bove the dark good sea the boundless air rushed here and there, it flew like a blue falcon, silently swallowing nightâ€™s poison. And the air thought: everything passes, rotted fruit hangs by a string. Like a dream, the star arises, the bee immortal sings. Why shouldnâ€™t man, like death or stone, watch the sand without a word. The flower yearns with its petals and thought descends upon the flower. (And the air swept up the sea as if the sea of metal be). This hour the flower understands the forest, sky and diamond. The flower is a jerk, a leafy grove, we watch it on our right, as long as we are still alive
weâ€™ll snip it with a knife. (And the air swept up the sea as if the sea of metal be). The flowerâ€™s wiser than the man, it asks to be given a name. We named the flower andrei he is our peer in matters of the mind. The bugs and birds around the flower moaned aloud like forest cups, a river ran around him sticking out its stinger, and the ants and the butterflies ring like bells above the flower, pleasantly the swallows cry, tenderly flying over the fields. And the air swept up the sea as if the sea of metal be.
I’d gladly drink another shot of water to the health of this bird in the air, who flies like a fanatic circling over bushes of excitement like a lunatic, her eyes’ magnetic shine takes in rays of the highest level. She hovers, this bird candle, above a drop of water, over river, over mountain, often adopting the look of a psalm, possessing the image of a hollow thing, she does not snag the hill’s wing, an earthly man pines for her. She is a goddess divine. She is God’s paper, sweet and kind, to her life’s crowded desert is not all so pleasant. You, little bird, are suicide, or you are renunciation.
I would very much like to touch a heavenly body that has perspired overnight like a maiden, and I’d like so very much to see all of night’s figure as it is inexplicable, this night, a dying-out-er, this croaking daughter, like heavenly sand it is palpable, now wilting away into Tuesday, I’d lift a particle of this night like a petal, but I feel just the same.
Kukharsky, have you been breathing ether?
I touch a stone. But the hardness of the stone does not convince me anymore. Let the sun shine in like a palm tree in the sky but that light doesn’t do anything for me. Every single thing has color, every single thing has length, every single thing has length, has width, and comet’s depth, every single thing now fades and everything remains the same.
Why are we sitting here like little children, wouldn’t it be better to sit down and sing something, a song, for instance.
Let’s sing the surface of a song.
THE SONG OF THE NOTEBOOK
Sea, oh sea, you’re the homeland of waves, the waves are sea-children. The sea is their mother and their sister’s the notebook, it’s been that way now for many a century. And they lived very well. And prayed often. The sea to God and the children to God. And after, they resettled in the sky. From where they sprayed rain, and on that rainy spot a house grew. The house lived well. It taught the doors and windows to play shore, immortality, dream and notebook. Once upon a time.
Once upon a time I walked poisoned down a road, and time walked in step by my side. Baby birds sang variously in the bushes, and the grass lay low in many places. Like a battlefield in the distance rose the mighty sea. It goes without saying that it was hard to breathe. I thought about why only verbs are subjugated to the hour, minute and year, while house, forest and sky, like Mongols of some kind, have suddenly been released from time. I thought about it and I understood. We all know it, that action becomes an insomniac China, that actions are dead, they stretch out like dead men, and now we decorate them with garlands. Their mobility is a lie, their density a swindle, and a dead fog devours them. Things are like children that sleep in their cradles. Like stars that move in the sky just a little. Like drowsy flowers that soundlessly grow. Things are like music, they stand still. I stopped. Here I thought, my mind could not grasp the onslaught of new tribulations. And I saw a house, like winter, diving. And I saw a swallow signifying a garden where the shadows of trees like branches make sound, where the branches of trees are like shadows of the mind. I heard musicâ€™s monotonous gait,
I tried to catch the boat of words. I tested the word in cold and in fire, but the hours drew in tighter and tighter. And the poison reigning inside me wielded power like an empty dream. Once upon a time.
Before every word I put the question: what does it mean, and over every word I place the mark of its tense. Where is my dear soul Masha, and where are her banal hands, and her eyes and other parts? Where does she wander murdered or alive? I haven’t the strength. Who? I. What? haven’t the strength. I’m alone as a candle. I’m seven minutes past five alone 8 minutes past five, as nine minutes past five a candle 10 minutes past five. A moment as if never. And four o’clock also. The window, also. But everything is the same.
It gets dark, it gets light, not a dream to be had, where’s the sea, where’s the word, where’s shadow, where’s the writing pad, one hundred and fifty-five is nearly at hand.
Before you stands a road. And behind you lies the same path. You stood, you stopped for a quick flash, and you, and we all, saw the road before you. But just then we all went and turned onto our backs, I mean backward, and we saw you, road, and we surveyed you, path, and we all, all as one, declared it was right. This was a feeling—this was a blue organ of the senses. Now let’s take a minute ago, or estimate a minute ahead. Whether you spin around or look over your shoulder, we can’t see these minutes. One of them, the one that has passed, we remember. The other, a point in the future, we imagine. A tree lying flat, a tree hanging, a tree flying. I cannot pinpoint it. We cannot cross it out, nor can we touch it. I do not put my trust in memory, nor in imagination. Time is the only thing that does not exist without us. It devours everything that exists outside us. Here falls the night of the mind. Time ascends above us like a star. Let’s throw back our thought-made heads, that is, our minds. Look, it becomes visible. It ascends above us like a zero. It turns everything into null. (Our last hope is Christ has Risen.) Christ has Risen is our last hope.
ll that I am trying to write here about time is, strictly speaking, untrue. The reasons for this number two. 1) Any person who has not understood time at least a little bit—and only one who has not understood it has understood it at all— must cease to understand everything that exists. 2) Our human logic and our language do not in any way correspond to time, neither in its elementary, nor in its complex understanding. Our logic and our language skid along the surface of time. And yet, perhaps one can try and write something, if not about time—nor on the non-understanding of time—then at the very least to try to fix those few positions of our superficial experience of time, and, on the basis of these, the way into death and general non-understanding becomes clear. If we experience wild non-understanding we will know that no one will be able to counter it with clarity. Woe to us who ponder time. But then with the growth of this nonunderstanding it will become clear to you and me that there is no woe, neither to us, nor to those pondering, nor to time.
I. TIME AND DEATH It is not once that I have felt and understood or not understood death. Here are three incidents which have stayed firmly planted inside me. 1. I was sniffing ether in the bathroom. Suddenly everything changed. Where there had been a door, an exit, a fourth wall appeared from which my mother hung hanged. I recalled then that this was precisely the death foretold as my own. Never had anybody foretold my death. A miracle is possible at the moment of death. It is possible because death is the stopping of time. 2. In prison I had a dream. A small courtyard, a field, a platoon of soldiers, someone is to be hanged, a Negro it seems. I experience a great fear, horror and despair. I ran. And as I ran down the road I realized that I had nowhere to run. Because time is running with me and standing still with the sentenced one. And if we imagine its area, it’s like one big chair on which both of us will sit down simultaneously. Afterward, I’ll stand up and walk on, but he won’t. 3. Another dream. I was walking with my father and either he told me or I realized it myself: that today in an hour and a half they’d hang me. I understood, I experienced a stop. And something for real and finally come. That which has really happened is death. Everything else is not that which has happened. It’s not even that which is happening. It’s a belly button, the shadow of a leaf, it’s a skid on the surface.
II. SIMPLE THINGS Let us think about simple things. A person says: tomorrow, today, evening, Thursday, month, year, during the course of the week. We count the hours in a day. We point to their addition. Before we saw only half the day, now we have noticed the movement within the whole of the day. But when the next one comes, we begin counting the hours from the beginning. In truth, however, we do add a one to the number of days. But then 30 or 31 days go by. And the quantity turns into quality, it stops growing. The name of the month changes. In truth, we do act honestly as regards the years. But the addition of time differs from all other addition. One canâ€™t compare three months gone by with three newly grown trees. The trees are present, their leaves glimmer dimly. Of months one cannot say the same with confidence. The names of minutes, seconds, hours, days, weeks and months distract us from even our superficial understanding of time. All these names are analogous to objects, or to concepts and measures of space. Therefore, a week gone by lies before us like a killed dear. This would be so, if only time helped out in counting space, if it were cooking the books. If time were a mirror image of objects. In reality, objects are feeble mirror images of time. There are no objects. Go on, try and grab them. If we were to erase the numbers from a clock, if we were to forget its false names, maybe then time would want to show its quiet torso, to appear to us in its full glory. Let the mouse run over the stone. Count only its every step. Only forget the word every, only forget the word step. Then each step will seem a
new movement. Then, since your ability to perceive a series of movements as something whole has rightfully disappeared, that which you wrongly called a step (you had confused movement and time with space, you falsely transposed one over the other), that movement will begin to break apart, it will approach zero. The shimmering will begin. The mouse will start to shimmer. Look around you: the world is shimmering (like a mouse).
III. VERBS As we understand them, verbs exist as if all by themselves. They are like swords and rifles piled together. When we go somewhere we take the verb to go with us. Our verbs are triadic. They have time. They have a past, a present and a future. They are mobile. They are flowing, they resemble something truly existing. At the same time, there isnâ€™t a single action that has weight except for murder, suicide, hanging and poison. I would note here, that the last hour or two before death can really be called an hour. It is something whole, something stopped, it is like space, like a world, a room or a garden, which has escaped time. They can be touched. Suicides and murdered ones, did you have a second and not an hour? Yes, a second, maybe two, maybe three, but not an hour, they say. But were they dense and unfaltering? Yes, yes. Verbs live out their life right in front of our eyes. In art the plot and action are vanishing. Those actions that exist in my poems are illogical and useless, they cannot be called actions.
Of a person who used to put on a hat and walk outside, we used to say: he walked outside. This was meaningless. The word walked is an incomprehensible word. But now: he put on his hat and it was getting light and the (blue) sky took off like an eagle. Events do not coincide with time. Time has eaten the event. Not even the bones are left.
IV. OBJECTS Our house has no time. Our forest has no time. Maybe man instinctually felt the instability, this perhaps momentary density of the material casing. Even the present, that present of which it has long been known that there is none, that too he did not give to the object. It turns out that there are no houses and no skies and no forests even more so than there is no present. When a person lived in his own fingernail he got upset and he cried and he moaned. But then one time he noticed that there was no yesterday, no tomorrow, that there was only today. And having lived through today he said: there’s something to talk about. There is none of that today for me, nor for the one who lives in his head, nor the one who gallops like a madman, the one who drinks and eats, the one who sails on a crate, nor for the one who sleeps on the grave of a friend. We’ve got the same things going on. There’s something to talk about. And he began to survey his peaceful surroundings and in the walls of time’s vessel he thought he saw God show himself.
V. ANIMALS A shoddy dawn arises. The forest wakes. And in the forest in a tree on a branch a bird gets up and starts to grumble about the stars it saw in its sleep, and with its beak it knocks on the heads of its silver chicks. And the lion and the wolf and the ferret begrudgingly and drowsily lick their silver young. It, the forest, it reminds us of a buffet filled with silver spoons and forks. Or, maybe, maybe, we look and see a river flows, blue of its willfulness. In the river fish flutter with their children. They look with godlike eyes at the shining water, catching indifferent worms. Does night lie in wait for them, does day lie in wait for them? A tiny insect thinks about happiness. The water bug sulks. The beasts do not make use of alcohol. The beasts are bored without narcotic substances. They abandon themselves to animal orgies. Beasts, time sits over you. Time thinks about you, and God. Beasts, you are bells. The sound face of the fox looks at its forest. The trees stand confident as periods, like quiet frost. But we will leave the forest alone, we wonâ€™t understand anything in the forest. Nature wilts like the night. Letâ€™s go to sleep. We are very gloomy.
VI. POINTS AND THE SEVENTH HOUR When we lie down to sleep we think, we say, we write: the day has passed. And come tomorrow we do not look for the day
that has passed. But before we lie down we approach the day as though it has not yet passed, as if it still exists, as if the day is a road we walked down, we came to the end and we’re tired. But, if we had the desire, we could go back. All our division of time, all our art treats time in such a way as though it didn’t matter when this happened, is happening, or will happen. I felt and for the first time did not understand time in prison. I always thought that at least five days ahead is the same as about five days back. It’s like a room in which you stand in the middle, where a dog is looking into your window. You wanted to turn around and saw a door, but no—you saw a window. But if in a room there are four smooth walls, then the most you will see is death on one of the walls. I thought to test time in prison. I wanted to propose, and even proposed to my cell mate, to repeat exactly the previous day, in prison everything aided this, there were no events. But there was time. I received my punishment in time as well. Points fly about the world, these are points of time. They settle on leaves, they descend on foreheads, they make the bugs happy. One who dies at the age of eighty and one who dies at the age of 10, each has only a second of death. They have nothing but that. One-day butterflies are hundredyear-old dogs to us. The difference lies only in that the eightyyear-old has no future while the 10-year-old does. But even that is untrue because the future breaks apart. Because before a new second is added the old one vanishes. This can be depicted thus:
Ø Ø Ø Ø Ø Ø Ø Ø Ø Ø O
Only the zeros shouldn’t be crossed out, but erased. And both have such a secondary, momentary future, or neither have it, it could not and would not be, since they are dying. Our calendar is made in such a way that we do not feel the newness of each second. But in prison that newness of each second and, at the same time, the nothingness of this newness became clear to me. I cannot understand now if I had been released two days earlier or later if there would be any difference. It becomes unclear what earlier and later mean, everything becomes unclear. And still the roosters crow every night. But memory is not dependable, witnesses get confused and make mistakes. It is never 3 o’clock twice in one night. Those who were killed lying here now—were they killed a minute ago and will they be killed the day after tomorrow. The imagination is unstable. Every hour, at least, if not every minute, gets its own number, which remains the same with every next addition or subtraction. Let’s say it’s the seventh hour and let it last. To begin with, at least, days, weeks and months must be cancelled. Then the roosters will crow at different times. The equality of the spaces between them doesn’t exist, because that which exists cannot be compared to that which doesn’t exist already, or maybe never existed. How do we know? We do not see the points of time. The seventh hour descends on everything.
VII. THE SAD REMAINS OF EVENTS Everything deteriorates to its final mortal parts. Time swallows the world. I do not un
TRANSLATOR’S NOTE Alexander Vvedensky (1904-1941) studied art and poetry under the Russian Futurists in Leningrad during the early nineteentwenties, a liberal period of Soviet power. He banded together with Daniil Kharms and others to form various avant-garde groups dedicated to theater, poetry and general troublemaking, all of which culminated in the formation of the OBERIU (Union of Real Art) in 1928. The OBERIU found itself increasingly attacked in the press and in late 1931, its key members were arrested on charges of being involved in an “anti-soviet group of children’s writers.” Vvedensky and Kharms spent several months in prison and were then exiled until the end of 1932. There would be no more OBERIU performances, and no hope of publication, except for sporadic poems and translations in magazines and books for children. In the mid-thirties, Vvedensky left Leningrad for a quieter life in Kharkov. He died—or was killed—during the evacuation of the Ukraine in 1941. His poetry was not published in Russia until the period of glasnost. Much of Vvedensky’s work comes down to us from Kharms’s archives (a suitcase that, after Kharms’s arrest in 1941, was in the safe-keeping of their mutual friend, Iakov Druskin.) And, of course, some of his writings have been lost. The notebook presented here in its entirety has come to be called the “gray notebook” simply because of its color. Vvedensky wrote in this notebook in 1932-1933, soon after returning to Leningrad from his exile in Kursk. Two loose sheets with short prose pieces were found inside the notebook and are included here as inserts. Parts of this translation have previously appeared in New American Writing. Further translations of Vvedensky’s poetry and plays can be found in OBERIU: An Anthology of Russian Absurdism (Northwestern Univ. Press, 2006) edited by Eugene Ostashevsky, and in a forthcoming edition from Green Integer. —Matvei Yankelevich
020 The Gray Notebook | A lexander Vvedensky Ugly Duck ling Presse Eastern European Poets Series # 0 5th Edition: Digital Only
Ø This English translation of Alexander Vvedensky’s The Gray Notebook was first published in 2002 as the innaugural book (Number Zero) of the Eastern European Poets Series from Ugly Duckling Presse. The series publishes books by contemporary Eastern European poets in English translation, as well as émigré poets, and influential writers of the past whose work is not widely available. The Eastern European Poets Series has been suported in part by the New York State Council on the Arts, a state agency.
Ø Translation (c) 2002, 2003, 2009, 2013 by Matvei Yankelevich. Book design by Anna Moschovakis and Matvei Yankelevich. Digitally typeset in Adobe Caslon and Myriad. Covers for all four editions were letterpressed in hand-set Caslon. Each edition was printed on different interiori paper and cover paper (always gray), and each was bound with a machine-stitch. The 1st and 2nd editions were limited print runs: 36 and 50 respectively. The third edition had a print run of 200 (2003), and the 4th (2009) a run of 500 copies. This digital edition (2013) is based on and incorporates som of the slightly varied designs of each of the previous editions.
Ø This digital edition of The Gray Notebook was made available in celebration of An Invitation for Me to Think, a selected volume of Alexander Vvedensky's poetry (edited by Eugene Ostashevsky) from New York Review Books (Spring 2013), which includes part of this text.