I'm warning you: Будешь воспринимать Кузминского в серьез, погибнешь.
-Alexander Bulkin, a.k.a. Sergei the Breadroll
Sometimes you can take a fetus in an underdeveloped state, which, against the wishes of scientists or other voyeurs, cannot remain static long enough to observe: just as there are stages in the development of language that can last only an instant, when two words mean exactly the same, since nature will not tolerate it, just as there are elements which can only exist for a millisecond before they decompose into something else, since they are radioactive… So you can take an organism and place it in a jar with ethanol (the famous marinated tomato did recall an anecdote from his days as a biologist when colleagues used to drink alcohol of a законсервированного fetus, a drink, in times of dry despair, known to them as младенцовка- a cocktail approaching the magnitude of Benny Erofeev's explosive nirvana drinks), and by placing the organism in its own element, in a universal element, it will remain forever in that state, a remnant of a moment in the past, frozen in time.
Пацаны, or not the пацаны who themselves dared to utter that word, a contextual perversion of urban Russian slang, only in mimicry in the ironic condescending confines of the stairs under the subway bridge of Brighton Beach… Anyway, the пацаны rented a van, threw in a couple of blankets and pillows among which they would later smoke and drink and sniff God only knew what, then picked us up from a mouse and still-life- ridden flat in Brooklyn (where I had comfortably slept, for the first time in days, under two Macintoshes belonging to one of the пацана, who was a talented and educated young man, later turning out to be a coke dealer), and drove us to a "state of mind," keeping the identity of the entity I was soon to meet a mystery, and for the better.
Five original inhabitants remained in that tiny Pennsylvanian поселок, at that time comfortably under five feet of snow. But we walked in suspiciously into a two-story crooked house or shack, of the kind that the blurs the border between array and disarray when you approach a whole multitude of those wooden toys scattered in the Russian countryside surrounding Шериметьево Airport, in a despair evoking airplane. Of the kind that accumulates new rooms next to old ones that don't change, stacked up just like Freudian stages of development… And so, crooked, cluttered; a slanting Borgesian stairway (if it was not so covered with dust) leading upstairs to a couple of rooms with Magritte-like paintings from various emigre artists, all in disarray, and many depicting, in one way or another, an old prophet-like man with a protruding beer-belly (which he claimed to have cultivated on the beer and food of Vienna), and smallish genitals.
The prophet, now aging, лежал на печи by the door, surrounded by a computer and a television set, which is all in the front room, сооруженная из досок старой дачной избы. On one wall was a collection of weapons, on the other, стаканы с советскими подстаканниками, маятник весящий precariously с деревянного потолка, at which I looked up wistfully, after being handed an authentic Mauser (unfortunately not loaded- I asked) and being told that it was the same kind that Fanny Kaplan used to shoot Lenin (and cause him excruciating headaches, in the film of another Serb besides Kusturica).
The Santa Clause, bearded and in disarray, was entirely naked except for a hanging bathrobe, when he finally stood up to lead us, his apostles, into the kitchen. His hair and beard hung in icicles just like the ones hanging off the roof. His belly hung out like a глобус, as though he had swallowed the world. A massive silver cross of the Orthodox style dangled in the opening of his grimy beige bathrobe. A perpetual cigarette hung out of his mouth. Sometimes he smoked two at the same time. He had lounged on his bed for so long that there was a permanent imprint of his massive amorphous body in the dirty mattress, but I read an inscription given to him by one of his followers now hanging by the staircase (I don't mean the follower, although that would not have surprised me too much), that said the following: here lies below Kostya Kuzminsky, на пече своей, с ребятишками, что приходять к нему, с собакой своей знаменитой, that Russian Wolfhound, wasting away in old age with its beautiful Russian eyes, лежа пластом на диване в соседней комнате.
Mad tea party? The calcified Russian intellegentsia habit чаи гнать? Зубоскальство? Я ведь дрожала, и хотела умереть, ибо там даже не понимала, на каком свете нахожусь, ведь каждая ночь после моего прибытия была переночевкой на чужом диване, пока я искала место, где можно было выспаться. I had slept most irreverently of all on Clinton Street like that, выгнав из собственной комнаты that pseudo-intellectual dandy, что одно время пристально ко мне домогался, and locked the door of his apartment overlooking East Village rackets.
As the great poet, and greater colleague of one Kovalev, with whom each year Kuzminsky produced an anthology of Russian avant-garde poetry which every time, as he said, found itself in every major library, but not in its catalogue (from this follows Bulkin's melancholy observation among the New England сугробы that he was saddened by that, что все это произходило так безпутно). But what saddened me was Kuzminsky's conviction that "one does not write for an audience. You mean you would go to Russia for an audience, girl? And you are not a real writer? A real writer пишет в стол, ибо he doesn't write for something, but because of something, and that because is the futile hope that somewhere there might exist that one person that might understand what he's talking about.
"When Yuri Shevchuk (from DDT) was over here, he was showing me his lyrics for that new song about Chechnya, and I said to him, 'Yurka, you sing to a big pile of shit, where some whore gets on someone's shoulders and flashes her tits around, you think she gives a fuck? They're all fucking you, and you're not the one above them with you poetics and your politics.'"
So why write?
"Let me put it more accurately," Sergei the Breadroll interrupts, sipping a glass of tea and a cigarette, "why publish?"
"Because every writer has that one false hope…. You know, back in 1963, when I helped publish one of Joe Brodsky's first translations, everyone rolled barrels at him, so I went over to a friend and colleague of mine and his and asked for help in unwinding him abroad. My only excuse was, 'of all his friends, you're the one that despises him the least.'"
His anthologies. I am not sure whether or not they really manifest the Bread Roll's observation, but one weakness of the Marinated Tomato, the prophet, the Dirty Old Man, the Great Kuzminsky, the weakness that was most painfully revealing, was a young Eduard Limonov-ish writer called Mogutin.
"He's an amazing kid, he really is. I mean, when he's interviewing some fascist motherfucker who's all washed up anyway, he puts it together so that the bastard comes out looking like an idiot, without Magutin adding a single word." Condescending puff on a cigarette or what not, exaltational inflection in the voice (he is speaking a raspy, obscene Russian) which is hybrid not of some washed up 1960's pseudo-intellentsia, for it is more direct and artistic than the intellegentsia itself, hybrid- hybrid of what? Stagnating man, a wasting Solzhenitsin drunkard…. "He's lived here for three years, he's renting the same room old Joey Brodsky used to live in, but he became a prostitute in the Village. Of course that was after he tried to arrange the first gay marriage in the Soviet Union, when he brought that hoard of journalists to the ZAKS. You say it's difficult to read, too shocking, gives you a headache? You know Limonov, right? But the thing is, when this guy talks about Calvin Klein, he really fucked him! It's not an exaggeration, he fucked Elton John too!"
It was true: Magutin, one of his "favorite students," was the representation of a large bohemian following.
I slept in a room that was full of crates stacked upon crates of articles, some of which he used to prove his alienation and superiority. These included articles from various newspapers like the one from UT in Texas (where he taught) that mentioned a certain avant-gardist Punin merely as someone who occasionally slept with Anna Akhmatova, the shallow significance of which greatly insulted the Great Kuzminsky. I would often feel the burden of arrogance that hung as thick as the smoke of hashish and solitude in that house, especially noticing the plastic baby doll nailed and crucified to a Soviet red star, which hung there для прикола, to annoy his American guests.
But his anthology, read seriously by about 100 people on this sad earth, he treated with extraordinary sacredness. He compared it to the "Строфы века" anthology, compiled by another emigre poet Evtushenko (Евтух) with the help of-
"Vitkovsky?" I remembered with glee, picturing again the famous long-haired old intellectual, the erudite (who prompted Bruno Niverre's "A poet in France is a very strange man…") at the pleasant smelling ЦДЛ building on a pleasant smelling spring day in Moscow….
"Yeah, I know that son of a bitch. Thing is, Evtuch throws him a couple of poems from my anthology back in the Eighties- you know, I forgive Evtuch because he's not a professional editor. But Vitkovsky knows who I am, and uses them without mentioning their source, and I just can't respect a man like that."
Same with my love Leo Rubenstein, whose publication in Berlin was along with Kuzminsky's students, but whom Kuzminsky called a bore to my disappointed pallor. I was afraid to mention my half-famous husband lest I got a similar reaction of recognition. So I didn't.
Before I could ask myself what status a mammoth like that was enjoying here, claiming that "there's only one man on earth that drank more than me, and that was Benedict Erofeev," he answered himself, and his answer, to me, was sad: "Once we stopped over in this town in upstate New York, and went to this restaurant- you know joints like that, cafe and bar all in one, seats maybe ten people. This American waitress broad comes up to me with these huge eyes, and asks with a gasp like I'm the Second Coming, 'Are you Alexander Solzhenitsin?' My friend got pissed when I said no."
And that was after, as a biologist, he claimed to have known "a broad from the circus with three legs and two pussies…"
Upstairs, в уединении, I thought I'd mentioned everything, listing each cutting remark, each obscenity, identifying aspects of what he'd seen and slept with (I don't know whether his constant criticism of Nabokov was in any way related to the fact that during his drunken youth, when he used to wander around the Village in a white kaftan frequenting the Ali Baba shawarma basement on Bleeker with fifteen year old Russian girls, he did happen to sleep with one such girl, who had previously seduced her own father). But realizing, upon stumbling downstairs and seeing the same gathering of two or three cynicisms around that lounging Bacchus in his beige bathrobe, that every other sentence out of his mouth was something to the effect of "by the way, Uspensky, my god-father…" I understood the hopeless prevalence of his superficial disillusionment with every writer he adored. When he first met his great friend Allen Ginsburg in Austin, Texas (I had managed to see that man in Norman, Oklahoma when I was twelve- along with old Evtuch pitifully in Tulsa) their relationship started out with Kuzminsky's complaint, "you know, they used to feed us shit in the Soviet Union, but you, Allen, you feed us shit in a sandwich!"
Исчерпано? But мое изнемогание было следствием не перегрузки информации, ни глинтвейна, ни бани, посели которой я, повалявшийсь голой в снегу, наконец-то благополучно напилась, а следовало оно из замкнутости того мира, в который я попала, и из невозможности избежать той же судьбы. That man had gathered around himself the newest talents of bilingual monkeys who were therefore geniuses, who hated where they lived, and варились in their noble suffering of self-imposed exile. They wrote in two languages, but only to each other, as I do and refuse to do, their words held more value than any half-baked poet who grew up here imitating Bukowski, like a fish in water and therefore never noticing that he had been swimming in vomit… And famous Kuzminsky, in self-imposed exile for 25 years, gathered these hybrid bilinguals himself like child-apostles.
In 25 years, however, he hadn't changed a bit, and that was the most frightening- that he still had the most banal совок written all over his face, the sovok that came along with the tea glass holders I drank out of, by his herring and potato and vodka existence, being that he could not tolerate American food, by his Russian sheets, his laziness to read in English, condescending his neighbors, and his house, his house, his house. His refusal to become Nabokov, Brodsky, or Yevtushenko, although he had taught at UT for five years.
I had forgotten to захлебнуться в другом языке и сменить систему координат что бы избежать the possibility of connecting this isolation to what I had recently so piercingly understood about this country, and so saw a gray blur behind which everything was, and was nothing, so that I realized that I would leave or die.