The past decade has been pretty dry for me, five of which I have spent
in Ukraine, as the years of writing in a vacuum began to add up. It was
not until a year after Iosif Brodsky's death that I felt compelled to write
again, resulting in my «Ode to an Untuned Lyre»
in his memory. Then again, the vacuum, the silence. Tick, tock, the clock
of one's mortality tailoring itself to one's heartbeat. And then, like
swallows after the longest winter you ever saw, a little over a year ago,
the words started coming back, forming themselves suggestively in preparation
for articulation. The «antediluvian legacy» was
born, it all started with those two words and the desire to come to grips
with time. I did not quite understand what the message was, what antediluvian
legacy? And even after I wrote it, it still was not clear to me. However,
I felt I had hit upon something like a dormant volcano, and it would just
be a matter of time until it errupts into something coherent and graspable
(«...Years later I erupt / Like some Vesuvius in a frigid land.») So I
waited with clenched teeth, as there was the bombing of Yugoslavia, which
pretty much made writing impossible for me.
Then the dog day afternoons were upon us, and suddenly the legacy began
to make itself heard in my mother tongue, (this being my borrowed tongue)
and I felt the stirring within me of some kind of archetypal fish off on
its endless journey. To spawn or not to spawn. Every summer I become obsessed
with rivers and am rendered totally useless as I dream of them and long
for them and can find no respite but in currents. I even would read about
fish, and like a child I would marvel at the complicated habits of the
sturgeon, the sevruga, the beluga. In my notes, I had once written: «Beluga
(Huso huso) (what a great classification! Huso, huso, so evocative
of a kind of lightning quick, primordial motion through the seas), ash,
white, Caspian, Black Sea, spends most of its time in the sea, goes into
rivers only to spawn, not nec. every year. After spawning, returns to sea
along w/ its young. The bigger it is, the farther away it will go to spawn,
from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean or the Adriatic. Most strugeon,
belugas, sevrugas entering the sea in the spring are young, those that
winter in the rivers are older and ready to spawn up river in the spring.»
And so I metamorphosed myself into a kind of Beluga in search of its
river of origin, usually they return to it for spawning. What prompts them
to travel such great distances is unclear. Yet it is somehow familiar,
having covered great distances myself, for no apparent reason. But as I
had no intention to spawn, I had to rely on some other image that would
fit into my personal mythology, and so emerged the gutted beluga, gutted
for her fish eggs, which like pearls are cast to swine. This rang home,
the ageless solution to the spawn or not to spawn dilemma. And I think
I rode it out to «the end of the road». But still, I was hesitant to let
this Beluga Dream be, she seemed so raw and
exposed, so I locked her up and threw away the key.
And then I entered upon another beluga-like journey, less virtual,
in the search of an author, Mark Kostrov, who
like some river God reigns over all the water routes of Novgorod. I had
read some of his essays in «Novy
Mir», and urgently wanted to find him. Just like that, to find him.
Why? Well I presume it is because of this common obsession with rivers,
though mine is much more greenhouse-like in its domestication. And what
would I say if I found him? I really didn't know, maybe I would ask him
to draw me a sheep. I just knew that it suddenly became a matter of life
and death just to find him. It was useless to try via «Novy Mir» as their
mailboxes are overflowing. So I searched via the Internet, I tried to find
his address through Novgorod directories, without luck. I spent hours searching
and searching for him all over creation until I stumbled upon a certain
site that posts his works in translation. Breathless like the beluga in
her obsessive course up multiple seas and rivers, I finally had reached
a kind of shore, unfamiliar though it was, and knock knocked a cryptic,
desperate S.O.S. out to its editor with something to the effect of, if
I don't find this Kostrov soon I will just asphyxiate with my gills exposed
to air. Said editor was a bit surprised to receive such cryptic message
and responded in a flash by sending me Kostrov's translator's e-mail address,
and in an aside to my aside was curious to hear that I had written a book
called «In My Borrowed Tongue».
Sometimes it takes just one good reader to break the entropic spell
of the vacuum.
And then came the deluge.
And here is its culmination.
«Dedications» was born in my mother tongue,
as a thing in itself, sui generis, without predecessors in my borrowed
tongue. As opposed to the Russian Beluga that had for predecessor my «Antediluvian
Legacy,» which also dealt with the image of the spawning beluga split open
by caviar smugglers. My Beluga ex machina.
«Dedications» came about out of something anthropomorphic, a need to
acknowledge certain things, symbols, phenomena in a deeper, more personal
context than usually is acceptable. A desire to alight upon that which
makes up one's immediate, intimate inner world. It began as a kind of haunting,
a self haunting. A coming to grips with being at the mercy of something
other than the visible, outer world. I did not need to go calling in search
of a cast, they found me, one by one, in fact, they were just waiting for
my third-eye projector to come around and focus on them. The lars of the
hearth, what I call «domovoy» for lack of a better term, was my first experiment
in the sui generis voice in the mother tongue. The context was new,
intimate, personal, and served to bridge my two selves. I exposed myself
in a way that I rarely would have done in the borrowed tongue, fraught
as it is with irony. And upon translating myself into English, I was pleased
to find that «Dedications» are indeed sui generis, and they were
not translations of translations of translations of words or contexts.
They had emerged as a kind of primary source. I had created my very own
primary source in my mother tongue out of God knows what kind of poetic
alliance! It begged to differ with my translation, as the context was no
longer that of my borrowed tongue. And the translation could barely do
justice to the original.
Created with the presumption that there is an Other, but that Other
is shattered throughout the various strata of this inner world... After
all, if one were to study the genealogy of the gods, one would surely find
that however many generations after the age of Hera but before the Trojan
war, the Muses did not precede poetry, they emerged once poetry began to
manifest itself in various genres. In the beginning, there was the Delphic
Oracle, and the Sybil's waxed prophetic in hexameter. Therein lies the
origin of the oracular nature of poetry. There were no muses to speak of
then, muses became necessary only once the oracular nature of poetry was
And it is the pre-muse inspiration that I have been trying to get back
to. Perhaps because the most ultimate muse I ever had was that voice which
is no longer. «My muse is gone, and with him goes my voice...» And in the
absence of such a voice that had held my attention for so long, I finally
came to find that everything had shattered into this kaleidoscope of multiple
others, and that one could find one's muse in anything. A leaf of grass!
In fact, what is the Other than a kind of Holy Ghost or Sofia Premudrost'
Bozhiya that permeates everything? A piece of wood with the depiction of
the deeds of the apostles is the metonymical image of the real thing. Amassed,
the Other is the animus for women, and anima for men. Logos,
in the latter case, and the eternal, undefined feminine, in the other.
And, as Jung wrote, «Whereas the man has, floating before him, in clear
outlines, the alluring form of a Circe or Callypso, the animus is better
expressed as a bevy of Flying Dutchmen or unknown wanderers from the sea,
never quite clearly grasped, protean, given to persistent and violent motion»
(from Aspects of the Feminine).
In other words, the guardians of the conscious threshold or the muses.
The twain to meet only in an alchemical mysterio conjunctium of
sorts, perhaps. One's poetry becomes a pony express with no final destination,
a kind of journey for the journey's sake, without really caring whether
or not the message ever reaches the intended addressee.
Then there was this other thing, this layer upon layer of being split
in two. The Cold War served as a convenient background for my own personal
dialectic with myself and the occasional bevy of Flying Dutchmen. It seemed
that once the Cold War passed, it too would pass, the internal dialectics.
But no, I found that the chasm had grown deeper and had take on Oceanic
proportions. It kept threatening to break out and become a chronic leitmotif.
(«...But first I must be ripped asunder / from the metal-working god /
who has rendered my malleable parts / null and void. I am no longer / his
angular wishbone to be / split after the feast of Thanksgiving...») I felt
I needed to investigate and figure out from where doth it spring, this
split? One thing was becoming clear to me, in a pythian kind of way, the
split that I had in mind was much deeper than any entertained this «past»
millennium. It seems to stem from some kind of old wound from time immemorial.
I thought perhaps it could be mirrored in the Graeco-Roman duality, in
that Russia had inherited the legacy of Byzanthium which, willy-nilly,
had Greece for its foundation, whereas the Anglo world had inherited the
legacy of fiddling while Rome burned and all its declining and falling
attributes. A Platonic caveat.
As Jung writes: «Just as outwardly we live in a world where a whole
continent may be submerged at any moment... so inwardly we live in a world
where at any moment something similar may occur, albeit in the form of
an idea, but no less dangerous and untrustworthy for that. Failure to adapt
to this inner world is a negligence entailing just as serious consequences
as ignorance and ineptitude in the outer world.»
As I attempted to neglect neither the inner nor the outer world, or
the deeper I dug my route from the inner world to the outer, the more it
all came together, namely that there was some kind of inherent connection
between Atlantis, the Delphic Oracle, and the Hyperboreans in this web
that I was weaving, and that the split that worried me had actually occurred
not only before the Cold War, the Civil War, the Napoleonic wars, and the
Greeks and the Romans, but right before the deluge.
There were ten kingdoms that were ruled by Atlantis. The Scythians,
the Hyperboreans, the Scandinavians, the Gauls, the Celts, the Greeks,
the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Mexicans, the Phoenicians, the Aryans, the
Chaldeans, the Egyptians, and the Berbers all had similar legends about
the flood, and there is evidence of pre-deluge contact among them.
The first Sibyls were said to have been Hyperborean. The first Delphic
Oracle was founded over the smoking remains of the Python slain by Apollo.
This Python was born out of the slime that remained from the sunken continent
of Atlantis. It was this smoke that made everyone who came near go bezerk,
and which prompted the creation of the Oracle right then and there.