To Poets

By Nison Mikhaylov


As he took a seat on the park bench, in the hopes of drawing some inspiration for his writing from the natural mise-en-scene, a salutary recess from his arid, little apartment, indignation struck Vladimir as he regarded, what he called, a quite disgruntling sight.  Apart from a few leafless trees, his only visual stimulant was a field of snow.  After some time, he glanced at the blank notebook on his lap and thought, realizing the snow’s galvanic shortcomings, “Perhaps, I should look to the trees.”  The trees reminded Vladimir of a painting his Uncle Anatoly had made- The Tree of Weeping.  It contained a scene of long, wide, tawny bodies, with their arms stuck straight up into the air and their fingers sprawled against a yellow-brown background.  The bodies looked just like trees, with the torso as the trunk, thicker branches as arms, and smaller branches as fingers stretching and straining for the sun’s strength and warmth.  When questioned by Vladimir about the painting, Uncle Anatoly explained, “Our pain, loss and tragedy in life are reflected in life around us.  In the painting, the weeping of the people is closely interwoven with the trees. The life of the people and the trees became the same, with no more borders between nature and us. The trees are mourning our tragedy in the same manner we mourn their tragedy. The trees not only absorb the people’s pain, they become the people as well… and vice versa, of course.”  “Interesting correlation,” Vladimir ruminated, “but not enough material, there.”  The notebook remained blank. 

            Jaded, Vladimir looked back again at the snow.  He noticed a copy of the New York Post on the ground in front of him.  Dominating the front page was the airing out of a politician’s dirty laundry.  Despite the fact that this man was one of the few who stood up against the financial industry and white-collar crime, the public undoubtedly would command his immediate resignation on receipt of the news (infidelity, it seems, is a crime greater than embezzlement and fraud).  Vladimir started thinking about the media and how it is used to manipulate public opinion by employing yellow journalism so obscene it could only be out-yellow-journalized by the Gilded Age.  Just to make a buck.  Scores of stouthearted journalists across the entire globe (even in America) had – presumably, for millennia – risked their lives in the struggle for free press, and what do they have to show for it? – Gossip columns dressed as legitimate news: a five-dollar whore in ten-dollar clothes – the tyranny of state-controlled media superseded by the tyranny of money, of those dead presidents that represent and dictate the life choices of all human beings.  Maybe he could make something out of that.  Unfortunately, for Vladimir, the subject of his pondering quickly turned as some broad sauntered into his field of vision.  She was wearing a tight dress that was much too short, and, therefore, achingly inappropriate for the frigid weather.  This had vexed Vladimir.  “It’s just plain idiotic to wear that; I’m freezing my balls off out here and I’m wearing jeans.  She serious?” he thought.  The ice in his veins melted, however, after he remembered how fine she had looked- pretty, curvy, and thighs like a fucking horse.  The memory even left him feeling a scintilla of Schwepervesence, which, for Vladimir, was a rare occurrence.  Nonetheless, the notebook remained blank.

            The feeling did not last long.  Mercurially, his capacities shifted focus to the cheese making process, and then to what was in store for the Peaky Blinders in season 3, then to that song he had heard earlier in the week that he liked, but for the life of him, could not conjure its name.  Lacking control over his cerebrum, his thoughts soon devolved into paroxysms.  He was able to scribble a few incoherent figures on the page, but – the regions of his brain that created thoughts and controlled the movement of his hand in disaccord – eventually capitulated and ripped it out, throwing away what little he had in terms of writing material.  His breathing hastened as his pores poured a gelid brine along his forehead, armpits, back, area between the breast and the gut, and intergluteal cleft. 

He began contemplating the possibility of never getting an idea.  A reasonable conclusion, for his mind galloped so tempestuously, he could count the number of times he saw a thought to completion on one hand.  This made writing a particularly herculean task.  Albeit, this did not salve his want to become a writer.  The alternative was unconscionable- 40 hours a week in a fluorescent-lighted charnel, slaving for The Man until he dropped dead from overwork, loneliness, and depression.  That, indeed, would be a waste of Vladimir’s time and intellect and both he and I know it.  “I’ll never make it,” he thought, “not like this, at least.”

            Languid, lacking the fortitude to focus, even on his deficiencies, Vladimir began to notice the horses inside of himself sprinting with great swiftness.  Vladimir had been able to ignore them for some time, but did not possess the constancy to suppress them any longer.  It was as if the saddle had seized him, making escape insuperable.  He pleaded with them to slow down, to ignore the lashes of the whip, to no avail.  As he drove blisters into the horses, he drank the air (his throat was quite dry), swallowing the ever thickening fog that surrounded him.  He groaned, “Умоляю вас[1],” as he felt his aching body decomposing.  “Чуть помедленнее, кони; чуть помедленнее.[2]”  His horses were capricious; as their thirst increased, they ran more vigorously, pulling Vladimir ever closer to The Edge.  For a moment, he thought it best to submit, to allow the horses to drag him past the Edge, into The Chasm- a felicitous coda to an existence frequently punctuated by torment.  After noticing the blank notebook on his lap, however, Vladimir jettisoned this notion.  It is too early, he resolved; he had much more to accomplish before any of that, despite the allure of a premature conclusion.  Taking a flask from his jacket, Vladimir watered his horses.  He closed his eyes, stretched his limbs towards the sky and let out a sigh.  Done stretching, he put the flask back into his jacket, light up a cigarette, and started for home, chanting, “Чуть помедленнее, кони; чуть помедленнее.”  The wind gathered and blew mercifully against Vladimir’s back as the trees sighed with him.
 

II

           

As Vladimir approached his apartment door, he took a moment to muster his domestic façade before entering.  He was still cogitating the moment he had had at the park, and, despite his borderline- perhaps fully- psychopathic ability to conceal his emotions, he had been drinking and was too weary to take any chances; Marina’s suspicions and, therefore, inquiry into his personal matters would only serve to make him feel more bereft.  He checked his watch; it was 18:48; surely, Marina would be in; hell, she probably even finished cooking dinner by that time.  She had just finished setting the table when Vladimir, fully cloaked, opened the door and entered.  She sat down at the table.  Vladimir corralled a bottle of Vodka and a shot glass before joining her.  After taking his seat, Vladimir poured a shot, drank it, and then ate a zakuska.  Looking down at the bowl in front of him, his malcontent vanished, for soup kharcho, Vladimir’s favorite soup, a dish that Marina prepared exceptionally well, had graced his senses with its euphoric powers.  This feeling quickly evaporated as Marina, the fabricator of the woe-eliminating soup, posited a simple piece of news, “Nikolay Alexandrovich telephoned today.”  Vladimir shuddered with revulsion- internally, of course; he felt the need to keep his secrets just that, secrets, for as long as he possibly could, regardless of the fact that, as far as he could tell, Nikolay Alexandrovich had telephoned to divulge the details of an emprise Vladimir had been involved in at work that morning.  Heartily, Vladimir declaimed, “What’s that jive turkey up to this time?  Wait, I think I know.  Did he mentioned something about getting Method Man tickets for his son?  Boy does that kid like this Method Man character.  Ha ha ha!”  Vladimir, in addition to his job at the fish market- his supervisor being none other than Nikolay Alexandrovich- scalped concert tickets part-time.  “No, nothing about Method Man,” replied Marina coldly.  “That’s odd,” said Vladimir as he poured and drank another vodka- fortifying himself for an imminent guerre verbale

 “You got into some sort of brawl this morning?” she asked.

“I was fighting Arkady Ivanovich for Christ’s sake.  He’s harmless.”

“Leaving your family to worry sick.”

“That cocksucker owes me 20 bucks!  What type of scum borrows money from a guy- a friend, mind you- and doesn’t pay him back for six months?”  He drinks another vodka.

“What type of friend curses and fights his friends?”

“Fuck Arkady!  Arkady is pussy!”

“Well, despite your heroic battle for justice, you managed to lose your job.”

“Fuck that job!”

“How are we going to feed our unborn child and pay the rent without you earning?”

“I’ll get another job.”

“Just like that?  I didn’t know I was married to a sorcerer.”

“You’re being facetious.”

 “Why don’t you look for a job at a bank?  You have your degree and you know economics so well.  You could do really well in that field and we wouldn’t have to live hand-to-mouth anymore.”

“I get it now.  It’s all about money with you.”

“How dare you?”

“Oh.  Who’s the one always asking me for some cash, then?  Who’s the one spending the little money we have on trinkets and tchotchkes and clothes and hair and makeup and shit!  You want me to be a slave – to sell my soul for dollars – so you can buy things! End this charade and admit it, already.”

“You think I would have stayed with your broke-ass if it was all about the money?”

“It’s because your religious yokel parents indoctrinated you with the barbaric notion that there’s some sort of honor in poverty.”

“You call everyone a yokel, you asshole.”

“Because most people are.”

“And what are you?  Brilliant writer?  Bullshit!  You’re just a cynical jackass.  Your writing, sorry to say, sucks!  It’s just a bunch of sentences thrown together without any care or foresight.  After one figures out the definitions of the fancy words you carelessly vomit onto the page, one realizes just how stupid and pretentious you are.  That’s when you actually end up writing anything.  Most of the time you claim that you’re writing, you’re just getting drunk and complaining about some bullshit.  Writer, my ass!  All you are is a no good drunk!”

Vladimir convulsively and contemptuously stood from his chair, pushed it away (breaking it, mind you), and raised the back of his right hand to Marina- his muscles tense, adrenaline and testosterone scurrying through his bloodstream, breathing deeply, his eyes vehement.  In his left hand was the bottle of vodka.  He had unwittingly stopped using the shot glass and was drinking straight from the bottle.  “I’m no fucking drunk!” cried Vladimir.  After a short pause, Marina- crouched in melancholic apprehension- retorted, “Just look in your hand.”  Vladimir looked down at his left hand, then back to his right- still raised.  Vladimir lowered his right hand, relaxed his muscles, and slowed his breathing.  As rivulets of brine forged themselves along his visage, Vladimir stared Marina in the eyes and pulled a pair of diamond earrings out of his pocket, tossing them onto the table.  “I may be a drunken asshole, but you’re a whore,” said Vladimir contently.  Vladimir did not buy her those earrings; both he and Marina were aware of that fact.  They had been a gift given to her by her paramour- Nikolay Alexandrovich.  Marina began to cry and would not stop until morning.  Vladimir drank another vodka, grabbed his guitar, took a seat on the couch, and sang:

 

He drank until he swooned on the couch.

 

 

За[1] меня невеста отрыдает честно,

За меня ребята отдадут долги,

За меня другие отпоют все песни,

И, быть может, выпьют за меня враги.

 

Не дают мне больше интересных книжек,

И моя гитара - без струны,

И нельзя мне выше, и нельзя мне ниже,

И нельзя мне солнца, и нельзя луны.

 

Мне нельзя на волю - не имею права,

Можно лишь от двери - до стены,

Мне нельзя налево, мне нельзя направо,

Можно только неба кусок, можно только сны.

 

Сны про то, как выйду, как замок мой снимут,

Как мою гитару отдадут.

Кто меня там встретит, как меня обнимут

И какие песни мне споют?

 

For me, the bride will weep honesty,

For me guys will give debt

For me others will sing all songs

And, maybe, my enemies will drink for me.

 

I do not get interesting books anymore,

And My Guitar - without strings

And I’m not allowed higher, or lower

And I can’t get the sun or the moon.

 

I can not be free - I have no rights,

I can only go from the door - to the wall,

I’m not allowed left, or right,

I can only have a piece of the sky, and dreams.

 

Dreams of being out, and the lock is open,

Of my guitar being returned.

Who will meet me there, who’ll embrace me,

And what songs will be sung to me?

 

[1] Lyrics originally written by Vladimir Vysotsky

 

 

[1] I implore you

[2] A little slower, horses; little slower