Most of what I write is fragmentary: notes on the run, sketchy maps to carry me back to subconscious treasure-chests, or a line “from” a poem, left on the page like one sock in the laundromat.
I rarely go back these days; I don’t have the time. But perhaps some of these stand on their own.
From the top of the Empire State Building, the smog is a filthy blanket over the city, the city a rumpled sheet over the Earth. You check for patches of green the way you’d check the bed for crumbs. “There!” I exclaim, pointing to a potted tree forty stories high, a dream landscape that makes no sense. But what does? In a city that never sleeps, how do you distinguish what’s real from what’s a dream? The city pulses with life, and everything peculiar to the night flourishes: the night crawlers and the phantasmagoria, the rough and beautiful faces, the passionate eyes. Don’t stop to make sense of it. The soul in the after-world is warned not to be drawn to the lonely, forlorn spirits that clutch at it. Not to be taken in by illusion. Here, it’s all illusion.
Back on the street, where rudeness is ritualized, where eyes meet less frequently than car fenders (“At least they’re honest about it,” E. says. “It’s better than tight-mouthed Southern hostility.”), we look for a place to get a sandwich. In the deli, there’s an argument going on. I can’t figure it out — something about the customer not wanting to repeat his order. The counterman won’t give an inch and refuses to serve the man, who is embarrassed and angry, the veins standing out on his neck. I’m braced for actual violence — over a sandwich! — when the counterman suddenly dismisses the whole thing with a wave of his hand. “Come on,” he says, “be a nice guy.” The customer shrugs. “You be a nice guy,” he replies. It’s over — a ritual as exotic as a high mass or a tribal dance.
Outside, the sign warns, “ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT FOREST FIRES.” E.: “This is the last place in the world to worry about forest fires.”
I’m writing this with your pen. No matter what I say, it’s yours. There are words, but they float in another body. In your eyes, I saw oceans. Now, they’re shrunk to eyes, and I can’t swim and you won’t see. In marriage a name is given. In death it’s carved on stone. I move upon you like a chisel. When we’re done, we remember who we are.
Searching for the “roots” of my pain — my childhood a carrot on a stick, leading me where I lead it. We can explain ourselves to ourselves endlessly, or we can live.
Russia invades Afghanistan, and the United States, playing the outraged suitor, wags its hips at China. The problem of relationship is global and personal. What are the boundaries? Who do we kiss and who do we kill?
We draw boundaries between ourselves and the world; our minds and our bodies; one part of our minds (the acceptable, the “me”) and another (the unacceptable, the “not me”). Unlimited by nature, free to wander the mind of God, why are we afraid to cross the street?
Nations arm themselves. Lovers ambush one another. I draw the line here, and try to communicate across it, language the boundary and the bridge. I’m Russian, two generations removed, in a world Russia and America may yet destroy. My mother’s father came here to make his fortune. My father’s father emigrated to beat the draft. God bless America. God bless the dollar bill and the Bill of Rights.
I feel Russia in me: dark love and laughter, and loneliness across two continents, the long march, the breaking into song. Oh Russia, to know what it means to be free and to so distrust freedom.
Your tears know where they’re going. The Earth draws us. Down, down, into each other’s lives, no heights of happiness to photograph against a sunny sky; even the sky is falling — that’s no lie. We tumble — your dark eyes flashing, your white arms and your bones like clouds. A love without walls, without ceiling or floor.