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Aleksandr Skidan

Tr. Genya Turovskaya and Natasha Randal

Red Shifting

These entranceways look like plundered tombs.

Crypts, subjected to invasion and desecration through the back door of history — during an epoch which itself has long ago departed into the realm of legend.

Others produce the impression of labyrinths, withdrawing into the thick of recollections of the ice age.

Double exposure allows one to discover the ghostly, hallucinatory nature of the latter.

They flake away from the retina, as though decaying, peeling plaster, under which emerge ever-new geological layers.

Behind their procession, in the rippling patina of softening contours that have no time, no capacity to form into an image, the gaze rests on the stigmata of radiant transparency, nearly emptiness.

This is how time closes the dead loop.

And together with a slow seepage of its viscous, glutinous substance into the pupil, history coincides with its own origin: violence.

The point of crystallization.

The messianic coagulation of the course of events.

Deincarnation is equal here to the acquisition of sight.

Glistening magnesium scar stitching together its disfigured tatters.

Echo, fallen away from the moist element of the voice and wandering in the stagnant water of amnesia. Relics of endemic expropriation.

Very soon these entranceways will acquire a wholly different look.

Grief will go out of fashion (has already gone out).

We are present at the last gleams of historical truth — its ruins. The continuum of history needs to be exploded.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

When G. moves into the English language, it’s as if she peels away, like a transfer sheet, from the blurring image of herself, with which, it would seem, she had become related.

The language is transforming, becoming unyielding, drier; commanding little notes of irrepressibility are awakening in it, and forces, attracting and repelling, squeezing into some sort of vacuum.

It’s as if she is moving away and with distance, she is taking possession of herself.

Her mouth has been contracted into a self-sufficient pleonasm.

Locked in an impregnable idiom.

Sealed by the Roman alphabet.

An isolation, passing into boundless estrangement, intoxicates, as it does others — a tiny birthmark or a scar on the shoulder blade.

Or the slight asymmetry of features.

I fetishize the voice.

Its trunk descends with roots into the deep of the throat, the whirlpool of the esophagus, the bread of the stomach, into the Babylonian manger of debauchery, where you can drown with such abandon.

And, every time, I assimilate it more and more.

Bewitching intimacy.

Just say it.

She gives me pleasure — with her tongue, in which I barely manage to keep up with her, feeling, as if I am turning into a foreigner to my very self.


More and more often this pleasure begins to cause pain.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

(what a horrifying dream... and yes, very kafkian. it seems to me to have so much to do with the power of language — you pronounce yourself guilty, you are pronounced to be arrested — your confinement is in word only — you can leave but you choose to stay. the source of your guilt (hashish) is simultaneously symbolic of home (the keys). you want to write a novel but remember that you are in russia — you can escape to new york, but you lack the “keys” to get in. and so you live below ground, in a small civilization, a sub(way) culture — where life with its movements and celebrations goes on.

strange, but not so strange...)

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

A pay phone. A call from G.

A few times in a row I mistake the number nine for six, but manage it in the end.

I’m at home, call me back.

In an hour and a half at Uprising Square.

On foot along dug-up Nevsky.

Change to a trolleybus at Kazan Cathedral.

I get off at Pushkinskaya.

While I sit on the steps and read an old issue of KhZh (from the stack that Denis finally did the honor of returning to me) that has the piece by Breton on Trotsky, I am approached twice with an invitation to buy grass and once by two prostitutes.

You need anything?

Through their teeth, in passing, immediately heading for the next client.

One is plumpish, sort of scary-looking, with a bloated, high cheek-boned face, in a sun dress with bare shoulders and ugly white platform shoes; the other is slim, in tight-fitting jeans and a sleeveless top whose straps crisscross her exposed back.

The enormous claret lips of the first one; and the beautiful, spiteful eyes of the second one.

The last guy “in line” expresses cagey interest.

They stop their circuit, and begin bargaining; they walk off behind the newspaper stand, discussing something anxiously, and then go back to him. At that moment, from the corner of my eye, I see G. approaching.

Over an espresso with ice cream at “Sweet Tooth,” I ask her how serious is her love affair with K. (Two of his photographs from the portfolio alternate with urban scenes, and portraits of me, taken during her last trip here, about which I blathered a bunch of stupid nonsense in the hotel.)

What does he do?

A musician, he writes romance novels for money under a pseudonym.

After a pause: we met each other at the presentation of Bowles’s book.

(I take out a cigarette, and before my eyes are these two photographs; I want to forget them, want to see them, but in order to forget them, I need to write about them, and in order to see them — I need the opposite: to be with G.)

She also takes a cigarette and lights up.

He’s lovely.

Yes, I agree with her.

(In fact it’s impossible to destroy a photograph, impossible to tear it up; this many-headed Hydra named in honor of the one born under the sign of Saturn B., the myopic, short-winded Jew, who ejaculated in a grotto on Capri into the little palm of Asya Latsis.)

He is homosexual, isn’t he?

(She taps the ash.)

He helped me. And I helped him.

(She exhales smoke.)

I think you understand.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Svidrigaylov is leaving for America.

About this “departure” of his I gave a talk at the University of Iowa in 1994.

After the talk a Chilean writer sporting a newly fashionable goatee asked me to write down Svidrigaylov’s name in the Roman alphabet.

He had read Crime and Punishment but didn’t remember that there was such a character.

Hey, you, Svidrigaylov.

What do you think of pleasure?

It is what each person imagines for himself.

And pain?

Pain — pain is something other than pleasure but not so much other as to be its contrary. In certain cases pleasure arises in the conditions of a certain rhythmic alternation of painful sensations.

Will you fly in the hot air balloon with Berg?


You aren’t afraid of death?

When I photograph myself alone at train stations or airports I throw away or tear up the photograph into little pieces, which I allow myself to throw out the window if it’s a train or leave in an ashtray or inside a magazine if it’s a plane.

(A pause.)

The fear of death lacks its own particular content, it is analogous to the fear of castration.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Was ѓ. present at the talk? I don’t remember.

In any case, she edited my text, more than that, made a fair copy of it. I had shamelessness enough to do this with her hands (hand).

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Tsaplya. The Blok Museum. The Priazhka River.

But before that endless telephone conferences.

V., coming down from amphetamines, collapses into bed.

Tsaplya is getting ready, it seems she’s actually about to leave the house, but at the last minute changes her mind.

On the third try Kirill finally talks her into it.

“The determination of the Blok number”

The tour is led by a faded lady in light-colored pants and a turquoise blouse. She speaks barely audibly, like in a church. In the bedroom, lowering her eyes and observing a pause, she imparts that much nonsense has been written about the relationship between Blok and Lyubov Dmitrievna.

Lilac worlds of wallpaper.

The rose and the cross.

Wharves in the window.

Kirill can’t take it any longer and goes downstairs.

(In 1981 — the museum had just opened — the tour guide also wore something turquoise, if I recall correctly a cinched dress. But she was much younger and taller: a heavenly creature, with translucent skin through which shown venous blood.)

Outside the sun is again blinding.

It’s as if they give something like a vow of chastity here. On a higher plane of devotion some stop menstruating. Only after this is it possible to begin true worship. Then they are taught to levitate. To enter with closed eyes into the dark temples of his soul. There are twelve steps in all. On the tenth they already know how to suspend breathing, and the name of Sophia is conferred upon them. On the eleventh step he comes and drinks their blood.

No, it’s they who give him blood transfusions.

And the hangover has vanished.

Andrey Bely speaks of how Blok used to return from the Islands, and puke all over the corridor whereby he of course terribly interfered with his, Bely’s, resolute declaration to Lyubov Dmitrievna. In a certain sense I even sympathize with him. Really, you’re about to make your resolute declaration, and there’s Blok, back from the Islands, what a mess.

And on the twelfth?

The twelfth what?

The twelfth step. After the blood transfusion.

He sets off on foot for Shuvalovo.

Why to Shuvalovo?

Because it’s there that one particularly feels the mysterious triviality of the world, which he so loved.


About as much as a French heel. Unfailingly sharp.

In museums there’s always something of the crypt.

What did he die of?

Of nervous exhaustion.

Poor man.

Later, in a little café on Galernaya Street we bump into Andrei Kliukanov, who is reading “The Sheltering Sky.”

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Dream on the eve of G.’s arrival.

I meet A. at the airport, we are riding to the city.

Insouciance bordering on insanity.

Later on a bench near a pond or some kind of gully in the park, and at the same time as though in a tiny garden on the corner of Dostoevsky and Razyezzhaya Street. To my left is A. To my right Vasya Kondratiev in a black motorcycle jacket, pants and shoes, and behind him — someone else. And Vasya is constantly falling forward, “nodding off,” doubling over like a gutta-percha boy, and we have to lean his body against the back of the bench as if he were drunk or falling asleep.

It’s unclear how we came here with him at all.

With the back of the head I can feel the proximity of the street separated from us by a (rather illusory) thicket. It can’t go on like this much longer, one has to do something. With the body that is.

At a certain moment I notice that a wall glimmers ahead. Little by little it becomes more definite, as if reality itself were moving closer and closer to us. It’s the wall of the telephone station. The place suddenly starts to feel familiar. (Before we were “nowhere.”)

It’s as though the lens I was looking through was brought into focus.

I don’t feel horror. It’s just that V. needs to be straightened from time to time.

Now A.

As always her appearance is an unbearable happiness. I thought, we all thought that you died, but it turned out you were just away. For a long time. Why? It had to be like that. But this without words, with glances only.


As if a barrier is concealed in the very act of touching.

And again, as if the dream used my knowledge for its own benefit, since my knowledge consists precisely in that touch is impossible.

I have two dead people on my hands.

Do I want the resurrection of A.?

Judging by the persistence with which she returns to me — absolutely.

So it’s a miracle that I want?


However this madness, this miracle has a “prototype.”

A.’s nocturnal phone call from America.

“Nothing else remains besides the desire of the organism to die according to its way. And not partially in its own and partially in someone else’s. Only in its own way.”

The thought which I didn’t have the power to say out loud.

(For a second it seemed that I had touched her.)

[GT & NR]

Aleksandr Skidan

Aleksandr Skidan

Alexander Skidan (b. 1965 St. Petersburg) is a prolific poet, critic, and translator. He has published in many journals, including Kriticheskaya Massa, Vozdukh, and Oktyabr. His most recent book of poemsRed Shifting was translated into English by Genya Turovskaya and released by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2008. He is a laureate of the Andry Bely Prize (2006).

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