Monday, April 11, 2011

Stopping the moment

Preparing for my trip on Wednesday, selecting some books for the journey, I came across a creased, beige folder stuck behind a bunch of dictionaries, of copies of letters I had had someone translate years ago from Russian for me. They were from F., a metal worker/dissident/political prisoner adopted by Amnesty International, who had been sent to live in exile in Kazakhstan.  I sent him a postcard once, and he responded.

From my post office went little packages of books [Thank you, Schoenhof's, for stocking Chekhov, Platonov, Tsvetaeva in Russian!], and socks, cigarettes, a magnifying glass, a hat, my nature photos, I've lost track.  From his side came letters and poems, animated discussions about grammar and fiction and life on the steppes.  I bartered with one of my then freelance clients:  I would type and edit his short stories if he would translate F's letters for me into English, as well as my responses in reply, in Russian, which I then copied out by hand.  It was the only way we could communicate, F. not knowing English, nor I, Russian.

From village of Krasny Yar, 1985:

"... among dark nights and the gray banality of days.   What we all should learn to do is to see.  I should correct myself: not everybody can do that; otherwise the world would have been populated by composers, artists and poets."

 "During the 2 months since I started living in this region of indefinite steppes, I had no desire either to speak or to write, as everything around has died.  But one shouldn't forget this joke: When you're in shit, don't sing.  I wish I could sing more, but the joke wouldn't permit me to do it."

"There is sun outside my window. And I want to sing and talk, but there is nobody to talk to. You wouldn't talk with bulls. But I see them, not during the day, I see them mainly during the night. When there is artificial light. And besides, they are quite stupid. I talk to them. And they listen. Their eyes are smart, and they want to lick your face. But they have tongues which are different from dogs' tongues--like sandpaper. So that's it. And if you are not careful, they will start chewing anything they can get--a jacket or a piece of trouser. Recently they ate my glove."

"Rereading great poems. You probably don't know this poet. About 13 years ago I discovered him. Nicolai Rubtsov. But this is a long story. Some other time..."

"I am one of the people who are called owls, and you are a Жаворонок (zhavoronok) [lark], so in this regard I am kind of lucky because I work the night shift from 7 pm to 7 am watching young bulls which are later used for meat.  Since I was born and bred in the big city, up to now I saw these animals only in pictures. At first I was kind of afraid of them, and I have about 500.  Now I got accustomed to it and even saw some interesting things about them. I can write stories about them.  They are very curious, more curious than cats. And really absent-minded.  They love attention but they are shy and timid, and if you stretch your arm toward them, they will jump away from you."

"This work is rather satisfactory for me, although sometimes it's annoying. Not so much because of the four-legged creatures, but because of the two-legged ones. They think that the hay which is the property of the village is very good for their own personal cows and horses...."

"Quite often people walk down the same road and they are not surprised, they don't see beauty in the mundane. But then an artist comes along the same road, and "Ah!" -- and rushes to his canvas. And people look at his creation and ask themselves, "I saw it myself, and never paid attention to it. It seemed to be mundane to me, but it is really beautiful."  And after that, when this viewer goes along the same road again, he will also start seeing the beauty in a modest flower, which grows up among rocks, and the softness of colors and elegant beauty of a separate leaf of a tree which is burning with autumn's fire..."

"...I walk home from my work, it is pitch dark ... through fairytale-like woods of poplar trees which look like bluish-silvery columns of light, or among rising, not water, but light frozen in the starry black infinity of the sky.  My language is unable to describe the beauty of this image."

"I wanted very much to borrow the words of Faust, 'Stop, moment--you are wonderful.'


It was that last entry ... that made me stop what I was doing, sit down, and re-read some of the letters.  So many years ago but ... like yesterday.

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