The Ever-Shrinking World
by Jindřich Štyrský
I imagine a girl’s movement, dissecting horror and memory, and nothing from the sacks of silliness I sit on escapes me.
Emilie with the tiny Chinese feet is dead. I save only one lamp without stars, an orb without light. A mirror without image, ruins without memories. In the ivy and in that dwarf nut I rediscovered history, drawn out and losing itself in the melancholy of youth’s bloom, entangled in the memories of days past.
Broken youth floats in houses, houses float in bedrooms, bedrooms float in linen closets, and all of it in full light.
Amid the thicket of black crosses, sunken graves, a moss-covered photograph on enamel, wreaths of glass pearls, vases with yellowed putrefying water like custard, a tissue forming stalks of lace interwoven with liana of ivy. Hanging over the wall from the neighboring garden is a small branch with two oranges. Hooked nails, snail shells, coral scattered in clay, a harvestman peregrinating rusted wires.
I would like to draw your portrait, the face of my sea woman, into the midst of this cemetery scenery, her image engraved on a flaking wall, fissured, soaked by rain, saturated with water, chapped by a windstorm, ravaged by time. Several dried flowers placed between books by a sylphic hand and a fading photograph, these are the only mementos left me.
I saw the evening star rise over the ruins, the path becoming lost in the creeping undergrowth and ultimately in the thicket of carnivorous plants. First cockcrow. Morning star. Hands, your amazing hands turning black as coal. When I stepped on them they disintegrated into mush and mire. And yet I remember remarkably little of my youth.
I recall a coffin that stood in my grandmother’s attic. She kept apples in it, until she was put there herself. The coffin smelled like apple. The rays of autumn sun always penetrated the squares of window at two p.m. without marring the casket’s silver fittings. No discoloration, no turning green.
A spring landscape, standing against the wind, the wind forming a cast of her bosom and legs. She clothed in a light white dress and white slippers, standing at the iron railing, a pattern of regular spirals.
The group ate, swaying in the wind, memories of past lives, a painter of remote walls in Provence, a painter of spilled blood. The silence of mute eyes, the silence of wounds gaping and powdered, the silence of worn walls.
Two doves rose into a pale blue sky.
Water rushing through the houses, splashing and overflowing the chimneys, chairs floating in the barren wasteland of water, pictures among the carcasses of sheep and sweaters. One’s native region is always boring and monotonous.
My feet drowned in the pavement. Hair fell from the cliffs — a mane. Eva dances in the middle of the street, her face lit by a cigarette. The first taste of liquor accumulates in a vegetal womb. Time for the first knife and first wind harp.
I was wearing lingerie that was too long and Klára’s stockings. While she believed she was married to a field marshal and slept with her hands clasped under her head on the gravestone, three monkeys washed her feet, obstructed by a muscular brute kneeling before her, his head on her knee. But they paid him no mind as they scrubbed her lovely calf until the flesh fell from it, forming a mire of blood.
Flying gemstones and in the caves a wind harasses the tongues of forgotten fires.
Red hummingbirds selecting their spots in dazzling fiery green, blue ostriches finding yellow plains of sand and crows a land of snow. Only the gray bat merges with the blue of night.
Olive and cherry trees with torn lace. Oh, tell me all about Astolena! Astolena, this decay of buried corpses. Astolena, this mountain of flies, reduced by wind and made by rain into dough dried by the sun. It is tissue forming succulent stalks of lace. It is an autumnal woman with crimson hair. I said to her APPLE. I should have said PRALINE.
I saw her in an enormous vat filled with vinegar, a thick cork around her neck. A procession of firemen with charters hanging from their mouths filed past. Then she danced in a block of thick fog. To me she seemed without contour, her figure merely a vibration of form illumined by flashes of blue light.
She came to me after the storm. I saw her kneel into ferns flecked with dew. I know each one of her eyelashes and her virtually invisible hands; I know the heavy scent of her abundant copper hair. I saw her face the shimmering woods, nude in the middle of her room. Her laughter like alabaster snowflakes, and she cried over the futile embrace. I know her solitude and her selfish, precipitous heart.
I know her voice; it’s edgy, tired and pure, hesitant, accusatory and callous, velvety, cold and sluggish, turbid and self-seeking. I know its depths, its glow, indifference, vindictiveness, mendacity, and vanity. I know its strength and its vertigo, its sighs, pride, and darkness. I know her voice, suppurating, wandering, silken and clanging. I know her flute-like whisper and her passivity. I also know her silence and the moment of surrender, her cries, violent explosions, her husky hatred. I heard her voice, it sounded like an organ, like the lifeless voice of old women, like the glassy voice of phantoms. I know her tinny voice, as if a contrast between dreaming and vulgarity. I know her voice that speaks and sings in a dream, her voice coming from an immense distance. IN THE END I FOUND THIS VOICE TEDIOUS.
My rusty rose! Your love was as fragrant as a late garden.
I left you for a moonlit landscape. And as I walked the landscape became transformed. I walked through hoarfrost and then on a snowy trail toward white woods. The trees were weighted with snow, and a hare was gnawing at the bark of young rowans. The trail rose through the woods, and I walked a long time, the forest beginning to thin and the snow recede. I heard the occasional twitter of a bird. I stepped on a tuft of snowdrops, walked through a meadow covered in cowslips, and stopped at a pool whose surface was silently ablaze in the sun. Only a metallic dragonfly quivered above the water. Then the leaves yellowed and Indian summer spread over the fields of stubble. I walked further, always toward the horizon, until I finally stopped and for the first time had the clear realization that I had passed through my time as if in a dream.
On your hot miniature breasts, which I love about you most, I place a leaf to cover you with my love and to encumber you like a gravestone.
I no longer see the landscape, and you lift your eyes. Mirrors surround you, waiting for you to enter. Everything around you is submerged in artificial shadows.
They await you. Somewhere nearby you will find a key that opens this valise. To hear, feel, touch is to remember. You will touch the fern lying in wait for you each morning in the mirror. It will be cold.
Astolena will walk around me to tread further the lawn of rhymes, assonances, and puns in the rhythm of an operetta ditty. Her fate is to be a small tallow candle, or a bit larger.
For me flowers exist only by their names.
Only a dahlia had the color of skin torn from the back on a beach. Only it had the color of powder shaken from the ivy. Peonies conceal tears of water among the petals, as do all fat flowers. A gilded flower, similar to Goldband Lilies. White magnolias command silence by their presence as loud talk causes their petals to fall. Red Pyrenean forget-me-nots are like the eyes of a swan, and Normandy salad resembles green lace that has decayed and grown moldy in catacombs, crypts, and on tombs.
Sea-colored water in a glass cube, a star lying on its sandy bottom. The lawns outside my windows release green aniline during a rain shower. It runs down the slope into the lake.
I will never again bring an almond twig.
Never again will I see the nocturnal procession during a lightning storm, the dolphins, bowers of roses, butterflies, lizards, bats in the cliffs, the flight of gulls over the sea, monks in cream habits and black cloaks, pines, the flight of wimples in the wind, and women on rose balconies amidst the flowerpots.
Fossilized heart, fossilized memories, fossilized books, fossilized stars, fossilized black, fossilized cheese, fossilized wrinkles, fossilized velvet, fossilized graves.
One day a band of Ahasueruses will come and peel off the dirt and clean your garment, then they will again spin their tops on the road and continue on their way.
Fossilized sky, fossilized dreams, fossilized lake. The lake looks like death. The woods, impotent solace above the lake.
translated from the Czech by Jed Slast
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