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Lera Auerbach
Hermitdom (fluctuating between loneliness and solitude)
Lost in the labyrinth of words and sounds.
Interests: poetry, prose, poetry., music composition, piano performances
Recent Activity
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Last night, we said goodbye to my father. It felt unnatural to see him in the coffin, he who was always so full of vitality, humor, and brilliance. To honor my mother's wishes, the casket was opened so she could see him for the last time. To protect her fragile state, only the closest members of the family were present. The silence hung in the dimly lit room. Groomed and dressed in all white, my father looked like a stranger, someone I never knew—a wax figure instead of a real man. The strangeness permeated the room, turning everyone attending into shadows. I was an observer, and some part of me was still observing that observer and on and on through a mirror labyrinth of reflections, removing me even further from reality until I doubted whether any of it was real. I caught myself wishing to call my father on his phone and tell him what a strange joke he played on us by dying, only to realize that my call would remain unanswered. During the last year, my father went from 210 pounds to a mere 110 pounds. He lost all his fat and muscles, becoming a living skeleton. He had many friends but avoided seeing them towards the end of his life—he did not want them to remember him like this. Lev was a proud and stubborn man. He was strong, courageous, and independent, and that's how he wished to remain in the memories of those who knew him. Last week, I went for a solitary walk in Glasgow. It was drizzling, and the city looked gloomy and ghostly, with its streets covered in mist. I took a photo of the winding, empty road devoid of colors. It resonated with how I felt: a lonely path stretching into the unknown, full of reflections and shadows – abandonedly sad but also, somehow, hauntingly beautiful. I was thinking about my future senza Papa. A few nights before he died, I had a nightmare. I was angry at my father in my dream because I knew he had let go of his attachments and was ready to depart. "You might be ready for this, but I am not," I screamed in despair, and my screaming woke me up. I fought the urge to call him right away. I was in Germany; he was in New York. I did not want to wake him up. I called him later that day. To my relief, he sounded cheerful. He had just returned home from the hospital. He asked me in detail about my upcoming concerts. He did not sound like a person who was ready to let go of life. I felt comforted and reassured, forgetting that even in my dream, it was I who was not ready for what was inevitably coming, while he had already accepted it and was awaiting this new adventure. How he loved adventures! His favorite time was traveling. He felt best driving to some unknown, exciting destination. And... Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2024 at The Best American Poetry
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Dovid Hofshteyn (1889-1952) left Russia during the years of war and revolution and was a pioneer of modernist literature in Yiddish after the First World War. He returned to the USSR in the mid-1920s and became involved in Soviet cultural activities in Yiddish. Like other Yiddish writers, Hofshteyn participated in the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. In 1948, as part of the process of eliminating Yiddish culture in the USSR, he was arrested and tried alongside other Jewish authors. On August 12, 1952, he was executed by the Soviet government in what has come to be known as the Night of the Murdered Poets. Violoncello Vos boygstu zikh, mayn zel? Vos brumstu brustik tif? Un s’tsitern di vent, di zayln fun mayn zayn, un hekher, hekher shtaygt di shtil fun ere dayner, un nider vert bagrobt mit shtoyb fun dayne fis. Vos boygstu zikh, mayn zel? Vos brumstu brustik tif? Vos bodstu zikh in shtoyb, vos vashstu zikh in ash, vi foyglen in a hits, vos hobm furkht far vaser un kiln zikh mit erd un frishn zikh in mist?.. Vos boygstu zikh, mayn zel? Vos brumstu brustik tif, vi zod fun frishn blut af shtumen roytn shteyn, vi zod, vos vert nit shtil fun umshuld zoyber-reynem, biz gloybik heyses blut mit tsiter im bagist. Nu, boyg zhe zikh, mayn zel, nu, brum zhe brustik tif, un ver fun ashn klor, fun blutn ver shoyn reyn, un ver fun tsiter mild, ver loyter shoyn fun veynen, un zol tsu likht dir zayn dayn groyser brokh, dayn ris! Violoncello Why do you vibrate, my soul, rumbling deeply in my chest? The walls of my core are trembling. Higher, still higher, soars your quiet honour. Then, falling, it buries itself under the dust of your feet. Why do you vibrate, my soul, rumbling deeply in my chest? Why do you bathe in the dust, and wash yourself in the ashes? So are birds in the smouldering heat, thirsty for water – can cool themselves in the earth, and get refreshed in the sand. Why do you vibrate, my soul, from the depth of my chest, boiling like fresh blood spilt on the mute stones? The boiling will not subside from its pure innocence, nor from its hot devotion – it is trembling, spilling over. Oh, bend to me, my soul, sing heartfully within my depth, cleansed by ashes purified by blood, your strings tremble gentler, enlightened by the sobbing … Let the grief and sorrow illuminate the way! — “Violoncello” by Dovid Hofshteyn (Translation by Lera Auerbach) Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
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Itzik Manger (1901-1969) was widely considered as a poet with a unique style among his peers. In the 1930s, he moved to Warsaw and later to Paris, escaping Nazi persecution. After the war, he continued to reflect on the destruction of European Jewry during the Holocaust. In his final years, he lived in Israel. “LULLABY” Ikh vel dikh nisht ufvekn, saydn a foygl, vos veyst, du host goldene oygn. Er vet zikh shteln af dayn bet: er hot zikh mit a yuni-nakht farvet (zi iz sheyn un gayvedik on a shir), az du bist toyznt mol shener fun ir. Ikh vel dikh nisht ufvekn, saydn a vint, vos vet arayn durkh а shpare geshvind. Тu epes a vint, vos vil visn, tsi s’iz shener faran fun volkns, shtern un hint. Ikh vel dikh nisht ufvekn, saydn a boym, vos vet royshn tsu shtark in dayn troym. Der boym iz der eltster boym in vald, a kayme-lon fun toyznt yor alt. Tu epes a boym, vos vil visn, tsi s’iz sheners faran fun zayn roysh, fun zayn bli, fun zayn troym. Ikh vel dikh nisht ufvekn, saydn a regn, vos vet kumen a groyer fun vegn un shtegn un klapm in shtub mit di finger. Der regn is nokh a yunger. Ersht nekhtn iz er a prints geven, haynt iz er farkisheft: eyn shmeykhl fun dir — un er vert tsurik vos geven. Ikh vel dikh nisht ufvekn, saydn a malekh, vos vet kumen tsu flien fun a mehalekh af a vaysn levone-shtral un knien ba dayn geleger un zingen: “Shvester, shvesterl mayn! Vos ken nokh shener un shener zayn fun dir un fun mir”. . . . . . . Sha, ikh vel mit a goldenem rigl farriglen di tir. — “Lullaby” by Itzik Manger “LULLABY” I will not wake you up. Perhaps, only a bird, who knows your golden eyes, will stand on your bed-post. The bird had made a bet with June’s Night (which is beautiful and maddeningly arrogant) that you are still a thousand times more beautiful. I will not wake you up. Perhaps, only the wind may quickly penetrate the cracks. What will you do with the wind – it wants to know if there is anything more beautiful than clouds, stars, and dogs. I will not wake you up. Perhaps, only a tree will rustle noisily in your dreams. The tree – most ancient in the forest – may be a thousand years old. What will you do with the tree – it wants to know if there is anything more beautiful than its noises, its blossoms, its dreams. I will not wake you up. Perhaps only the rain, will come, all gray from its travels. It will tap on the house with its fingers. The rain is still young. Only yesterday it was a prince, today it is enchanted. Just one of your smiles — and it will become himself again. I will not wake you up, Perhaps only an angel flying from far... Continue reading
Posted Apr 14, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
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In early 2020, Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center commissioned me to write a large symphonic work for cello, choir and orchestra related to Chiune Sugihara, a Japanese diplomat in Lithuania during WWII. Chiune Sugihara and Dutch diplomat Jan Zwartendijk helped thousands of Jews flee the onslaught and murderous march of the Nazi army by issuing transit visas through Japan to the Dutch colony of Curaçao. The Yiddish poetry of Dovid Hofshteyn (1889-1952), Peretz Markish (1895-1952), Moyshe Teyf (1904-1966), Avrom Sutzkever (1913-2010), Simkha-Bunim Shayevitch (1907-1944), Yisroel Emyot (1909-1978), Reyzl Zhikhlinski (1910-2001), and Itzik Manger (1901-1969) is at the core of the symphony. In Symphony No. 6 "Vessels of Light" I wished to weave together numerous voices, voices full of mystical beauty and everlasting courage, voices that carry history and manifest the continuity of spirit not by shouting but by whispering. To celebrate their unbroken essence and strength and in honour and memory of the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, whose actions saved thousands of Jews – I implied the ancient Japanese technique and concept of Kintsugi to the form of this symphony. The subtitle of the work Vessels of Light connects with the concept of Shevirat ha-Kelim (Breaking of the Vessels.) I chose Yiddish poetry for the libretto – as a tribute to the Yiddish language. The language itself suffered – it lost too many people. The words of the poets penetrate the void, connect generations, guide us, and don't let us forget who we are. What is Kintsugi? A technique of repairing broken pottery by joining the shards and filling the cracks with gold powder glue; thus, instead of hiding the repairs, it emphasizes them, making the objects even more beautiful and precious by celebrating their history and uniqueness. The philosophy behind this art technique can be profoundly translated into life. How do you apply the Kintsugi technique and principles to music? As the first step of working on the symphony, I set Psalm 121 for a Capella choir – this Psalm was often used as a talisman for travellers – an amulet of protection. During the Middle Ages, amulets with protective words (such as Psalm 121) were favoured because of their promise to protect the wearer from harm; such amulets offered "safe passage through the precarious world." After completing the Psalm, I "shattered" it; its fragmented musical material – without words – appears in the interludes, with the solo cello in a binding embrace that holds the different poems (parts) together, making them stronger and creating a sense of unity. The Psalm remains unsung in the symphony and will only exist in a bronze sculpture I have created as an integral part of this memorial. The voice of the solo violoncello becomes the golden glue. It springs from Dovid Hofshteyn's poem "Violoncello," in which the poet addresses his soul, which continues to vibrate high and low through blood and suffering, eternally alive. The violoncello represents that which is unnamable – that mystical "string" that unites all Jewish... Continue reading
Posted Apr 13, 2023 at The Best American Poetry
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My mother was born in 1940 to a Jewish family in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. As Hitler's army marched East in 1941, my grandparents abandoned all their possessions (including their beloved library and cherished collection of musical instruments). They boarded the train – heading towards Siberia. The news of ghettos and the fate of Jews in Hitler's territories had reached them – all they could do was to flee into the unknown. A few years earlier, my mother's grandfather, Berl Fishbein, the head of the family, was tortured to death by Stalin's secret police). His only "guilt" was being born Jewish. While my family evacuated, their train was bombed by Hitler's armies. Another tragedy occurred: the family lost my mother's grandmother Ettel Fishbein in the confusion and chaos. She was grief-stricken after the death of her beloved husband, frightened and confused over all the changes and sorrows that the war and evacuation brought. Somehow, after the bombing, she was no longer with my grandparents on the train. They never found her and never learned of her fate. With my one-year-old mother, my grandparents deboarded in Chelyabinsk – a closed industrial city at the gateway of Siberia. I was born there some thirty years later. They never returned to their abandoned homes in Ukraine. In today's war, the invading army marches from the East, and more than a million Ukrainian refugees head West – to Germany in a mirror retrograde of history. Earlier this year, I wrote a cello concerto, Diary of a Madman, inspired by Gogol's famous short story about Poprishchin, a government clerk who gradually descends into insanity. The concerto was premiered last month by the Munich Philharmonic, Giedrė Šlekytė, and Gautier Capuçon. Nikolai Gogol (or, more correctly, romanized from Ukrainian – Mykola Hohol) – was a genius writer, born in Ukraine, father of Russian language literature, and a visionary far beyond his time. I have been fascinated by his work all my life. Ten years ago, while composing my opera Gogol, I read and re-read everything he ever wrote. After my opera's premiere in Vienna, I received an open letter from Russia calling me "Vrag Naroda" (Enemy of the People) – the same terminology used against Shostakovich and many other artists years earlier. My website was hacked, erased, and replaced by the slogan "Death to Jews" and a skull. It felt terrible, but I was not afraid – since 1991, I lived in the West, and since 2001, I no longer had any relatives in Russia. I was responsible only for myself, my words, and my actions. While composing the cello concerto Diary of a Madman, I did not think of Vladimir Putin. Now, Gogol's tale carries an eerie resonance. Diary of a Madman is a story of a lowly government bureaucrat with a minimal, easily forgettable personality. In his increasingly demented diary entries, Poprishchin claims that a state cannot "be without a king." As the storyline progresses, he becomes increasingly mad, starts having delusions of grandeur, and, finally, on... Continue reading
Posted Mar 4, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
I am always fascinated by people who are masters of more than one profession. I interviewed Tzimon Barto for the Best American Poetry blog. His passions and knowledge run deep. Tzimon Barto speaks seven languages fluently, reads ancient Greek, Latin, and Hebrew; his love of poetry is contagious, his ideas about education are inspiring. For a taste of Barto's music-making here he is performing Mozart's Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in A major with the SWR Symphonieorchester and Christoph Eschenbach. Continue reading
Posted Feb 25, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
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© Lera Auerbach - Monoprint A tree is never just a tree. Physical distance one can measure. But what about the distance from oneself? (Too far – and numbness spreads. Too close – and you fall apart.) A book is a tree: it needs to take hold, to find nourishment and water. In its early stages it is fragile, while the hurricane season is coming. Where do all unwritten books go? Completed manuscripts waiting for editors? Lost publications waiting for readers? Forgotten lives? Like a child, a book requires sacrifice. Its birth is painful. Ultimately, it is never yours. Who are you? You are only its tool – (and a highly imperfect one at that.) Continue reading
Posted Feb 11, 2022 at The Best American Poetry
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Papa takes me to figure-skating school. The school has classes every day: running, choreography, floor gymnastics, figure skating. With skates over my shoulder, we come to the school half an hour before the classes begin. Putting on skates is a ritual. Papa ties the laces very tight. I am wearing a woolen dress, tights, and a gray hat with a visor and a pompom. “Well, how was it?” Papa asks after my first lesson. I am covered in snow from head to toe. “I don't know. We were taught how to fall. For the entire hour. Fall – get up. Fall again. Fall, fall, fall!” “To learn how to fall,” Papa says seriously, taking off my skates, “is an art form in itself. Who knows, maybe it was your most important life lesson. If you learn how to fall – nothing can harm you. If you learn how to fall – you can be fearless.” Continue reading
Posted Dec 24, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Some works have parallel lives. In 2006 Musikfest Bremen and Lucerne Festival commissioned me to write a piece for Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica. As soon as I started composing it, I knew that it would be reborn as a theater work one day. I did not know at that time how or when. I thought of Maria, the Grieving Mother, and the Other Maria – the mysterious one who remained in the shadows, the two outlines becoming one, blending their voices in never-ending dialogue where one voice echoes the other. This weekend, in Nürenberg, Germany, will be the world premiere of the new ballet Maria, choreographed by Goyo Montero with Diana Vishneva dancing the principal role. How did it happen? On May 14, 2019, I met with Diana Vishneva for dinner in New York after attending an art exhibition together. I have known Diana for many years. I wrote my ballet Tatiana (after Pushkin's Evgeny Onegin), choreographed by John Neumeier with Diana in mind, and she has danced it numerous times since its creation. Diana visited me in Florida earlier that year to explore our future collaborations. That spring day, in 2019, on the lower side of Manhattan, we spoke about my idea for the ballet Maria based on the music of my Dialogues on Stabat Mater. We talked about different ways how to make the ballet Maria a reality and who could be the ideal choreographer to realize it on stage. We both, at the same time, breathed out: Goyo Montero. I called Goyo from that restaurant, and he said: "Yes!" Dialogues on Stabat Mater is an experiment. I wished to create a frame, a dialogue, an outlook from our own time on the same subject as Pergolesi's celebrated masterpiece. And to base this dialogue not so much on the differences of cultural and harmonic esthetics between the 18th and 21st centuries, but rather on their similarities, which is much more challenging. The image of the grieving mother is universal, just as pain is universal, although its expressions may vary based on cultural or religious backgrounds. Dialogue can happen at different levels. Is it a dialogue between different times, a beginning and an end, musician and audience, soli and tutti, loneliness and understanding? Perhaps, after all, the difference is not that great between vocal and purely instrumental, sacred language and the vernacular, monologue, and dialogue? Any prayer is a dialogue even though the addressee may not appear present. To whom am I addressing this? Continue reading
Posted Dec 17, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Sometimes I wish to press the knife against my skin and let out blood because the world is growing within me, overflowing; it overwhelms me – for how is it possible that the world is within me while I’m within the world? Where are the boundaries between us? Where do I end, and the world begins? I step barefoot on the ground and feel the rotation of the Earth. I’m falling through the universe at breathtaking speed while not moving at all. Continue reading
Posted Dec 10, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
If I were dead, I wouldn’t want to stay around. I would fly to some other realm where I would no longer be myself but everything else at the same time. A happy, joyful radiance of a realm. But I wouldn’t be able to jump there if my heart was too heavy with worry for my loved ones who are still living in this world. I would have to stay around to see how they are coping. The living become the responsibility of the dead. Maybe, if I stayed around, I could still help them somehow. My dead grandparents and their parents and the parents of their parents und so weiter slightly move their invisible bodies making room for the new arrivals. They watch how I write these lines in English – the language they never spoke and slightly shake their heads. Continue reading
Posted Dec 3, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Bruegel's Sky - Fragment [Photo by Lera Auerbach] To live, one must make an inventory: Item 1: The sky. It is everywhere. Item 2: People. There are many of them. Item 3: It is hard to believe, but there are still birds. They occupy space between people and the sky. Sometimes they touch the heavens; sometimes they touch the earth. Item 4: Conceptual thinking. Item 5: Garbage cans. Discarded objects, personal treasures no longer loved such as broken limbs of dolls. Item 6: Cars. Be aware of them. Item 7: The rest of the world. The dead are watching the shadows caused by light. Inside of each shadow, a small invisible death is practicing the art of dying. Continue reading
Posted Nov 26, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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My memory: meeting a Montserrat cat – she is sitting beneath Pablo Casals’ sculpture – the true owner of his bronze cello with whiskers sniffing mountain air. It is Fall. It’s sunny, but the air is already keeping a promise of the storms ahead. I am now worried about this cat – the cat that guards Casals and his cello. Who will feed her during the winter? Who will brush her tricolored coat? Who will make her feel safe in the mountains? I beckon the cat to follow, promising to take good care of her if she lets me. But the cat sniffs Casals’ dusty shoes, raises her tail, and turns away. I feel abandoned. I pray to the Black Virgin to protect this proud feline. I ask Casals to keep watch and play sometimes for the cat’s hunting pleasures El cant del ocells (The Song of the Birds.) The air shimmers with hidden music. The cat catches overtones – and the horizon shifts. Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Silent Notes. Photo by Lera Auerbah When pianos are not played, they become very sad, they collect silent notes. Unplayed music floats – invisible dust of overtones. The dead are waiting expectantly: so many keys – 88 – all untouched. The day of silent music sheds the signature of uncaptured Time. (“What are you practicing now?” my mother asks me quietly. Her eyebrows raised. I shrug.) from the archive; first posted 10/15/21 Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Labyrinth - Ink on Handmade Paper by Lera Auerbach The verb “to be” is very short, yet it contains layers of existence. It is possible to hide in these folds – that’s the secret of survival. You share hiding spaces with ghosts, and ghosts become you. You speak for them because, generally speaking, ghosts cannot speak. But you can. Words flood your mind, and your heart can’t mend broken words and broken promises. Your heart murmurs between the beats, and the dead encourage it to keep on beating. If I raise my hand – would my fingers touch the invisible hand of my nanny Marianna? Or my grandma Alichka? Can love just disappear with the departed or some crucial nothingness stays around, protecting you in moments of despair? You can’t see the thread in the darkness, but you can choose to believe it’s there – to guide you through the labyrinth of your own making. Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Untitled [Oil on Canvas] by Lera Auerbach Forgetting Ignorance The world is created anew. I often fail to see it and think as if it was still the old world that I knew. I forget my ignorance. My mother doesn’t own a computer and doesn’t understand how the Internet works. It’s all mundanely miraculous and miraculously mundane to her. I try to explain but realize that I don’t understand it either. I can navigate it, but I do not know who or what is staring at me from the other side of the screen. Reflection I spit out blood from my bleeding gums and, looking at the sink, see my death. The Shadows of Memories One can think about so many things and nothing at all. How can nothing be something? How can nothing be? Can a shadow cast a shadow? Perhaps within each shadow lies a deeper shadow, just like within the first death, lies the second death. If a person can be born more than once, it’s possible that after he is dead, he dies again – a death within death from which it is impossible to return. In this second death, he loses not only his memories but the shadows of memories. When did Eurydice die? Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Leitmotifs [Photo by Lera Auerbach] Every day I give birth to my death. Each death is different. They flutter around like moths. I find them in dusty corners, in drawers, or trapped in the spider webs hanging from the ceiling. My deaths can see my ancestors and talk to them. My deaths sing to each other children's songs in minor keys. They prefer lullabies. I fall asleep, listening. Continue reading
Posted Sep 3, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Oil on Metal Roof Tile [by Lera Auerbach] When God created animals, He first asked each animal for their permission. But He never received the Cat’s blessing. The Cat just didn’t answer, and God took the Cat’s silence as “yes.” But the Cat simply needed some time to think whether to enter into existence. It needed to look through the open doors of creation and then decide if it wanted to be in or out, but God was in a rush and didn’t pay enough attention to subtleties. So, He created the Cat along with all other animals. Later, the Cat reprimanded God. The Cat said that it was going to answer “no,” that God created it against its will, and that God needed to compensate it for all the pain and suffering since the creation of the world. It is why God bestowed the Cat with nine lives. This way, it could have additional time to decide whether to stay alive or not. That’s why the Cat, unlike others, can move through time – it understands its porous nature and knows how to slip through. The Cat doesn’t like closed doors. According to the Cat, a good door is a door half-opened (or half-closed depending on the perspective.) According to the Cat, one should always see both sides and be free to change one’s mind at any time. According to the Cat, things only pretend to be solid, but in truth, they are mostly empty spaces, and one needs to learn to see through their illusory solidity. According to the Cat, one needs to learn how to disappear and, even more importantly, when. Continue reading
Posted Aug 27, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Untitled - Japanese Ink on Handmade Paper [by Lera Auerbach] Forever Present Is there one more death within death? And then one more death inside of that one? And so on, so on, so on, infinitely dividing and dying again and again within each new division? The egg-matryoshka of death – the deeper we look, the smaller it becomes, indefinitely so. Et cetera. Et cetera. Our time extends in both directions until nothing is left except the present everlasting moment. Forgotten Memories What happens to all forgotten memories? Memories that are forgotten more than once? Memories that lost their bodies of words and images? What would happen if words lost their meanings and definitions? My father is drawing the map of the dead. The Kingdom of the Dead The Kingdom of the Dead is far greater than the Kingdom of the Living. It is not surprising – all who are living, sooner or later join the Kingdom of the Dead, and as far as we know, the opposite doesn’t happen. If reincarnation exists, it still requires a new body, and the new body will sooner or later die – one can’t argue about that. The dead are everywhere – we breathe them in with the air. My father marks the graves of our deceased relatives on his hand-drawn map of the cemetery. I am supposed to find them one day. I wonder if I ever will. Falling The words fall from the sky like leaves from a tree. Do fishes go to school? I count visible stars – there are more of them than my fingers and toes combined, so I stop counting. My father complains there are no longer any stars in the sky. He is holding my mom’s hand to stop it from shaking. I feel I am falling, falling, falling… while failing to make a wish. C-sharp The note C-sharp is what binds all stars and holds this Universe together. At night you can hear C-sharp quietly buzzing. I imagine it as the endless string connecting and holding together heavenly objects, vibrating, and shimmering. My umbilical cord was never tied correctly. If I could press my eye to my belly – I could probably see through my untied belly button all that is inside. Flossing the Dead Sometimes the dead are so thick in the air – it’s hard to breathe. You feel your heart trying and trying to pump blood, but the air is too thick and heavy. The dead get stuck between the teeth, and no flossing can help. The air bleeds history, and you can’t escape it – even in your loneliest hour, you are never alone. Continue reading
Posted Aug 20, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Philippe Faraut's Sculpting Feet [Video Still Frame] 1. The Loyalty of Toes You need to fall, and more than once, before you learn to fly. Do the words fail me, or do I fail the words? Words are strange beings, for they are certainly “beings” with their peculiar moods and caprices. If toes are the fingers of the foot, why do we call them “toes” and not “fingers”? And why are the fingers not the toes of the hands if the opposite holds true? In Russian, there is only one word for toes and fingers – pal’tsi. If you want to be specific, you can say pal’tsi na nogah – “fingers on the legs'' or pal’tsi na rukah – “fingers on the arms,” but the word itself remains the same. It’s surprising how rarely we think of our toes, even though they are always there for us. There is something very loyal in the toes’ devotion. The fingers could lead you into trouble, but not the toes. Toes have no agenda of their own. If anything, they may even help you escape the trouble that the fingers may cause. Yet, we rarely acknowledge their existence or notice their individuality. 2. Vanity Back in Russia, I used to wear nylon stockings. It was considered impolite to have bare legs. The pantyhose tore easily; it was difficult to mend them unnoticeably unless the run, as they said, was in a place hidden from view. I was fifteen. I didn’t like to wear stockings – they itched, but many girls wore them even in the winter while I wore two pairs of woolen tights, called gamashi. Winters in Chelyabinsk were brutal. Stockings felt out of place – a summer butterfly amidst the snow. How vain one must be, thought I, to endanger your health like this – just so your legs could shimmer naked through the nylon and appear thin and delicate. Was I vain too? I did wear pantyhose in the warmer weather when, in fact, it was too warm to wear anything. Perhaps I was. 3. Emotional Body Parts I wonder if different parts of the body can feel emotions. I don’t mean physical pain. Pain is not an emotion – it is just pain. It can cause emotions, of course, and often it does. But could, for example, toes feel happiness or grief? Could my toes feel misunderstood, sad, or lonely? Every few weeks, my father trims my mom’s toenails. He does it slowly and carefully as her toenails tend to grow into the skin. He applies red nail polish and carefully blows on her toes as if blessing them individually in some archaic ritual of creation. I examine my toes – the skin seems flaky-white, dry. I think my toes feel unloved. 4. Greetings The multitude of things is overbearing. Each object needs acknowledgment. – Hello, drawers. – Hello, hairbrush. – Hello, toothpaste. Everything is made by someone or something, assembled, put together. Yet, I fail to put together... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Japanese Ink on Paper © Lera Auerbach The Air We Breathe This year we all learned how to wash hands. Perhaps, we didn’t learn but only made a lot of noise. Washing hands, sanitizing, staying in quarantine, balancing lockdowns. Victims of our vocabulary, we hold on to the relative calm. Death is everywhere, but it is also nowhere; it’s the air itself. The ghosts are shimmering as if trying to conceal tiny openings in the world’s material – the porous nature of time and space. This year we learned not only to wash hands but to count our loved ones. Just in case they disappear through an invisible opening and slip into another realm. The Need To Function The world is a gigantic tuning fork, connecting distant galaxies the way overtones connect to the fundamental tone. Each moment everything is being created anew with each vibration. One wouldn’t have any problems if one didn’t have to exist in the world. If you are just a soundwave and not a particle – do you have any concerns? No. The problem is that we exist as both – soundwaves and particles at the same time, and more often, we choose to behave like particles, thus needing to function somehow. The pull of gravity is at its strongest in the morning when you just returned from the abyss of nothingness. (The ghosts are shimmering as if trying to conceal tiny openings in the world’s material.) Navigation What happens to the world when we are asleep? We assume that everything stays the same – the room, for instance, doesn’t turn into another room. The furniture remains with all its scratches or other peculiarities. We assume it is the same furniture, but how can one be sure of anything? In the Quantum Universe, it is quite possible that in our sleep, we slip into some parallel dimension and wake up in a different universe altogether that only looks the same but is not. This is how and why divorces happen. One day, you may realize that the person next to you only appears to be the one you fell in love with, but in fact, is a stranger from an unfamiliar realm. How to navigate safely through dreams? (This year, we learned not only to wash hands but to count our loved ones. Just in case they disappear through an invisible opening and slip into another realm. Just in case…) Continue reading
Posted Aug 6, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Marianna and I are at a summer retreat. I am five years old. I have a wooden recorder with me, a block-flute. I blow out melodies. My parents left – they have some urgent matters. What urgent matters could there be during the summer? I play my flute. Igor is here with us. He is a genius, a chess prodigy who has won chess games against the former world champions. He is my brother, and he has very long legs. When Igor walks, I must run after him like a dog. I quickly get tired. Igor puts me on his shoulders. I imagine myself as an eagle, a stormy petrel, a seagull. Igor runs; I fly after him – I am the wind. The wind plays the flute. Grownups lie. I know – my grandma, Musenka, is dead. That’s why my parents left. I will never see her again. Ne-ver. “Iga, do you know?” I ask, landing my flight. “No,” he answers seriously. Igor is almost an adult. Grownups lie. (He Knows) Continue reading
Posted Jul 30, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Ink on Paper by Lera Auerbach When I was twelve, my parents took me camping near Lake Inyshko. Supposedly, in this lake, Yemelyan Pugachev buried his stolen treasure. The treasure was never found because Lake Inyshko has two bottoms. The first bottom appears solid, just like the floor of a lake, but it’s not – there is a deeper depth beneath it with more water. The treasure sunk under the first level into the depth of the unseen. My life seems to be like that – it appears solid, but beneath the first bottom, there is water again or different skies that conceal my labyrinth. When I misstep, I sink and find myself in the labyrinthine second layer of Lake Inyshko. I become lost like Pugachev’s treasure. I forget there is a world outside. I hold on to the thread of words and sounds, but I don’t know for certain if I can fully trust this thread. Is the thread protecting its weaver or does it simply using the weaver’s abilities to manifest its own existence? Am I the weaver of the thread I’m weaving? I like the notion of letting things go. Letting go makes me giddy; letting go turns me into a disobedient child. But every mischief is followed by a punishment. Whom am I punishing? Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Acrylic on Canvas by Lera Auerbach THE SOLIDITY OF OCEANS The ocean is still there where I left it. It will remain. It is solid (even though it’s not, but you know what I mean.) It’s dependable (it’s unpredictable; but also, dependable.) It has a smell; it can be touched and tasted. It exists. And that’s a lot – to be certain that something really exists in this world. CREATION OF HUMANS Once upon a time, there was a Creature. This Creature had a bet with another Creature that it is possible to drink the ocean dry. So, the Creature sat on the shore and started drinking water from the sea. It drank and drank until it had no room left in its belly, but it drank some more and exploded from within into billions of tiny creatures mostly made of water. That’s how humans were born. JUST A MYTH Perhaps, this greedy Creature never existed. Perhaps, it’s just a myth I made up. But the ocean existed, and it is still here. And I exist because I can feel the ocean. And you exist because you are reading this. So, there must be some truth in this myth. Or if not in this, then in another one. There must be some truth somewhere. RED One way to prove you exist is to let blood. What a weird way to say it – let blood. The blood is already there, inside of you, whether you let it or not. But what “to let blood” means is to cut yourself. If you bleed – you are alive. It’s that simple. Dead people can bleed too, but only at the beginning of their death. The longer they are dead, the less blood they have left. After a while, nothing red remains. WHERE THE SOUL RESIDES In old times people thought that the soul resided in the blood. But this didn’t make sense. Let’s say you donate your blood – does it mean you are donating your soul? No, the soul is inside and outside of your body because your body is just like a great painting – a mystery that can be studied and analyzed but never fully understood. WHY WE CAN’T UNDERSTAND GOD Anything we understand – we can destroy. That is why we can never understand God. We can only believe that He (She, It) is. Or isn’t. That’s all. Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Ink on Music Paper © Lera Auerbach What do I remember? Sounds, sound all around. I don’t know words yet, but I can feel melodies of phrases. Everything is music: the voices of people, the wind outside, the bell of the streetcar. When people speak loudly, I want to cry – there are more sounds than I can hold! I have no space left to breathe and gasp for air. The voices become quieter, slower, lower… I can breathe again. (Volume) (2) Mama is teaching her students. I am crawling on the rug. I already know the names of the notes – Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Si. They are my friends. Each note is a different sound, and each note is a different color. Mama is explaining how sound flies. If sound can fly – where are its wings? Perhaps, they are invisible – the sound is flying and flapping its invisible wings. How does the sound look without its wings? Lying on my belly, I try to imagine the body of the sound, without wings. Instead of the body – I only see wings – wings of different colors. ‘Do’ is white with a rainbow overflowing on feathers, ‘Sol’ is golden, ‘La’ is red. I understand now: the sound is the wings – long or clipped, colorful, wavy… The sound is the flight itself and the trail of after-flight; the wound left in the air, disappearing like ripples in water. The sound is what continues to echo in the memory when nothing is sounding. (What Is Sound?)   (3) My mother is carrying me in her arms, “Look at your stroller now. Look at it for the last time. You will never see it again.” I see the doorway to the bedroom. There is my stroller – red, much taller than me. But what is ‘never’? What a strange word – so heavy – this moment is forever engraved in my memory: the red stroller and my mother’s words. (What Is Never?)   (4) My parents do not buy a new stroller. Instead, they roll me around in a folding carriage, an accessory intended for a large doll. I do not like that doll. I’m afraid of her – her plastic complacency, her empty eyes. But the doll’s stroller is helpful – I quickly tire of walking. When I was born, the doctors said I had problems with my legs and would not be able to walk. For a year, my frightened mother took me for therapy every day. I walked ahead of schedule. More than walking, I love flying while listening to music, hundreds of winged creatures – sounds – holding me up, not letting me fall. (Canceled Sentence)   (5) My grandmother, Alichka, walks poorly. Her legs are bowed like two letters C’s. Pain hides in each step. Alichka brings me to the Tsvilling Square. (She rolls me in the stroller from the doll I do not like.) On the bench, next to her, sits an old woman with a mourning... Continue reading
Posted Jul 9, 2021 at The Best American Poetry