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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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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.) 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 SOLIDNESS 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
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Ink on Paper by Lera Auerbach Alone When you try to hold on – what exactly are you holding onto? In the labyrinth, Ariadne left a thread for Theseus to help him find his way out after killing the Minotaur. Just imagine – you are in the darkness, in complete darkness, and all you have is a thread left by a girl you barely know. Can you trust it? What choice do you have? The thread is there to remind you that you are not alone. But you are alone. Alone in a labyrinth where you need: 1) to find the Minotaur, 2) to kill him, 3) to find your way out. And all you have to hold on to is this flimsy thread. Easy To Forget It is not so difficult to find the Minotaur. You are new to the labyrinth, and not accustomed to its smell. The smell of the labyrinth is foul. If you think the Minotaur leaves the labyrinth whenever he has to use the toilet – think again. The Minotaur, like everyone else, is long lost in the labyrinth. Perhaps he once had discovered the exit but was so accustomed to the maze he felt frightened to step outside. His world was the labyrinth, and the labyrinth was all he knew – he did not wish for another world. The Minotaur was so used to the smell of the labyrinth – the stench didn’t bother him at all. He, the Minotaur, was the labyrinth’s beating heart, and the labyrinth was him. There was nothing outside, nothing at all. Theseus was new to the labyrinth – the stench was shocking to him. He could find where the Minotaur slept (or, at least, Theseus hoped that the Minotaur was asleep) without a thread, but it was comforting to hold on to something in this darkness; something, that reminded him that there was a world outside of this place, outside of this nothingness, loneliness, and despair. When you are lost in the darkness – it is easy to forget that light exists. Wrong Parts Theseus had nothing against the Minotaur. It was his job to kill him, nothing personal. If anything, he felt sorry for the Minotaur. The Minotaur is a creature made of the wrong parts, the unfortunate relative of the Centaur. Centaurs are wondrous. They combine the best features of humans (head with brains, torso, and hands) with the best features of horses (four strong legs that allow you to move faster than the wind with hooves which could be deadly in personal combat.) If Theseus had a choice, he would be born a Centaur – free from humans, free from gods, intelligent, and wild. But what is a Minotaur? It’s a Centaur with all the wrong parts – the vulnerable body of a human with the head and brains of a beast. What could be worse? Only a she-Minotaur, although Theseus was not certain if a female Minotaur existed, he had never met one. Perhaps,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 2, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Ink on Paper by Lera Auerbach My grandmother Alichka, whose birthday I always remember as it coincides with International Women's Day in March, had a Singer sewing machine. It occupied all the wall space between the door and her bed. It had a pedal to step on for the machine to work. Just like my father's Lada car had pedals: a pedal for gas, a pedal for the brake, and even a pedal to make the car roar like a bear. Alichka could mend things without the sewing machine. She had a special plastic mushroom for simple fixes. Let's say you had a hole in your trousers. Alichka would then find the thread of the color of your pants (she had a magical chest of various threads, needles, and buttons; her collection of buttons deserves a poem dedicated to them alone.) Alichka would take her plastic mushroom and place it inside your trousers right under the hole (you must not wear your trousers at that time, of course!) and stitch them in a way you would never guess that the hole was there. Unless it was in a prominently visible place, but even then, it would be noticeable only if someone paid close attention to your trousers. Which rarely happens. Sometimes, there would be no hole yet, only a tear or just the traces of a future tear. Then it was not necessary to undress; you could keep your trousers on while Alichka mended the tear without her Singer machine and without her plastic mushroom – just with her hands. In such cases, out of superstition, she would cut a piece of the thread and give it to you to hold in your mouth during the entire mending procedure. It would ensure that the needle did not accidentally stitch your brain. Not sure exactly how the whole thing worked, but it must have worked just fine. Alichka often mended my clothes, and every single time I held a thread in my mouth while she worked, and I don't believe my brain was accidentally sewn. Or, if it happened, we didn't notice it. When Alichka was stitching, her hands would leave traces in the air. Quick horizontal traces. Just as a conductor paints music with a baton. Conducting lesson 101: imagine you're a painter, and the baton is your brush. Invisibility leaves traces. Continue reading
Posted Jun 18, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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Japanese Ink on Paper by Lera Auerbach I think all poets should receive a fountain pen for each birthday. A fountain pen would remind them that someone loves them. It will also reinforce the notion that they're not impostors. Because when there are so many great dead people looking over your shoulder at what you are writing, pretty soon, you start to feel like an impostor. Being a poet is a difficult profession. Receiving a good fountain pen once a year would remind poets that at least one reader takes their poetic occupation seriously. One reader, just as one word, could make all the difference. It would be so easy to save a poet. One could do it with relatively small out-of-pocket expenses by hiring them an occasional housekeeper, presenting them with a nice pen, and offering them publications; this way, poets can be clean, have a writing instrument, and feel needed, which is more than enough to get through tough times. And for poets, tough times are most of the time, even with some occasional pampering. Continue reading
Posted Jun 4, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
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The Tree – Acrylic on Canvas by Lera Auerbach THE END (1) It is hard to know how to start a book. Its ending is an even greater mystery. How do you know you’ve finished writing the book you're writing? After all, the end is never the end (unless you die just as you’ve finished the last sentence.) Some may argue that even if you (meaning the reader) or I (meaning the author) die in the previous sentence, even that would be no more of an end than death (which is, in all fairness, rarely the end of anything.) This is why suicides are so useless. Because nothing really ends, and a lot of new troubles begin. Everything remains, even more than before outside of your control (since you are dead and can't do much about it.) (2) Why have so many poets killed themselves? (3) I have a young peach tree, which we planted in the backyard of our dacha in hopes that one day it would produce delicious peaches. When we planted it – the tree looked healthy and full of green leaves. Soon its leaves turned yellow and then fell. All of them. Instead of a tree, I had what looked like a naked dead branch sticking out of the ground. Perhaps it is not dead, I thought. Perhaps this tree is of a poetic, sensitive nature and, just like a poet, needs attention and nourishment. Instead of pulling the dead stick out of the ground, I bought fruit-tree vitamins – large spikes full of nourishment, which I pressed into the ground all around the roots. The next morning, the tree was still without any leaves, but it was covered in tiny white flowers – the tree was alive and grateful. If we could find every poet in the moment of despair and offer him or her some vitamins, perhaps not so many would end up killing themselves. And there is always the next suicidal poet waiting for some kindness. Even if he or she has not written a single line of poetry. Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2021 at The Best American Poetry