is the author of five novels, most recently Daughter!
I Forbid Your Recurring Dream! He operates Fugue State Press, a publisher
of experimental and advanced fiction. He lives in New York.
© 2004 James Chapman
everybody in this country is dead or arrested. Look, here is a citizen of
Leningrad who's even feeling fine. He still has his work (silvering
mirrors), he has his family (they see him sometimes) and even has time for
a hobby: he collects autonomy, he gathers it into his republic, and each
day his republic breaks away. This is a way of speaking; in plain words,
he's a soak. He finds freedom in his hobby, like many good workers do,
but in his case his hobby is collecting time and spending it freely.
cannot love without adopting the opinions of those you love, it can't be
done. You may say you've done it, but was it love? How did it end up?
Did you suspend judgment, night and day, refrain from criticizing, did you
keep your beliefs to yourself? Or did you both argue, love, love and
argue? Are you still together? Forgive these questions. We are taught
early on that we love our parents, whether this is true or no; when we
first learn the word love our
feelings for those people are given us as the example. This man, the
drunken mirror-silverer, he hates his wife, for the quite common reason
that he knows his mother hated her. His only other choice would be to love
his wife and learn to hate the memory of his mother; this would have been
more brave. But an exalted man is able to love and forgive absolutely
anybody, and this is where alcohol comes in. Drink is the suspension of
judgment. Unfortunately, when he drinks he beats this wife of his, but he
does so in sorrow, his soul overcast with philosophy.
move on, we're stagnating. He's not here in the Summer Garden anyway.
You'll find him under the little bridge at Lebyazhaya Kanavka, in the
company of no other experts in his field. The Summer Garden is fenced in
by iron railings topped with gilded deadly spear-points, and this citizen,
whose last name is Jewish, who is no less than a Goldberg, he is not
comfortable in the Summer Garden, he prefers this cement shelf under the
bridge crossing the little canal called Swan Ditch, a shelf nobody sees,
where you can sit and drink enough undisturbed to be capable of
understanding the river.
the mirrorer has breathed enough silver vapor to possess mirrored lungs,
and when he drinks he feels the silver rise to his brain, making slippery
and easy the pieces of world which normally resist him. He is a member of
the Party, proud of it, and he hates Jews as much as any drinking Russian.
me, I understand your question, but it can't be answered unequivocally.
Better to ask, is he still Jewish while consumed by his hobby, or not? Are
you still a mailman when a car is hitting you? When you're falling off a
cliff, are you thinking about brushing your teeth? They put wings onto
birds because without them a bird is not enough. With wings a man could
float above national problems such as the presence among us of the Jews,
he could float above his own little house as easily as doing cartwheels
past his mother's grave, he could drift to the horizon and find out
what's happening in the land of other opinions. His passport, under
Nationality, says Jew, but what is a passport to a bird?
Sufi who didn't mind getting executed by religious experts could say God
is me, and thereby create something that would always stay in the
minds of men, even though the Sufi in question, Shamsetdin Tebrizi, did
not last long. It was a question of the freedom to make remarks. This
outstanding mirror-silvering specialist sits under the bridge even on the
coldest day of this cold year, because he has looked all around, he's
tried to find the arching Russian sky with burning stars into which a soul
can rise, and he has found only a tempera-paint sky pasted with foil
stars. But he knows that with a bridge over you, hiding you, you can cry
out as softly as you like and still be heard. You will be heard.
knows more about Sufism than he knows about the Jewish prophets. He knows
intimately more about the effects of alcohol on blood circulation than
about Marxism-Leninism. He knows more about deceitful faces than about the
NKVD. He is God, and has decided to run the waters of the Neva backwards
until all the saboteurs and rootless cosmopolitans are washed out of the
city. Tsar Peter watches him, giving thanks. All the historic conflict
between capital and humanity is pivoted on Goldberg's drunken wrist as
it floats on the air like a feather. Nothing can harm the man of faith,
because the man of faith has the freedom to talk to himself.
turns his head so he can put his ear to the concrete of the bridge. He
hears every footstep in Leningrad. He will be listening. He will be here,
at his post, waiting for the flight of birds, he who believed in the new
utopia, and in the fathers of the Revolution, and who gave his life to the
future creation of Communism.
who was rejected, Goldberg who rejects everything, furious at the cement
bridge, the filthy water, the smug pigeons, the moronic sunshine, the
cretin snow. He is no longer expansively but fascistically drunk, wanting
the bullyboy heaven to open for him, the heaven of freedom-for-me,
where the world will have to respond to the turn of that wrist, the wrist
that looks so big from where he's standing, all right he's angry, he
knows what happened to all the friends whose graves he cannot even visit,
because we do things differently here than in the decadent West, where
graveyards just lie there shameless.
stares into the water because he will never be considered anything but a
twig on the surface. All he can achieve is an antisocial, parasitical,
private, unimportant transcendence of his own unimportant unhappiness. A
chain and a noose for you, my friend, if this were old Russia. In the new
Soviet, you will have the opportunity to die unseen. Only a few comrades,
the sentinels of the basements, the workers of machine pistols, will see
you in your ditch.
you are dead, you will have wisdom, so plan wisely for your death. The day
will arrive when Goldberg is able to accept the extremely outlandish,
inexplicable life he is confronted with, and say, I
will shut up, here. Here is what I don't understand. He will say I'm
not qualified and become silent. Silence his diploma.
We mention this man because on the day Stet was arrested, Goldberg also disappeared. Nobody knows whether he managed to disappear without the assistance of the State. A legend says it's possible to buy false papers, change identities, and start again, no stigma and no memories. They say you can efface yourself so well, you won't even remember the cruel things your mother used to say to you. If that's so, then perhaps Goldberg's still alive somewhere, a Grigorenko now, autonomous, a hidden bit of light like blackened silver.
All work is copyrighted property of James Chapman.
© 2004 SubtleTea Productions All Rights Reserved