mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sport 28: Autumn 2002

Arkadii Dragomoshchenko — Here

page 154

Arkadii Dragomoshchenko


Translated from the Russian by Evgeny Pavlov

The texture of rumour, gossip, chatter is intangible and indubitable. We unravel it thoughtlessly, never hesitate to spin it every morning. As is known, the number of people photographed since Daguerre's discovery exceeds the number of people on Earth.

Some threads become entangled, and then, following little knots, as in a forest of ancient quipu script, groping memory finds unsteady voids of metamorphoses. Photography is not an instrument of evidence, no matter how easy it may be to accept the likeness of its images to the original. Evidence presupposes documentary confirmation, i.e. affirmation (casting in stone and casting off) of facts that have taken place. What sort of affirmation?

Where? Today, I'm sure, I can afford—without regret—the pleasure of forgetting every possible thought—each and every thought that emerges at dawn when light has no trace of existence and the uselessness of birds is as beautiful as the German argument that ‘I’ is not the name of a person, ‘here’ not the name of a place, and ‘this’ not a name at all—at night, or even more so, by day, no matter when, where, or how many times. Because there's another thing I know for sure: thoughts are doomed to return. Sooner or later. Most importantly though, one needs a lot of good music. Loud music, perhaps? No, I'm saying good, long music whose length may not exceed the duration of a silk thread pulled through a crack of silence.

It's unimportant what these thoughts will look like, what cadences they'll wear, in what order they'll approach. Difference makes no crucial difference. Azure hawks on the oilcloth are glued to a purple background. It's pleasant to merge with flattened mercury.

In the late 60s Boris Aleksandrovich Kudryakov would come to Café Saigon in St Petersburg (the Saigon of the old days where one drank coffee and mended one's spirit with sour wine), to fix his eye page 155 on the mediastinum of the misted window. Fourth table from the entrance, if you remember. A fact is a conventional unit of measuring the breadth of history. But one can't touch a fact, one can't say that ‘my standing in front of the monument to Peter the Great is an indubitable fact of my life.’

But if things indeed stood as I just described them, then there'd be no square, no disturbance or prisoners' escape, no monument entwined by bronze grapes: there'd be no subjunctive mood or mirror car hood with its pool reflecting clouds adrift in the sky, while behind the wall old sleet was falling, which in no way suited the person doing the describing (maybe even myself), as though he who wanted to convey sleet's disturbing charm in a letter—an envelope was already on the desk—didn't know how to do it, or rather, didn't know what to do with words ostensibly quite suitable for describing such a feature—or such a particular—of the landscape as falling sleet, because his ability to use them (words, one would imagine) was limited by the experience of habitual and boring meditation on rain (one day, after forming the habit of scrutinising evening light and wishing, as we now know, to conceal his weakness, he'd say, ‘one must think of rain casually, in passing, as if unaware of the very thought of rain—but can there be a separate thought of rain, and if so, what exactly would it be?…’)—there he was in his element, yet he was completely out of it at the moment of vision (the eye's blink), when despite all habits, the nakedness of snow revealed itself by leaving its course against the background of some glass (or it may have been a wall) instead of the expected monument, street corner, photographer in front of a group frozen in expectation, instead of what seemed promised by premonition, of what was already imprinted in the imagination as the idea of all—but the difference between the ‘true’ state of things and the things themselves which eluded all authenticity with reprehensible ease was still hidden, probably remaining in the sphere of assumption, and one may consequently assume, in the sphere of not excessively avid guesswork—in a disposition akin to the empty envelope lying on the desk, now a bit closer to the edge, and since it was quickly getting dark, showing up starkly white in the dusk, as the wall showed up back then, in the early evening when by changing the angle and page 156 focus of vision one could take it for a window, and moving away from its aperture, could see brickwork, ivy lashes, while memory also allowed to look outside, as if memory or he who possessed it returned to the desk, the envelope, and the landscape of snow which was now finally in my full possession. But nothing was mine. Not even the second person pronoun.

At home, a still life was being shot (indeed, by itself). This act was preceded by a lengthy preparation involving a skilful assembly of a cardboard tube glued to a set of lenses carefully selected from various optical devices, including a children's slide film projector. ‘My’ relation to the ‘monument’ is determined by a great number of prerequisites and possible consequences in whose web the action of being by the monument occupies a very insignificant place. Thereafter, the most accurate temporal calculations are conducted, and the camera is hoisted on a tripod by the desk where several objects are placed in the required order: dried pomegranates, spectacles with a broken arch, a long-neck bottle, a skeleton of a corvus corax, snow, and a screwdriver. Sometimes, a roll of matte, wonderfully shiny wire. A still life for the Other. The insignificant position of two conjoined objects is probably determined by both the randomness of their relationship (let us remind you that neither the ‘monument,’ nor ‘I’ in any way ‘expressed’ the desire to be together, to be conjoined by some sentence in order to expect later separation) and—we can say this too—the semic insufficiency of one of them. Indeed, if the definitely stable semic nucleus of the word ‘monument’ or, say, ‘she’ governs layers of contextual semes, then ‘I’ is empty (or infinite and hollow from the start). The latter lexeme has no nucleus whatsoever; it is nothing more than a cocoon of ‘contextual semes’ returning or reducing ‘I’ to a point, same as a knot is the perpetual deflection of an illusory straight line.

I, to be honest, would say, as I did at the beginning, that ‘I’ is reduced to ‘voids of metamorphoses.’ But it's not my business.

‘I’ and its reflection on the threshold of divisibility is an ink opera. But occasionally Levkin would visit. Icy sidewalks were depressing. A chequered book in his pocket was his counterbalance as he walked against the wind, leaning forward on the ice and sheltering under the eyelid his amber left eye that preserved its schistose Mesozoic lens. page 157 His right eye was nonetheless wide open to the boredom of embankments, to the cheesy palm trees of the North, and to him/her who desired to see Alexis sneaking across Three Rouble Bridge, air balloons hovering above Del Mar race track, and the still life ripening on the desk of Boris Aleksandrovich sitting there with his eye fixed on the mediastinum of the sullen window, sucked into the whirlwind of time like muslin is sucked into a sleeper's throat, or to see emeralds hanging motionlessly in the stillness of Russian fields as the foam of Dom Perignon disappeared in moonlight.

Exposure time equalled the time of taking an unhurried walk from Borovaia St, of drinking a cup of coffee, or having a chance conversation. The time of returning. The still life required 4-6 hours of time. Insomnia doesn't contain any elements of the latter. We can't photograph yesterday's quarrel, thoughts that came to mind a minute later, a dream reminiscent of a dream seen twenty years before, while crossing Erteley Lane (back then, a rat crossed the field of vision), a book page suspended in the jelly of a canal, the face of a person on the bus, and much else, from all of which the desire to be photographed by the monument was woven. Hoarfrost surrounds the space of action; then it entwines marks of places and changes.

Patience and one's absence intersected at the point of intention. At that time Boris Aleksandrovich had no idea that twenty years later Martha Casanave would also start gluing lenses together in order to make the album Camera Obscura (later renamed Mother Russia). The album was dedicated to St. Petersburg. Sooner or later comes the moment when the hero's voice attains the critical point, the point of terminological forking. Of course, we'll gladly capture all of this on film. Given the desire and proper agility of the imagination, one could also picture a dream (movies are made that way), but every time it would only be a stage, a certain increment, a particle easily divisible to infinity.

Yet Petersburg was originally dedicated to Boris Kudryakov. The city's offerings to the photographer, writer, and artist were modest. But they didn't fail to leave a tangible imprint in that issue of ZOOM where photographs of what we call the ‘city’, our still life, were published. On the other hand, they didn't include my favourite one: page 158 the still life with a burning book. All things are interconnected. I purposely say nothing of his books. What does it mean, ‘throw a piece of soap at me’?

Once, his photographs were hung on washed, white walls, and people studied them as they talked to each other, moving ever closer to those walls. Some managed to transcend. The walls were amazingly pliable. But they weren't mirrors. What were we?

Reflection closes in and opens up like a white sheet generating the non-coincidence of fire.

You were what you remained—there, not here. If one likes, one can reproduce, cluster by cluster, the sought-after sequence of elements. Yielding to vertiginous patience, one could extract from nothing, one after another, ‘all’ fragments from which logic and habit would finally be able to produce the requisite texture of rumour, gossip, and chatter, indubitable and intangible, and which would be at once thoughtlessly unravelled (as if something were missing, as though an invisible error had again crept into the impeccable balance)—in order to be immediately woven together again. The silence of a trite metaphor is calming. It would be calming if it didn't refer to your return that keeps the inarticulate form of an always-already-accomplished future and that hits you with the persistence of a pendulum in impeccably unexpected places. Sometimes I'd slip on the stairs. Sometimes your features would flash in webs of ivy on the fence of the Botanical Gardens; occasionally, a black bird would gleam at the window (we don't need to know its name), and the smell of sun and melting snow would take eyelids by surprise, and nothing else would happen, while next time petrol fumes and cigarette smoke would weave a light thread out of irritation, urgent desire to take a drink, and of the universal non-sequence of tenses. A thread whose tension doesn't affect either the moon or its own length…but what's the point of turning around if you're already peacefully crossing shadows cast behind you by midday wind? One should have written: hills. Yet, as far as I understand, no one intends to run. Indeed, where to? Everyone remains in place. Everyone is calm and merry. Besides, multiple perspectives require the utmost precision of fingers, of the eyeball and muscles dragging page 159 memory along the word's orbit from one layer of fog to another. Some fix their stare on the mediastinum of a misted window, others stand by a monument, someone else sticks his face to the mediastinum of a viewfinder, or leans over an open book at night, turning pages with a consecrated knife. Their mouths are full of Cambrian clay, their ears filled with love dreams of poppies. There is probably no remembering how it started. In any case, it so happened that ever since eighth grade, those of us who couldn't leave town for the summer would get together at the house of Maria Sweikowski. She had come to our school a year before—moved to the city from Lvov with her parents. At school, her blond ponytail, thin body and impassionate expression didn't strike anyone's fancy. But she was noticeable precisely for the inconspicuousness that in itself changed constantly and imperceptibly, while altering and not altering her appearance. More than anything else, she loved trigonometry and basketball. And since girls at our school preferred other sports or were indifferent to sports altogether, she practised with us at night and was a first-rate player. Neither then nor later did any of us wonder why her brother's last name was Ugarov, his father's, in whose apartment we'd be getting together a year later, feeling entirely at home. Lieutenant General Ugarov only showed up in autumn, at the start of the hunting season. He served in Tiksi where he commanded a corps of some strategic polar aviation. That was where the General lived. His wife Ksenia Leontyevna, Marysia's mother, a skinny, raven-black brunette with gypsy earrings, lived in Moscow from where she would only emerge for her children's birthdays and where, as Marysia once said, ‘she feels better than in the provinces, i.e. here, because she's an actress—and for other reasons too, but we needn't get into them as they've got nothing to do with our lives.’

Meanwhile, our lives, particularly in summer, when only three or four of us stayed in town, now seemed like simple cuts of a home movie (even though memory diligently and indiscriminately tries to pile it all together in convenient pictures)—perhaps because we also had a movie camera, their father's 8 mm Konvas, and never stopped filming—in the streets, on the beach where we'd hang out for days on end, in the empty school to which we had keys and where we'd develop the film every night and watch the cuts taken during the day…Or page 160 else we'd shoot hoops. The gym was cool and dark from overgrown chestnut trees by the window.

I'm not sure I remember a single frame from the hundreds of metres filmed (where are they, those metres, by the way?), yet that life does come to me now as a collection of episodes forever lost, depressingly silent at that, because what enters the field of vision is just moving mouths, faces whose expressions only hint at lively conversations—one can't understand what about. I see gestures that would have had to go with words like ‘pour me some wine’, ‘where will we go tonight’, ‘open the window’, ‘find some music’ (a Telefunken radio), ‘pass the cigarettes’. But words live on their own, and I may never be able to put them to image.

Sharp shadows on walls. The film's low sensitivity forces one to turn on all the lights in the house. It makes the apartment unbearably hot. When one turns on the light, windows immediately blacken, and the rooms fill with swarms of moths and midges. A transparent black veil whirls on the walls.

Sometimes I think I see Marysia's face up close—her drooping straw hair (she's leaning over an ashtray), her collarbones, yellow eyes. I think I can reach out and take a crumb of tobacco off her dry, slightly sun-chapped lips, but I know (or do I in fact remember?) that if I did it, I wouldn't be able to touch her shoulder, with the strap of her dress faded to cinders, underneath which (as we all know very well) there is nothing—‘at night, one feels so light.’

I don't do it. Perhaps something distracted me at that moment…I don't do it because I also don't know what words are being said there. It's boring to invent them. But words, no doubt, exist. Where would they go. No, sometimes they come from there, appear, so to speak, out of the blue—yet one can't guess when, from which direction, and how they'd sound, how many of them there'd be. But one doesn't need to hear them. They can be observed.

I remember telling her (we are walking up the stairs, the window on the landing is open, she sits down on the windowsill—below us, there are streets and the trembling, late-morning haze over hot roofs) that when I say the word ‘Kiev’, I see a huge, dark dumbbell in the blue night sky.

page 161

But, she says, could your dumbbell have been just a knoll when you first came to Kiev as a child? Could've been, I say, that's probably how it was…Here's another underlined place: we keep planning…that is, we say we must get together and plan to do something because ‘we can't live this way any longer’. To do something means to go to Pechora, it's no secret to us that the Sweikowskis have a direct link to Pechora—in a word, before it went over to the Pototskis, Pechora belonged to them, and before them, to the Zbaraøskis; the latter had acquired it from Prince Dukas who had ‘bought the empty Cossack Ukraine from the Tsar of Turkey for no small sum and filled it with left-bank people to rule over them, and for his Princely Residence ordered that a famous house be built across the Bug, in Bratslawa land, in the town of Pechora.’ We didn't see the famous house, we didn't go anywhere, of course—no one had a driver's license—in a few days we forgot all about it, and only years later did I visit Pechora on some business and spent an endless, muggy day in the company of an insane tour guide and graveyard marble.

That night we have a long, lazy argument about how there is nothing else to do in town—‘do we really want to spend every day at the beach.’ The windows are wide open. If I'm not mistaken, they opened out, and we were lying on the floor where we had two jugs of turbid Moldavian wine, a dish of apples, and a few ashtrays. ‘My cousin is coming from Kishinev,’ Aleksandr Kotelnikov breaks the silence. To which Marysia's brother replies as he plucks, with an effort, the awl from the rim of the tennis racket he is mending, ‘School holiday! That's what you mean, isn't it?’

The windows looked out on a steep, long slope covered with lindens, mulberries, and ancient, fruitless plum trees. The slope went down to the river. In proverbial times, the whole area belonged to the Odessa merchant Kumbare—they called it Kumbare Gardens. So we used to go to the ‘kumbaras’, i.e. the beach.

Looking out of her apartment in the morning, one could see the ferry close to the granite rocks. The ferry seemed a faded matchbox. A very different, flat city stretched out across the river. I lived in it. The river and the sky didn't differ. In eleventh form, Lieutenant General Ugarov, god of strategic aviation, died in Tiksi of a heart attack. Her page 162 brother had long been a student in Moscow, at the Institute of Physics and Engineering. Marysia managed to visit relatives in Warsaw a couple of times. Once in winter, once in summer. That summer left no memories.

It was the autumn of our last school year. Marysia hadn't come back yet. Once, on a late September night when everyone in the house was asleep, and I sat in the kitchen staring at empty pages in front of me on the table, she knocked on the window. I say ‘she’ because as soon as I heard the knock, I realised that at that hour it couldn't be anyone else. I got dressed, walked outside, we got into her father's car. It smelled of petrol. It was a dry autumn night, the moon was in the trees.

High up in the heavy sky, among sharp, large, summer stars, a few bright clouds were visible. ‘I've been to Italy, but try not to tell anyone. I could get into serious trouble. You too.’ I kept silent. Then I asked her how she managed to get to Rome from Warsaw. Turning the ignition key and looking in the rear-view mirror, she said it was a long, not an entirely simple story and that she first needed to sort a few things out for herself. She also said that if I insisted and made her tell me about it, we'd have no time left for other things. I asked her about her brother. Turning onto the empty main street strewn with crunching leaves, she replied she had no idea and asked me if I wanted to go away with her. Where to, I asked. To Italy, she said, or someplace else. When I asked her what I would do there, I heard her say, ‘And what are you doing here…’ She drove slowly, deep in thoughts, while I looked at our car drifting in the waves of dark shop windows. When we went up the stairs and entered her apartment, I suddenly thought I'd never come there again. Perhaps I had that thought because reality pulled its shadow off everything. I briefly pressed my hand to the hallway wall. The wall was an ordinary wall. But that's what it had been before. In the morning, as we lay there without having had a wink of sleep, she said, ‘Funny, this building: six floors on one side, nine on the other.’ At the end of the week, she went to live with her mother in Moscow. Forty-four years later, I saw her at Vantaala airport, in Helsinki.

page 163

I was returning from Los Angeles. She sat with a book in her lap at the far end of the terminal where I was to board my flight for Petersburg, and where I spotted the only remaining smoking section. There was a leather bag by her feet and a glass of red wine in her hands. Next to her, a group of American students were having their picture taken.

She was clearly in the frame. On the plane I asked for a beer. Much to my surprise, they brought me a free Bordeaux, though they usually charge for alcohol on such ‘local’ flights and, in general, it's best not to get up. Yet one step is allowed: to the windowsill on that hot, myopic morning, where I see you sitting on the landing, emerging, as it were, from depths of silt, effortlessly tilted in the oval of cool echo behind whose straw-coloured underwing an eye-breaking space stretches out—roof tiles, streets flowing downwards, your dress wet to the waist. Young fish whirled about your ankles. One could add: below (at the bottom of the page, in a footnote) there are fields of sunflowers. As if seen from a hill. By the wall, one sees slanted threads of still dust:

‘No one's needed here. Never will be…I want to bite my hand because…and I know it's impossible…still I realise how useless it is…Will I ever remember this, this, what do you call it…happiness? Give me a cigarette.’ A lens in a bundle of slippery, yellow grass, soft skin.

But don't lose this from your sight: there, beyond the crossing, further down, in the bluish haze of burning peat bogs, is the brickyard. Who is talking to whom? Power lines.

Marseilles. May, Saturday, 2:20p.m. A bar across from Garibaldi Hotel.

‘For your information, I changed the word order in ‘an insane tour guide and graveyard marble’. Instead, I suggest ‘in the company of a graveyard tour guide and insane marble’. And this change reminded me of an idea. Let's say, we have ‘B at arrives and A from departs train a’. When human consciousness is unable to ‘make sense’, i.e. unable to ‘comprehend’, in a split second, ‘the mind’ puts everything in place, it ‘restores’ the sentence written, as it were, backwards, to its ‘normal’ A to B order.

page 164

Thus, the reader does not see the ‘present’, written sentence, for the sentence is immediately ‘explained’, i.e. turned the other way round (a train departs from A and arrives at B) the moment the eye touches the text. One remembers people who suffer from a relatively well-known affliction that has them read the word ‘dog’ as ‘cat’. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the paragraph starting with ‘that night we have a long, lazy argument’, the Institute of Physics and Engineering mentioned later, some stray cousin with a dubious future (what did you really want to do with her?), and the romantic car ride are all the beginning or middle of another story that has nothing to do with the present time.

But please, leave the General and the ‘kumbaras’. Just imagine how perfect it would be if a certain M. left for Moscow immediately after her father's heart attack and then appeared again in the same phrase, 44 years later, but at another airport. By the way, how does a German argument sound in German?

Ob meine die Bücher sind? Ob mein das Bein ist? Ob meine die Sprache ist?’ ‘But perhaps, this isn't what you need.’

Now I'd be able to reply that forgetting crystallises history as it rids the latter of ‘reality's’ excess moisture (see ‘imagination’; footnote not included here). But until the time is right, it is hardly legitimate to say anything about forgetting that's more or less comprehensible. A child doesn't know the word ‘immortality’ either (see ‘Time swallows their images before the Standing One’—the Book of Amduat); that word shows up much later—always immutable, matched by the thoughts we already mentioned that merely change their positions as they come and go. Various measures are often taken in order to avoid succumbing to the charms of their permanence, and these measures aren't always approved of by the population and government.

In a letter left unsent 23 years ago, we find:

‘[…] cold spring sunsets over the islands. Inscrutable light on the backs of books and wallpaper. The pale blue of the sky on the wall, near the temple, and tree branches, or rather, tree tops flush with the window. I'm addicted to scrutinising the light that lies around. At first, it simply fascinates, then it becomes an obsession. Light that page 165 travels with time and denies existence to the things it envelops. Then another question is in order: would the description change if things changed their position on the map? What if force were applied? What if, for example, one switched adjectives, i.e. attributes? One time I decided to give up alcohol—the previously amusing haste of colours fringed with phosphorescent lighting and the unnecessary quickness of temporal transitions were losing their allure, turning—as can be easily guessed—into something like an annoying oxymoron preventing me from fully enjoying the sunset, from following it as it lighted the backs of books, people by the monument, a photographer with a camera by his eyebrow, a car rounding the corner with a frozen reflection of a woman straightening her stocking in its raven-black hood, a street…I left alcohol with the same indifference with which in my youth I left marijuana, literature, the future, the house of childhood. The decision gave me back (albeit for an unthinkably brief moment) the rarest pleasure of inexplicable clarity, of beautiful, polar emptiness, and of the complete superfluity of one's own life—a feeling you gave me to experience here for the first time, of which, however, I'm not entirely certain either […]’

Worn-through shoes as though framed with a millennium-old sun. Last summer, a boy from a ninth-floor apartment passing here with his mother saw a pigeon trapped in the window. He tore his hand from his mother's, dashed to the bird and dissolved with the pigeon behind the window. The window remained. A frame is never included in a painting's cost. One pays extra.

Birds will lead children, rappers, and clowns beyond the Horn of Sunset, into Fields of the Dat. Incidentally, Charles Olson wrote at some length about one of these birds. Why a kingfisher, not a dinosaur? It wasn't that manners, customs, and habits were obstacles, or that they, more than other things (and on this I insist), moved some to an in-depth study of ornithology.

In another place, but also here, another son squashed his mother's eyeballs so that she wouldn't see him killing her. Obviously, as one may expect, he didn't find any money. That's what always happens. Could it be that birds laugh at us? Do they remember about…what do you call it…say, happiness? And if they laugh, then when? In the page 166 spring? At noon? On the edge of a forest? Was the extinction of people a consequence of their evolutionary impotence or of sterility? Here I'm prepared to object: never before have they spoken so much of inflation, children, Jews, and trips to the United States of America.

When last November Boris Aleksandrovich Kudryakov was receiving on a Moscow stage the Turgenev Prize for his contribution to the development of Russian prose, he leaned over my shoulder and whispered in my ear, ‘If only they knew that in your favourite photograph a volume of Turgenev's works is set on fire, I'd never be getting this prize.’

Now we know what it took to take my favourite still life: a) 2 (two) bottles of dry Rkatsiteli wine—consumed with Boris Smelov; b) 1.5 litres of kerosene; c) two boxes of matches. The still life was taken in the shadow of a railway embankment near Gorelovo station.

‘And meanwhile’—like the mouth's black crystal dug through by moles, or like a fish in silver scissors requiring the aloofness of fingers—is a photograph by a monument documentary evidence? If so, of what?

One could surmise that the desire to photograph lies in something else. We don't take photographs in order to preserve, in order not to forget (i.e. not to lose) this or that, nor to add to the world archive yet another image of something whose meaning immediately evaporates from the latter the moment it's touched by vision. It is more likely that we take pictures in order yet again to come near the irresolvable contradiction: the desire to ‘photograph’ something outside the jurisdiction of the eye, light, shadow, chemistry, polygraphy, time, memory, hope, etc, something preceded by a vague certainty that the ‘future’ (still nonexistent) image has always already been in the mind, without, however, possessing any ‘image’. Consequently, the act of mixing interacting physical substances (glass, plastic, metal, silver) with bodily manipulations distributed in time by the logic required for the design's execution is in fact a method of ‘visually’ demonstrating the very ‘mental figure’ that makes one convinced of the reality of one's own existence whenever it suddenly becomes necessary to make the affirmation and to repeat this, perhaps, ideally tautological procedure that doesn't extract anything from anything else but merely page 167 changes the direction of the gaze. ‘Experiencing’, ‘scrutinising’ a photograph, one is, in fact, least of all inclined to start an investigation of, or an Einfühlung into, the simultaneity of absence/presence.

Things are simpler. We want to scrutinise ourselves with the photograph, we want to scrutinise ourselves looking at the field of vision, and the desire to combine conclusively the outside and the inside view means to bring together ‘future’ and ‘past’, to remove the ‘between’, which is impossible, because only in this ‘between’, only in this desire to bring together one and the other are we doomed to remain—we are ‘between’. The present is never ‘fullness’. The figure of death does not clarify anything no matter how many times the observer exhibits it. One seldom succeeds in fully exhausting the uncomplicated feeling of regret.

Every attempt to take a photograph at a wedding, during a trip, or funeral, by a monument, round the corner, on a roof, in bed, here and there, then and later is another and still another, much more meaningless attempt to convince ourselves that we are. Unfortunately, such conviction never comes. Even, for example, if you cut your wrists, or hear that you've inherited a SoHo apartment. What comes instead is sometimes a bad weather forecast or pages covered with writing; occasionally, a line of translation turns up, distorted beyond recognition.

Sometimes the original is lost for not entirely clear reasons. But what precedes this loss is, as a rule, the loss of the language in which it was written. Confusion grows. After how many editorial changes, one may ask, after how many corrections and insertions determined by the desire for authenticity (faithfulness to the source, truth?) will we consider the first version canonical, and, subsequently, original? The attempt also finds no resolution in possible answers to the question of whether I possess the leg, books, language…Sometimes birds are held answerable by ordinary passers-by. By people. Not necessarily military officers. Not necessarily with cameras. People like you and me. Fans of the Internet. Of Heraclitus. Beer. Feasts. Auspices. People with knowledge of organic chemistry. Les connaisseurs.

The third option is given as a pretext, a bond, a possibility of yet another landscape substitution. This is why the imagination easily page 168 pictures something else—according to Boris Ostanin at whose dacha Boris Aleksandrovich was a frequent guest. We see his figure moving away to a distant field of sand. On his shoulders he carries a desk of fir-tree boards that he built himself. In places it is reinforced with aluminium wire similar to the kind that holds together the spectacles on the desk in front of the cardboard lens stifled with blue insulating tape (we haven't forgotten: screwdriver, wire, brickyard, thoughts…). It used to be called aircraft tape (blue sky, speed, other countries), and was impossible to get. The world in which I finally found myself is as simple as a child's game. Everything in it echoes everything else. Coincidences aren't always sincere.

And they don't always count. Obliqueness has its own charm. Therefore, sooner or later, a passer-by knocking on a door is given a warm welcome, and after a short time (overcoming embarrassment, he has only just started talking about friends of his youth, his first love, his hidden dream and student years), he awkwardly discovers he is knocking on the same door again. But is it the same door? Is it the same passer-by? The same telephone number? The same photograph? The same Jerusalem? One thing is known: in half an hour, we find ourselves observers in a space exposed to all winds and to drizzling rain. A man is sitting at a desk; he bears the least relation to what we call ‘we’. The man does not participate. He is writing.

‘They've all gone their separate ways; I've come to this life as to work, the sand man is thinking. And what do I get for it?’ There isn't much choice.

The man writes letter after letter.

Letters run in the rain and blend in a message. The man, no doubt, reads the message as he writes the letters.

In the message that unflinchingly unfolds in ink blots, there are detailed instructions on how to correlate letter with letter, word with word, and the rest with the rain, paper, war, things, fear, the hexagram ‘smashing’, toothache, questions, past, tobacco smoke, poetry, stupidity, you name it…

Besides, it follows from the message that neither the man, nor God will receive a thing for it—gratis.