bamboo whistles about
a woman in a rustic prickly sweater
who sat on a porch, ate a peach, felt better
at the end of the 20th century, watched a cloud,
planted the peach stone
and was gone.
The Tale of Clear Pond
Once again we’ve settled down in the center of Moscow.
Leaving the house, we slip the key under the rug.
We buy our food at the little street market—
grapes, tomatoes, white cheese. Wine is cheap. Bread is dark.
The level of local life is low,
the ruble falls every day, and the same
can be said about the sourdough
of the clouds with the yeast of a long Russian rain.
Grapes! Tomatoes! White cheese!—salesmen yell. A door yawns.
Clear Pond, when it frowns, distorts our faces.
Clear Pond, where are your brown ducks and white swans?
Now we look from the bank at a crow that chases
its white shadow below in the wrinkled copper mirror.
Something is rotten in this city. But look,
the only one crying over the past is the weeping willow
bent over a muddy brook.
We once were a flock on these wet wooden benches,
but we left our nests and drifted astray.
Yet since the earth is round, the meridian trenches
have come a full circle in this rainy May.
The city has called us home for a season. And while the rain lingers
at the doors, we rustle our notebooks, call old friends,
shuffle days as trees shuffle leaves in their crooked fingers,
looking forward to other lands.
In my teens I worked as an archeologist.
All summer we dug into Scythian burial mounds
for big-bellied vases of red clay, for patina-painted coins
and bronze arrowheads that had pierced many hearts.
We looked especially for beads and gems
from the torn necklaces of Scythian women.
We soaked our finds in chloric acid
and cleaned them with brushes and sponges,
then left them in the sun to dry.
The arid August had drained our water supplies.
We bathed in and drank from a shallow lake
and bought produce from the peasants
working on the vineyard across the road
in their bright satin shirts and dresses.
We, in faded T-shirts and jeans, would
in the evening pool our funds,
cigarettes, black tea and coffee beans,
and trade them for bread, goat cheese, purple
bull’s-heart tomatoes, several kinds of grapes
gleaming on rough peasant palms,
making them look like roaming barons of the land.
We were young and hungry, stuck-up city kids
in the ancient Scythian fields of Moldova,
hunting for beads of time’s torn necklace.
When we sat barefoot on the lake’s bank,
eating and then rubbing ancient dishes with sponges
or simply wet sand, we knew we had lived here before.
When we had run out of everything we could
trade for life, the peasants sent us a gift.
Two young boys came with a basket of provisions.
They didn’t speak our language, we didn’t speak theirs.
We emptied the food out on big red clay plates.
Then came our last day. A rattling van stopped
by the camp. The two boy messengers
came to say good-bye, and all other folk
simply stood and watched as we loaded
crates of Scythian goods, packed our rucksacks,
put out the fire and took off.
I saw disappearing one by one
the village, the site, the silent group of peasants,
the lake bank and the lake itself.
I fell asleep I dreamed that all the treasures
in the crates had turned to grapes.
A Gentle Hibernation of Lovers
We no longer talk to each other.
When a continental October wind chases leaves,
plastic bags and bluish feathers of smoke,
we tell no fables and share no family stories.
My mother knits in a dull rocking chair,
my husband prepares tomorrow’s lecture,
I mind my late vegetarian dinner.
My mother can ask me only domestic questions
and is always generous with advice.
The current topic is Greek salad:
“Did you add olive oil, apple vinegar, basil?”
This kind of discourse, based on
existential trifles, violates no privacy, but
sometimes I feel like dropping the genre
in favor of something more confidential.
I no longer speak to our neighbor next door,
who studies anthroposophy and law.
All he cares about is whether
I really love Soloviev, that Russian Aquinas,
and what he really thinks of the concept of freedom.
I answer, freedom as an evolutionist myth—
“we originated from apes, so let us all love each other”—
is not freedom. I find no common language with the scholar.
I’d like to talk to my daughter, who seems to be
straightforward and light in her motivations,
but she has just turned eleven months old,
and our conversation falls short of a cognitive point.
“Pumpkin, where’s your orange ball?” I ask.
She listens diligently, grabs my shoe, bites it
and says: “Bunny, my bunny. Papa.”
We have eternity ahead of us to talk.
I talk in my sleep, my husband says.
Last night I caught the tail of a long sentence.
I had dreamed of a locked iron case,
a willow tree and a black starling’s nest.
“These are the three main symptoms of emptiness,”
I heard myself say and was
immediately awakened by my own voice.
I didn’t risk going to bed again and stayed in the kitchen
until the night evaporated.
It’s a pity that we no longer talk till dawn,
that we indulge in gentle hibernation,
betraying the feasts of conversation. It’s
a pity that we open a book and yawn,
and from then on
the only exchange we can count on
is a good-night kiss.
A silly sky falls on the wooden house
like a piece of cloth on a cage with birds.
What did I mean to say? I keep forgetting words,
I grow silent and thirsty, I seal my mouth
with a cup of sweet Lipton tea
with a moonlike lemon slice.
Good night, my love, sleep tight, good night.
Gogol in New York
Afraid of the chthonic dragons of his dreams,
he takes a two-horse carriage in Central Park
to go to Brooklyn to a gourmet store
recommended by a friend in St. Petersburg.
After two hours of circling around the Park,
the carriage returns to where it started.
Surprised and angry, Gogol shuffles a deck of dollars.
He appreciates the New Yorkers though. Young men
still looking like men, and young women
also looking like men. He likes
Buddhist monks for their saffron silks,
Catholic clergymen for their white collars
and black cassocks. Naval officers
in their white uniforms and blue service caps
make him amorous and happy.
He sympathizes with the local population
while elbowing his way through Harlem,
still hoping to reach that famous deli.
He stops to buy a Coke at Seven Eleven,
quenching his thirst for bitter Russian lemonade.
He dulls his nostalgia, his pricks of conscience.
He is still hungry, listens to the music
in his intestines and turns most decisive
about making it to Brooklyn.
At 11 p.m. Gogol folds his black umbrella.
Manhattan is still around him.
He devours clams at an Italian restaurant
and washes them down with white wine.
It’s getting dark and cold outside,
but the darker the street, the lighter the skies above it.
Alas, everybody speaks English here.
He knew that people spoke English in New York,
but not to this extent. He is mesmerized by the fact.
He needs someone to talk to at this hour,
he needs a Russian at this point in life.
Perhaps he’ll find one or two in Brooklyn,
if only he could find his way there somehow.
Leaving the house for an appointment with the dentist,
the first thing I saw was a dying rat.
It lay on the curb near the hydrant,
going through the shakes. People walked by,
nobody paid attention to it, only I stared.
Because, you see, as much as I’m afraid of
these animals, I suddenly felt sorry for the damn thing,
it wasn’t even an adult rat,
just a baby one: its silver fur was almost transparent,
and the pink skin could be seen through it.
Exterminators had done something in the building
several days ago; they had probably put some
poison in the basement. Its friends and relatives gone,
the thing was dying alone in the freezing light.
My heart pounded and my feet
grew heavy as I dragged them from the porch.
I said to myself: “You didn’t get any sleep last night,
because of the toothache, and now it’s just nerves.”
I looked back several times,
hoping the rat would come to its senses and crawl away,
and when it didn’t, I decided to examine the road
on my left and check whether drivers could see
the rat crouching on the edge of the sidewalk.
At first, the road was empty, but soon a rattling blue Honda,
appeared in the distance. As it approached us, me
and the dying rat, I recognized my ex-husband
behind the wheel. He also saw me, frowned and roared on
down Harvard Street. I hadn’t seen him for almost
two years and knew immediately
that he was still sore from our divorce. That made me
walk faster without turning my head. A dying rat
and an ex-husband in pain—more than enough
for the first three minutes of a walk.
In the dental clinic they told me I had missed
my appointment. “But I’m only ten minutes late!”—
“Ten minutes and two days, to be precise,” said the girl.
She was sorry she couldn’t help. I had misheard the date
on the telephone, mistaken the seventeenth
for the nineteenth. I made another
appointment and left the clinic, but instead
of going straight home decided to visit a coffee place.
I walked to the coffee place and couldn’t
stop thinking of the rat and of my ex-husband.
Why did it have to be so? It was his fault
that he was bitter and stubborn. But it was I
who had left him, after all.
I sat at an outside tbl, a paper cup in my hand,
trying to write something. (“Perhaps this will cure me...”)
My tooth started bothering me again,
but this time I almost welcomed the pain—it was so real
compared to my access of love and guilt.
I realized that I was freezing,
that my bare hands and my feet in my new summer shoes
were freezing. According to the clock on the arch,
I had sat at the tbl for two hours. A big
gray cloud had swallowed the sun and hung
heavily over the street. Others had gone inside
to find warmth and refills,
but I remained outdoors. The lights came on.
“Is anyone using this chair?” I heard a voice
and turned my head expecting to see
a blind person with a stick and perhaps a guide dog,
or else why would anyone ask such a question?
But I saw a young couple
not bothered by the imminence of rain. Their lit cigarettes
reminded me of us in our twenties:
withdrawn from everything,
almost saddened by the burden of love,
rendered helpless by its power.
“No, no one is using this chair.”
There is one lucid dream with open eyes:
I lie down on the floor, the ceiling a stage,
and see us gently floating, white on white,
or hanging still like bats in Plato’s cave.
We all adore loud colors, drink on the stairs,
smoke too much and speak too loudly,
drive ramshackle cars with broken gears
from hill to valley.
We mumble in English with a heavy accent,
dropping the articles like cigarette ashes,
and suddenly forget at the end of a sentence
its initial station.
We don’t really care what clothes we wear
and still enjoy French movies for their smack
of sexuality. We raise the collars
of our raincoats, turning our backs
on a stray foreigner finding a hotel
in the dark capital where we stay as guests
until we transit to a better world
as painlessly as moving to the West.