the diary of m r . pinke
Translated from the Czech by Alice Pišťková
Revised with additional translations by Jed Slast
Afterword and collages by the author
Original text, illustrations, afterword copyright © 1993, 2018 by Ewald Murrer Translation copyright © 1995, 2022 by Twisted Spoon Press
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission in writing from Twisted Spoon Press.
isbn 978-80-86264-42-4 (softcover) isbn 978-80-86264-85-1 (e-book)
The Diary of Mr. Pinke
publisher ’ s note
We first published The Diary of Mr. Pinke in 1995 soon after it appeared in Czech in 1993. Having the opportunity to carefully read Alice’s original translation again, it was gratifying to see how well it has held up after nearly thirty years from when we first worked on it. Yet as Ewald notes in his Afterword, he felt the original edition on which her translation was based required substantial revision. Not only did he restore the month of November that his Czech publisher had inadvertently left out, but he revisited his original manuscript and reinstated lines and sometimes whole paragraphs that for some reason had also been expunged, further adding a brief text that gives some back ground on how he conceived the story. And he made many other more minor emendations as well. Consequently, our original translation had to be compared line by line to the revised and “expanded” Czech edition published in 2018 and additional translations or alterations made where needed.
the diary of mr . pinke
No one left and windsong still the only sound.
I went to the forest behind Isaac Antan’s estate.
Trees in the forest bowed toward my face. Branches entirely covered my body, twining like arms around me.
I suddenly saw myself in the gloomiest rock gorge.
Then near evening the embrace loosened, and I silently said my goodbyes and left.
It will be beautiful when the lights go out.
Chaim Finkel arrived from Prague today. I waited for him at the station. Our station is only a small depot. It is far from Voronski Puť.
Mr. Finkel lumbered down the steep steps of the train.
He was completely exhausted.
The train departed and we stood alone in the fog, a fog that revealed only the station building, the pigsties next to it, a pump, and a couple of crones in black, who stared at us with beady eyes.
Finkel grabbed the handle of his valise and we started to walk.
En route Finkel wanted to say something, but a huge fog bank rolled over us, creeping into our lungs and sealing our eyes. Finkel wiped his with a buckskin glove. The crones in black had vanished. The fog was thick. Even the depot had vanished. Finkel wanted to know where he would eat and sleep.
Fog dispersed, a carriage brought us to the village. I ushered Chaim Finkel into the house.
If the clock has struck, take the key and open the trunk.
Yesterday I put up Chaim Finkel from Prague. Chaim Finkel from Prague is a businessman. He has come to purchase a couple parcels of land for Isaac Meisel, whose firm intends to build on them plants for processing sheep’s wool.
“It won’t work,” I told him. He drank schnapps in the evening. Outside, fog all day long. Finkel didn’t once leave the house.
They tickle death’s mouth.
Today Finkel marveled at my house.
I showed him around, from the cellar to the attic. My house is without windows, with stone walls up to two meters thick.
He asked why no windows.
I replied: “The region here, beasts, werewolves, dwarves — better without windows.”
The rabbi came by and invited Finkel and me on a walk. Blinding fog. Damp.
Finkel preferred to take the carriage. He wanted it hitched but Coachman Rabrath was nowhere to be found. I looked through the house. In the cellar and the attic.
The rabbi waved his hand, “Forget Rabrath.”
“We’ll get nowhere on foot,” said Finkel. “Nowhere,” I said.
The rabbi again waved his hand. A massive fog bank was closing in on us. The rabbi grabbed Finkel, stood with his back to the approaching cloud of fog, and when it reached us, lay down on it. He dragged Finkel down with him. I, too, jumped onto the fog.
We quietly flew away from the village. Finkel was amazed at how soft and comfortable the fog was.
After a while the village became just a glimmer.
Rooster on the tower, why do you spin?
Are you ringing the alarm?
I’m not ringing.
The dog wandered off, then brought an owl from the forest.
At the table Finkel grumbled, “What a strange land, you’re afraid that you’ll trip over a dwarf, that someone at your table in the tavern is a werewolf, that — I don’t know what else.”
“I don’t know what else either,” I said.
The owl had emerald eyes.
A chink in the door looked at me slyly.
I leaned on the stone railing of the footbridge, thinking aloud. A seagull alighted on the railing.
I was thinking about ghosts.
“You don’t believe in ghosts, do you,” said the seagull.
“Almost,” I replied.
Then I realized he was a seagull and said: “I’m surprised, seagull, that you’re speaking to me.”
“Don’t be surprised, Pinke,” he said.
“And don’t be afraid,” he added.
“I was thinking of ghosts,” I said.
“I’m not a ghost,” said the seagull.
“You know, I’m still not used to your talking,” I said.
“Don’t worry, Pinke, after all, at one time I also wasn’t used to people talking to me — so don’t be afraid, I don’t bite.”
A ewer in hands maliciously yawned.
At night I walked the forest trail from Stolove to Pluzhne.
I had to change my round glasses for the square ones.
Now, near dawn, I change the square for the round. Daybreak.
The peasant goes home, the soup smells of a village green.
In my life I have known only seven gardens and six cities. Everything else is as if in fog. I only passed through.
Seven gardens and six cities. Sultry, languid noon, the branches of alders. Stairs already growing cold. Fractured midnight.
Likely the time before the Last Judgment.
Dawn gazing upward, a timorous rooster transports an astronomer along the flames. The wind a swan.
Shortly before Judgment.
Hags walk the stairs, Furies scratch at the door. We tremble in corners.
Have you ever considered what spiders live off, when closed in dark rooms where no fly ever enters, where not a single strand of light ever falls? Where only the wan light of a glowing candle casts sporadic shadows on a cracked wall?
Have you noticed how many hands the spider has empty? Isaac Antan peeked in at me through the door, his face pressed against the glass pane. He said nothing and left again.
Isaac Antan is the wealthiest man among us. He possesses wealth like no one else here, like few anywhere. He is a mute.
I often see him in the woods, by the clearings where deer go. His eyes are the same as theirs, and his lips are always moist.
Gypsy Dilmatch speaks to him with his eyes. Antan smiles at him. Dilmatch is our poorest.
Dilmatch brought a violin for me to repair. It was cracked.
I wrote the first entry to The Diary of Mr. Pinke in 1981 at the age of seventeen. I was taking frequent walks then through Prague’s Lesser Town, in whose crooked lanes and on the banks of the Vltava the story came to me. The poet Bohdan Chlíbec was the first person with whom I shared the world of the imaginary Galician village named Voronski, and not only did he prove to be a perceptive audience but appears in the story in the guise of Yom Kever (a pseudonym he once used for his first collection of poems, a slim typescript volume). I worked on the text more systematically between 1984 and 1988, having a lot of time and space to write while living in an out-of-the-way little town in Český les (Bohemian Forest). It was that forgotten, neglected, oddly silenced region that somehow served as the archetype for the Voronski in my imagination. All its forests and thickets, hills and fields, houses and bridges, were modeled on this corner of Bohemia, which in the 1980s was indeed at the edge of the world — devoid of its original inhabitants (Sudeten Germans), devoid of traditions, tourists, and services. A veritable wilderness. You could walk the entire day without meeting a single soul. It was ideal for writing. So The Diary of Mr. Pinke took shape in the fragrant, sun-splashed glades amid the pine forests, or in the cool shade of spruce groves, on the steps of derelict farmhouses, in the shadow of ruined churches and demolished chateaux.
In 1990, I gave the unedited manuscript to the printers
who had also produced the first volume in my “In margine” series, a poetry anthology simply titled Poems. The Diary of Mr. Pinke was the second volume, as well as the last. Its “official” publication was in 1993 (with illustrations by Andreas Wolf), but unfortunately again no editing was done and the entire month of November was left out to boot, presumably because the publisher didn’t want to exceed a certain number of printer folios. The print run was minimal and very few found their way into bookshops.
The English translation published by Twisted Spoon Press in 1995 was based on this first Czech edition, but it did reach more readers. For example, one day I received a letter from a man who was living in a cabin somewhere in the woods of America. He wrote that Voronski was situ ated in his very countryside, a faraway land to me, and that the places and stories from The Diary could just as easily have occurred there. It was also read by the late American poet John Hollander, who was instrumental in getting part of it set to music by the composer Karen Siegel, who titled it October in Galizien.
The book truly has had a life of its own independent of me. When it was reworked in another artistic form, I gen erally only learned about it after the fact. It appears most of the artists who drew inspiration from The Diary for their own work thought the author, me, was long dead. The director Pavel Linhart actually confirmed these suspi cions when he was adapting the story for radio. When I showed up to hear what he had come up with, he spoke for everyone involved in the production : “It’s a little strange
for us to see you here since we all thought you died a long time ago. We had no idea that such an anachronistic book could be written by a contemporary author.”
Jiří Kolář was a fan, and it truly meant a lot to me, not to say an honor, to hear his thoughts on the text. He would avidly reread The Diary and send me postcards from his visits to Voronski to tell me what was revealed to him in that imaginary world. “You have a discovered a new poetic form — the poetry of presage,” he wrote on one such post card. Another time he urged me to go further with writing “presage poetry” (by appending a kind of archetypal postlude, a quintessence of subjective mood). Postcards from Voronski were also sent to me by the poet Emil Juliš and the Slovak writer Peter Pišťanek. This comment from Juliš has stuck in my head : “Greetings from a town I’m not in now nor have ever visited.” The Diary of Mr. Pinke both fas cinated and horrified him. While he appreciated its Chagallian atmosphere, he admitted he was afraid to stay in that world for too long, and not because he disliked it, but because he feared he would never leave : “It’s a hard place to say goodbye to. Every time I close the book I’m made aware of the overwhelming hostility of the world we’re condemned to live in.”
Even today the Voronski landscape remains for me a kind of pleasantly peculiar dream, a fantasy place of fre quent walks and encounters. I would be happy to meet you there one day as well.E. M., Prague, 2018
ewald murrer was born in 1964, in Prague. From 1985-90 he was employed by the President’s Office as a gardener at Prague Castle. Free to publish officially after the Velvet Revolution, his work appeared in numerous anthologies, such as Child of Europe (Penguin Books), Daylight in Nightclub Inferno (Catbird), and This Side of Reality (Serpent’s Tail). In 1992, he launched Iniciály, which immediately became an influential venue for young writers. Starting with the The Diary of Mr. Pinke in 1990/93, Murrer published a number of poetry and short-prose collections over the decade while working as an editor for some of the leading magazines and radio. Then he took a long break. Since 2018 nearly a dozen new volumes of his writing have appeared, including a trilogy of “stories in verse,” the first of which, Night Reading in 2019, won the Magnesia Litera Prize for Poetry Book of the Year. Murrer lives in Prague and currently works as a web administrator.pinke Ewald Murrer by Alice Pišťková the Czech (Prague: Inverze, by Jed Slast by Ewald Murrer Silk