I hadn’t realized that Yvgenny Yevtushenko was dead. I’d been carrying around Bratsk Station in my bag and my car, my pocket, for years. Kind of meaning to read it, but instead dipping into it over lunches and other idle times when I could, almost randomly. It kept making me feel like I needed to journey and to document and to write, and of course, to have a lady on my . . . shoulder, but my expectations are multitudinous and eventually drive away the ladies with various disappointments.
It was over wasn’t it? Wasn’t it? All really in need of moving on from. Despite my skepticism of our modern concepts of “closure” and self “forgiveness”. Everyone nods and everyone has the same smile they have when they find out you’re in the hospital, having your heart adjusted with electricity. Hope that works out for you, is the look, hope that all works out for you.
As a child I didn’t read the Bible, nor had anyone implored me to do so. My family was fine with a God but Mom and Dad weren’t interested in anything organized. At some point, in Pennsylvania someone gave me a massive illustrated Bible that I thought was beautiful, but Mother’s look of consternation and her tight-lipped “Who’s that from?” was not lost on me. I tried to read it, but found the language impenetrable—necessarily so according to Pasteur—but as a youth I soon tired of attempting to make sense of it. And as a teen knew that there was no such thing as gods. This despite my mother’s terrifying insistence that a disembodied head floated about her bedroom. It occurred to me that Mom did a lot of drinking. So I became a skeptic early in self defense and had no use for fantasy until much later in life. A devoutly pragmatic youth always, I read nature books and Audubon guides as well as war memoirs. Later on though, it became distressingly clear that our lives and our arts are dedicated to the ancients. Reading Herodotus, Homer, and the Bible were dramatic steps in increasing knowledge of where our hopes and dreams and expectations are taking us, and the cyclical nature of our short-wired lives. Philippians chapter 2 verse 5 is a sweet, very Buddhist statement about removing yourself from the purpose of your actions and keeping others ahead of your interests. Reading the Bible is a big help, just not from a devotional perspective. Parts can be read as novels, other parts as attempts at history, just as other ancient texts lay foundations of culture.
America, though, we largely discarded the Buddhism of the world. The very central theme to open market is that if everyone is as selfish as possible then the system should carry on with the best and the most cost-effective (cost-effective: consider it) winning the game out of a kind of wholesale disregard for environment, neighborliness, or love. We are an active and proud refutation of the concerns of community. Our religious folk are arrogant warriors with their feet firmly planted on the ground they anticipate dying to defend, they spoil for fights, and they find fights. Modern Christians have forgotten that their dead are awaiting the Second Coming and instead all their spirits are already somehow in Heaven (also not a biblical idea). It matters not, the religion caters to the desires of the masses and continues to fight equality and progressive solutions. Religious businessmen put Bible quotes on their cards and use the congregation as a captured market. In America, arguments rage about whether or not Jesus rejected riches and rich people. Rich people build their own churches and commission pious artworks that include their likenesses to be arranged in the church as a “gift”. Insane politicians have paintings made in which they, with heretical aplomb, are pictured hanging-out with the lord. I always laughed. I thought our best and our brightest would always prevail.
A year before Yevtushenko passed Jim Harrison did, just weeks after he appeared on a popular food centered television show. He seemed tired and possibly beat. I loved seeing him just the same, but mourned his passing, rushing from bookstore to bookstore collecting his works that spring, and reading much of them in the ensuing months as I worked on a comic novella.
My lady tried to maintain her good cheer. She tried to celebrate the highlights with me. But her patience with poverty wore thin (I could not help her buy a house and then it became clear I would not be wanted in her house). The last straw was when I walked away from a supermarket job that sapped my strength and my dignity. I didn’t get fired, but had a minor tiff with a customer. A chubby East Asian lady who didn’t understand it was my first shift, and that I was left there basically unaided. I couldn’t see what she pointed at and she seemed to think I was deliberately playing dumb to avoid selling something to her. It didn’t help that it was hard to communicate, and it didn’t help that I was only seven hours into the actual job (the rest of it had been online training, and book knowledge).
The lady had been campaigning for her sister in the south. I joined her for a day of campaigning as well. We lost. Our presidential candidate lost. The nation was plunged into a darkness of jerkishness. I tried hard to soften the blow. The accusations of the winning candidate were that the election was rigged if he lost. It soon went the other way, the rigging it now seemed clear existed but it existed to favor the lunatic who made the claim.
Depression, sleeplessness, paranoia, an afib heart . . . later. And I was caught with another woman, having a wonderful time. Pleasure had been well outlawed, and that sort has always been the reality and the bane.
It occurs to us all that the interest and reality of the world is in those items we seek to confuse ourselves with as wrong. Certainly killing is wrong, but killing is every one of our most popular stories. Tolstoy kills Anna. Dostoevsky makes us love our killer Raskolnikov. Why do our lovers own our pleasure? And when they no longer want to make love what are we to do? What advice is there that is actually useful? None. Love and death are the central problems of our lives and it is clear we haven’t a goddamned thing for them. Those frozen “good luck with that” smiles.
The new president has many affairs. His affairs, covered on television, garner tremendous ratings. The people apparently adore his philandering. Even the right-wing religious seem nothing but titillated by his extra marital dalliances. Twenty years ago they were rabidly pursuing and succeeded in impeachment of the president. This time however, we hear that he represents Sampson from the Old Testament.
I don’t care if people have affairs. I feel like it’s really none of our business. But this president is accused of threatening the ladies to maintain their silence, and then plying them with piles of money, like some kind of thug from a bad noir film. It seems utterly without sense. How is it this wealthy playboy, responsible for nothing in his life, answering to no one, ignorant of all human endeavor and accomplishment is somehow the champion of so many?
In Bratsk Station Yevtushenko rambles delightfully around. Poetry it seems to me is the ultimate manner in which to continually interrupt yourself. It is one of the finer ways to represent the mental ministrations of thought and sensory stimulation. It was 1967, the prelude to a dramatically difficult year for the world. Upheaval in America was outrageous, race riots, assassinations, a public irretrievably divided on a longstanding war in a foreign country that had delved into unthinkable atrocities, and a president who loved nothing as much as law and order, who would even declare members of The Beatles public enemies.
Mom would yell, Nixon is a stinker. Nixon is a liar. We have that right, she once pointed out. We have the right to say these things. Though that’s about it. It amuses me that so many despots worry about the opinions of their subjects, as if saying “despot” means the situation immediately becomes dangerous for a despot somehow. Largely we do nothing. Nixon said that things aren’t illegal when the president does them. The current president buffoon hasn’t said that yet. Maybe he doesn’t need to since the precedent has been set.
Knowing that so many wonderfully brilliant people are gone eases the impending death of the rest of us I think. If even David Bowie has to pass away, if even Carl Sagan, if even the gloriously beautiful airline attendant dies in the crash . . . well, I guess it’s OK then, it really is a kind of leveling there, death cares not about us. It ignores our beauty our accomplishments and our intelligence. It is shocking that way. Of course, birth ignores all that too, but we aren’t known at birth. We have no consciousness. No ability to create our religious to save our souls. I’ve been immediately delving into internet tools to find deaths. Doug Kenney, Stephen J. Gould, Yevtushenko and Jim Harrison, are no longer with us, of course. Sex and death being those free things we have so little control over. I’ve put aside the Alice Munroe I was reading, I wasn’t ready for more suicides. I’ll tip my hat to her skills, but move on from the mediocrity of the inevitable end.
The poem seems to me the best means of constantly interrupting ourselves.