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   Chapter V





   "Teptyolkin's strange," the young ladies were chit-chatting as they walked down Kirochnaya Street. "Probably a virgin."

   "Got to marry him off, but then he'll go to waste for no good reason. If you want, I'll marry him off to you," Marya Petrovna Dalmatova started laughing, after thinking a moment. "He'll kiss your feet, work for you like an ox, and there you are--all the time lying in a bed without sheets and flipping through novels."

   "I want love, so flowers will start coming up everywhere, so the world will turn bright for me. Then again," Natasha sighed, "the devil knows what's around us."

   "Never mind. Let's go drinking tonight. They'll read us some poems, offer some wine, they'll kiss," Musya burst out laughing.

  "But, of course, they're rascals," Natasha broke off her laughter.

  "Never mind," Musya spurted out. "If someone starts climbing on for real, I'll stick a pin where he'll feel it good. He'll back off in a hurry." She pulled out and brandished a broken hat pin.

   "I'm going, only for your sake," Natasha declared. "Are you sure it isn't dangerous?

   "Nonsense. If he starts bothering you, give him a punch below the belt--he'll step aside like a sweetheart."

   They went in the entrance. Svechin opened the door for them.

   "Well, what do we have here, girls? You've come," he smiled and lit up. "We'll have ourselves a nice, little, merry old party."

   Behind him appeared Asphodelyev, shaven, hands moistened with eau de cologne, in a morning coat, in a shining pince-nez. He said hello solemnly and deliberately, asked if they had been out for a stroll that day around the Summer Garden, and if they had written any new poetry.

   The foursome walked into the room.

   A mummy-like person got up, tossed his long hair, bowed from afar.

   "That's our friend Kokosha Shlyapkin," Svechin introduced him, "poet, musician, artist, round-the-world traveler. He's now molding revolutionary scenes out of clay--a most terrible rascal."

   The character smiled.

   Asphodelyev started courting Musya and Svechin, Natasha. Kokosha first sat next to one pair, then the other, and, evidently, was getting bored.

   After supper, the all-purpose artist Kokosha sat at the piano, started improvising. In the next room Asphodelyev, choosing a spot with a little more shade, hauled Musya onto a couch. Musya, groggy from drinking too much wine, let him run his lips up her arm and kiss the back of her head, but she fended off his hands and pushed away his chin.

   Asphodelyev then tried to ply her with philosophy.

   "What the hell good is it being a virgin?" he whispered, cuddling her up to him and rotating the flabby expanse of his back. "Or are you tempted by bourgeois virtues? No, of course not. I'm offering you the fairy-tale life of bohemia, a truly aristocratic life."

   And the fat man dropped his pince-nez.

   "A girl is a fledgling sparrow," he continued his manipulations. "She smells like white bread. A woman--that's a flower, that's a fragrance. A family--that's petty bourgeoisie, that's darning socks, that's a kitchen." His hand made an attempt, but was stopped. "We poets," said Asphodelyev, rolling to the other side, "are a spiritual aristocracy. A woman poet needs experiences. How could you mean to write poetry without knowing a man?"

   Just then, Svechin dragged a giggling Natasha across the room. She was totally drunk, her head slung over the side. Covering her mouth with her hand, she felt like throwing up. He carried her into the lavatory and started pacing about excitedly outside the door. He took her into the last room and lowered her onto the bed.

   Natasha buried her head in a pillow and fell asleep. Svechin, whistling, started to get undressed. He took off his shirt and slowly began to untie his boots.

   "Wait till she's a bit more under."

   He took off his boots, stood them neatly by the bed.

   He stopped her mouth with his hand. She tried to throw him off her, but couldn't. Through his hand she cried and saw the light of a lamp.

   He sat on the edge of the bed to catch his breath. Natasha raised her head, ran her hands over her breast, looked at his back, lay down and started crying. He turned, gave her a jolly slap and said, "Isn't it all the same--sooner or later?"


   "How's it going with you?" he asked Asphodelyev, coming into the drawing room.

   The latter was sitting, his face turned glum. Musya started laughing.

   He drew Asphodelyev over to the window.

   "You're an idiot," he said. "And where's that rascal, Kokosha?"

   "He left a long time ago. Got tired of waiting."

   "Your Kokosha's an idiot. He would have gone to the bedroom now till the girl comes to. I told him to wait."

   "I'll go there," Asphodelyev said, with a smile on his plump face. Straightening his pince-nez, he headed off.

   Svechin went up to Musya.

   "Where's Natasha?" she asked.

   But Svechin held her back by her arms.

   "She'll be right out."

   Musya caught the drift and became upset with her girlfriend.

   "Idiot," she thought and sat down.

   Svechin sat down and started to cajole her.

   "Where's Natasha?" she repeated again. She got up to go look for her.

   Out of the door came Asphodelyev, wearing a smile.

   "Your Natasha's drunk as a fish. She'll be right out."

   Outside the windows the sun was coming up. The girlfriends made an exit without saying good-bye.


   That morning Kovalyov was sitting in front of a window. Here's Pierrot carrying Columbine, here's an old husband lying under a lamp, while a young woman stands and looks for fleas. Here's a girl lying naked on an operating table, with a gray-haired doctor bent over her in contemplation.

   So many memories... So many memories.

   The picture postcard with Pierrot and Columbine is his favorite. The postcards with the flea hunt and with the operating table are the favorites of General Golubyets.

   And while Kovalyov was hauling crushed stone in a wheelbarrow onto a wooden barge, Natasha walked by, on the way back from her binge. With her little nose tucked in her collar, Natasha didn't recognize Kovalyov, but Kovalyov was awfully glad she didn't recognize him. Of course, he's not a worker, just loading crushed stone like this temporarily, till he finds a real job. Natasha disappeared. Kovalyov lit up a smoke, sat down on the wheelbarrow and started thinking. He took out a thick slice of sifted-flour bread with raisins and ate with relish, remembered Easter, the peal of bells in the air and romances.

   "Never mind. I'll burst out and become a man once again ," he decided. "It's just that it's hard to get into a trade union"

   And he started to think about a union the way he used to think about the St. George Cross.

   "No matter what, I have to make a living for myself in construction."




Chapter VI





   Natasha's father, General Golubyets, examining a score, was smoking a cheap cigar, when Natasha, back from her binge, walked by into her room. On this spring morning, her father felt like having a talk. He got up, started walking right behind Natasha and came to a stop at the doorway.

   "A commandant was sitting by the window," General Golubyets began telling an anecdote, "and he saw a lieutenant of the N-sky Regiment walking down the street without a saber. 'Ivan!' the commandant calls an attendant and points out the officer. A minute later, the officer shows up in the room, with a saber. The commandant sees the saber and he's baffled. 'Forgive me, lieutenant,' he says, 'it seemed to me your face was unfamiliar. Have you been here in the city a long time?' And, after a courteous chat, the officer is dismissed. The lieutenant went out. The commandant sat down again at the window. A minute later, he sees the very same lieutenant walking without a saber! 'Ivan!' yells the commandant. 'Call him!' A minute later, in comes the officer with a saber. The commandant is even more confused and asks the officer to give his respects to the commander of the regiment. The officer went out. The commandant sat down again at the window. A minute later, he sees the same officer walking again without a saber! 'Ivan!' yells the commandant. 'Get him back here.' A minute later, the same lieutenant comes in with a saber. Totally confused, the commandant invites the lieutenant to come by some evening to play vint. The young officer went out. The commandant sat down at the window. A minute later, he sees the same lieutenant walking without a saber! 'Liza, Elena Alexandrovna!' the commandant calls his wife and daughter and points to the officer in the window. 'Is there a sabre on him?' 'No saber!' wife and daughter answer in unison. 'But I say there's a saber! There's a saber!' the commandant yells and gets angry."

   General Golubyets held a pause.

   "And do you know where the lieutenant got hold of a sabre?" he asked at Natasha's room. "It was the commandant's very own saber!"

   Former General Golubyets retreats from the the door into the dining room, sits down at the score. Close by are the samovar and his wife. He's a pianist at a movie theater. She sews voile dresses for the market. And behind them, in the room, is their one and only daughter, the slender, giggling child who studies at the university.

   In 191..., seeing Mikhail Kovalyov off to war, Natasha was thinking:  "a hero, a warrior."

   And, once she returned home, she was crying: he'll be killed, probably, he'll be killed. At the time, she was fifteen years old. You couldn't have called her a giggling creature then. True, even then her smile was hit or miss, but this was the smile of bashful people.

   Her fiancé, Mikhail Kovalyov, Cornet of the Pavlograd Hussar Regiment, went to war like going to a parade. Fields and woods flew by. He stood at the window, saw the St. George Cross and the face of his fiancée. But, a week after Mikhail's arrival in the regiment, the soldiers offered him the job of cook. "So much for exploits," he thought. After this, he hid out for a year in the woods near Petersburg. Then he ended up on the Red front, in the capacity of a cavalry inspector's assistant. He lashed out at the Reds wherever he could but served them honorably. Then he was demobilized and found himself in Petersburg. But Natasha had cooled off toward him. She had been transformed by years of hunger. She became a high-strung creature. Then she studied in some kind of theatrical school, where she was grabbed all over. Then she was at the university walking up and down in the Bois de Boulogne (main corridor), smoking a tipped cigarette.



   After the revolution, Mikhail Kovalyov didn't see much of Natasha. The complete lack of money, the impossibility of finding a job--he didn't have any kind of specialty--deeply humiliated him and drove him to despair. But, still, he thought some day he'd find a position and then he'd marry Natasha.

   Every year on the first day of Easter, he pulled on his spotted riding-breeches with gold galloons, the boots with hussar's rosettes, fished out the service jacket from the depths of his bureau. From under the middle he took out the gold shoulder straps with monograms, quickly dressed, put the spurs in his pocket and, in a greatcoat charred in the war with the Whites, flew off to see Natasha.

   This was repeated from year to year. He ran up the stairway. Her former excellency was sitting in the room and reading a book. He triple-kissed Natasha, ate a slice of Easter cake and a small dish of creamy pashka.

   Then Natasha sat at the rickety piano and sang something to herself. She pitifully opened her mouth and looked at Mikhail Kovalyov. She felt sad. She didn't love him any more. She considered him vulgar.

   Sometimes Mikhail Kovalyov got up, asked Natasha to play "Oh, the chrysanthemums have long since faded." He stood next to her, opened his mouth, too, and sang out of tune. Sometimes he sang "The girls all adore it" or "Sweethearts, sweethearts, sweethearts of the cabaret, for you, of course, love's a delight."

   "Ah, how nicely I carried on this evening," he thought, returning home at night along the renamed and newly lit-up streets, among pointed Red Army helmets and leather jackets beneath dangling signs.




Chapter VII




   "For the creation of thought, there must be scientific poetry," Teptyolkin was thinking, lying in bed the day after the reading. "And here's a poet, unbeknownst to anyone, calling forth a new world for us by means of the juxtaposition of words. We'll analyze him, break him down, translate him into the language of prose, strip away the imagery, and the next generation, having by then acquired the fruits of our labors, won't see in his poetry the luxuriant flowering of the imagery of a new world. To them, everything in his poetry will seem ordinary, pathetic. But, now, it's accessible to only a few.

   "Years will pass, a whole epoch will pass away, everything around will change, and they'll laugh at the unknown poet, call him a barbarian, a madman, an idiot, who tried to spoil a beautiful language. Schoolboys, writing nasty rhymes to schoolgirls, clerks declaring love to typists in a compilation of papers, directors of trusts and representatives of local trade unions will say: 'What a degeneration it was, and idle people won't get to the end of a thought! Poetry has to convey an idea, go on the heels of science. If radio's invented--write about radio. If the wireless telegraph is invented, glorify culture.'

   "However, for the time being, even fame is brief." Teptyolkin lowered his legs and sat on the bed. "But, now, fame awaits the unknown poet. Young ladies have already begun sticking photographs into his books, research fellows shake his hand, students hang his portrait on boring books. And if he were to die now, no fewer than forty persons would follow his coffin and they would talk about the struggle against the age and depict him as a cunning Odysseus, who stayed on the island of Circe (art), having fled from the sea (sociology)."

   Teptyolkin glanced out the window to see if the unknown poet was coming by, and he saw him coming, tapping a little cane, waving a hat, carrying a new manuscript.

   "And now I shall feast in the unknown country," Teptyolkin thought and rushed to unlock the door.

   They kissed. They reviled the present age. Mentally, they spat upon the Pioneers who were passing by.

   "What a generation this is, growing up without any humanism, the true avatars of the middle ages, fanatics, barbarians, unenlightened by the glow of humanities."

   "Yes, the spite and ugliness around us--like brutes," Teptyolkin bowed.

   They sat down.

   "And spite and ugliness have always been around us, the stomping of the rabble," Teptyolkin continued, reflecting. "I imagine White Guards vandalizing consular buildings abroad. Before some kind of ambassador moves in there, they tear off the wallpaper, spit at the ceiling and rip out the hardwood floor. They won't sit before the fire to spend an evening for the last time to grieve and look at the upholstered walls. They won't walk around the rooms for a while, or go out to the garden if there is one on the premises."

   "No use philosophizing," the unknown poet turned aside. "We've survived destruction for a long time, I through art, you in literature, and no destruction of any kind will take us by surprise. A cultured person lives mentally, not in one country, but in many, not in one epoch, but in many, and can choose whichever destruction he likes. When destruction finds him at home, he doesn't grieve, he's simply bored. He only mumbles 'We meet once again,' and he'll think it's a joke."

   Teptyolkin began to feel sad, very sad. He went up to the window.

   "What glorious, suntanned children, these Pioneers," he thought and smiled. For some reason he began to feel cheerful and refreshed, as if a gust of air bathed in sunlight had burst into the room. "There they are anew," he thought, "the youth of the world."

   Just then, Kostya Rotikov came into the room.

   "You write marvelous poetry," he turned to the unknown poet, "true baroque."

   Kostya Rotikov had a peculiar bearing. Every bit of him moved with elegance. Today he dropped in on Teptyolkin to make off with the unknown poet and talk to him a while about tastelessness. He collected tasteless and pornographic things as such. Oftentimes, Kostya Rotikov and the unknown poet walked about the markets and picked out ashtrays. On one side the ashtrays were all proper; but on the other, all improper. On one side, a lady walks, smiled upon by the face of a gentleman, but on the other...

   Kostya Rotikov bought not only pornographic postcards, but also postcards that were proper though disgusting. A mustachioed, ruddy gentleman dines with a lady in a restaurant and squeezes her foot under the table with his boot. A girl in a pancake hairdo plays the harp. A naked nymph runs with a mug of beer, chased by a man in Tyrolean costume.

   When they had left, Teptyolkin breathed more freely. He looked around his room, and everything in it pleased him. He even liked the ashtray with flowers (it was there for friends--Teptyolkin didn't smoke), and the flower vase with an Arabian woman who leaned her elbows on a cushion, and the photographs--the family scenes from childhood: here's a six year-old Teptyolkin running after a butterfly with a net, here's an eight year-old Teptyolkin dining, here's a ten year-old Teptyolkin in knight's armor sitting under a Christmas tree; here are photographs of his mother, brothers, sisters, here are his friends; finally, a photograph of the Dream.

   Teptyolkin looked at the summer rocking chair and found it was no less comfortable than a Voltairean armchair. He decided to continue his life's basic work. He opened a trunk. The trunk was always covered with a green plush tablecloth and it depicted--what it depicted is unknown. He took out an exercise book.

   On the first page was traced out: The Hierarchy of Meanings. An introduction to the study of poetic works. On the second page in a lower corner (Teptyolkin loved originality) was the dedication "To my one and Only (only--with a capital letter) and a photograph of the Dream. On the third page was a Roman numeral I, on the fourth a single word, "Foreword," protruded in the middle, on the fifth...

   The work was respectably begun. Farther beneath the basic text went the footnotes in French from the most distinguished contemporary linguists, without translation into Russian (the work was clearly meant for real scholars, and not for silly students). The basic text, it seemed, was also written in a foreign language and only put in agreement with Russian endings. Hinted here was a possibility of giving new definitions to the concept of the romantic and the concept of the classic. Spoken of here was a poetic means for depicting time present in the past and the future, and demolished was the ridiculous supposition that words are a nest for meanings, and a definition given of the esthetic as a phantasm, as a harmonization of nature and history.

   "And if a true artist were to glance at this book," Teptyolkin thought, "he couldn't tear himself away from it. He would be swayed by the spell-binding pathos of its pages. An artistic work is always personal, personal in principle. You can't see an artistic work in a way that's impersonal. It's not the name that matters, but that the work reflects the personality."


*   *


   "Art is rapture, it is an objective phase of being. In the esthetic there is neither nature, nor history, it is a sphere of its own, neither logical, nor ethical, nor the sum of them." No matter how much an artist reads, the book's leitmotiv would persistently echo in his ears: art is enraptured being, fantasy the objective phase of being. And he would forgive Teptyolkin for the ridiculous language, and the French footnotes, and the room's décor and the photograph of the Dream in a hat with umbrella in hands, riding off in a cab.




   For two hours now, Kostya Rotikov has been walking up and down the market in white trousers, a black jacket and felt hat. Tall and stocky, he leans over second-hand goods and squeamishly pries with a little cane in search of pornography.

   "What do you want?" women selling old hardware ask and suck the rim on a glass of hot tea. "Why do you keep digging and throwing things around?"

   Kostya Rotikov blushes and backs off. The unknown poet, on the other hand, stands in front of a market antique-dealer, examines an old, shaggy Venus that looks like a witch. With one hand she leads a Cupid with an oversized head, in the other she holds a balalaika. Venus's hips were girt with a Mongolian cloth with zigzags, her breasts wrinkled, sagging, and along the sides of her head her were the symbols (♀).   

   Just then, Svechin comes up to him.

   "Did you know Kokosha Shlyapkin's doing business here in the market? The scoundrel, he's put out a Red Army man dancing on an officer's chest. He's drawn little portraits of Ilyich, stuck them on medallions and he's offering them to Komsomol girls in little kerchiefs. But you wouldn't know some kind of college girl, would you? I like to pop girls open. Yesterday, while you were enjoying the processions--I know, I know, you were sitting on a balcony somewhere and occasionally spitting down--I was getting Natasha..."

   The former artillery officer made a corresponding gesture.

   The unknown poet had a queasy feeling. He remembered her when she was still a young girl with little pigtails, in a white dress, dancing in children's balls at Pavlovsk.

   "Why, there you are, my friends," Teptyolkin held out his hands to them. "You must be talking about literature, I won't disturb you, I won't."

   He took his leave and went.

   Kostya Rotikov, finally, tracked down a suitable match-box. Svechin headed off, peeping under women's hats.

   Along the wall stood former ladies, offering: one--a teaspoon with a monogram; another--a boa turned reddish that couldn't be worn anywhere; a third--two shotglasses that overflowed with seven flowers; a fourth--a little rag doll of her own making; a fifth--a corset from the nineties. That gray old woman--her hair, which had fallen out when she was still in early youth and which was bound in a little pigtail. This one--relatively young--the badly worn boots of her late husband.




Chapter VIII





   "You're committing an act of great vileness," the unknown poet told me once. "You're destroying my life's work. All my life I was trying in my poetry to show tragedy, to show that we were creatures of light. And it's you who's striving to slander us in every way in the eyes of posterity."

   I looked at him.

   "If you think we have perished, you are cruelly mistaken," the unknown poet continued, his eyes flashing. "We are a special, periodically recurring condition and cannot perish. We are inescapable."

   He sat on a bench. I sat next to him.

   "You--are a professional man of letters. There's nothing worse than a professional man of letters," he said, edging away from me.

   "Madman," I muttered. He turned his head.

   "Sometimes the conscious minds of contemporaries don't coincide--that doesn't give you the right to consider me a madman."

   I felt ashamed. Maybe, indeed, he isn't a madman. We fell silent.

   He started listening warily to the rustle of leaves.

   Komsomol boys walked by us with their girlfriends.

   "No, no, he's a madman, just the same!"

   "I'm often absent," said the unknown poet, as if reading my mind, "but that's nothing but dissolving in nature."

   He got up and shook my hand.

   "I'm truly sorry you live in the world you imagine."

   Teptyolkin came up to him.

   They said hello in earnest and like courteous people. They didn't slap each other on the shoulder.

   They set off along the alley. I walked by the mosque and got on a trolley. "You're a madman just the same, a madman," I thought.

   I went into my building and sharpened a pencil.

   "No," I said, "I have to explain what they're doing right now. Once again, they must be up to some nasty, no-good business."

   I twirled my moustache, went out, put the key in my pocket, looked to see whether I had a pencil and paper on me. It was a white night.

   Columns stepped out, in twos, then threes, then fours. A creature dressed as a Sister of Mercy latched onto me.

   "I'm Tamara," she said.

   "And where's your blanket of white satin?" I asked, "the blanket of expensive stobi material, of Indian calico, of Gilanian silk, the silk pillow the color of violet, the gold veil with a tassel?"

   She aimed her lorgnette at me.

   "You reek of beer," she said. "But you're probably a nice, clean, little man. Let's go to my place."

   "Sure, sure," I answered, "another time. I'm awfully busy now. I don't have the time now."

   "That's okay, that's okay," she said, "we can do it here, too. What do you say we slip off to the side a bit?"

   Seeing that I wasn't stopping, she yelled, "But maybe you're a man of letters. It figures---you're all worthless and destitute. I took one on the dole, Vertikhvostov. He reads me poetry about syphilis, compares himself to a prostitute. He calls me his fiancée."

   "Leave me alone, dear creature," I said, "Leave me alone. I'm not a man of letters, I'm being curious."

   She went after me and escorted me almost as far as Martyrs of the Revolution Square. There, she sat on bench and started to cry.

   "Why the devil are you crying?" I asked her. "Are you crying over a fur coat of ermine, or is it Astrakhan fur with pearls on the lapel, or rings of Neustadt turquoise, or a cloak of Khorasanian cloth, or chess pieces made of fish teeth, boxes made of amber?"

   "I'd like to go for a ride on a bicycle. After all, I'm one of Colonel Babulin's little horses. I want officers around me."

   Only then did I notice she was utterly exhausted.

   "A drunk," I thought and got a move on.

   It was between one and two o'clock in the morning when I came up to the building where Teptyolkin lived. The janitor let me in. I went over to a semi-demolished wing and stood up across from Teptyolkin's window. They were sitting at a table. A kerosene lamp was burning. They were reading something and arguing heatedly. Sometimes the unknown poet would stand and pace up and down the room. "What are they reading? What are they talking about?" I thought. "Probably snickering at the present age."

   "I think," the unknown poet stood up, "our epoch is heroic."

   "Undoubtedly heroic," Teptyolkin affirmed.

   "I think the world is going through the same upheaval as in the first centuries of Christianity."

   "I'm convinced of this," answered Teptyolkin.

   "What a spectacle is unfolding before us!" remarked the unknown poet.

   "What an interesting moment we're living in!" Teptyolkin whispered rapturously.

   "However, it's time," the unknown poet moved away from the window. "I'll take your Dante."

   "Of course," answered Teptyolkin.

   The unknown poet approached, closed the book and put it in his pocket. He started to say good-bye.  



Chapter IX





   One day the unknown poet was reading poetry at a little place by the name of Kruzhalov.

   A drunken, bearded man in a cotton shirt was coiling around him and almost crying with rapture.

   "My God," he kept saying, "what brilliant poetry! All my life I've dreamt about poetry like that!"

   Clapping in concert for the unknown poet were familiar young ladies.

   The man in the cotton shirt breathed on him with a reek of wine and shook his hand.

   "For God's sake, come by to see me. My last name's September."

   The unknown poet took some scraps of notepaper from his pocket, picked out a blank space on one of them and jotted down the address.

   "I've come from Persia. Come by to see me. I haven't heard real poetry in a long time," said the man in the cotton shirt.

   The next day the unknown poet set off to see September.

   September lived in another part of town, in a so-called income building. That is, a tall building with a courtyard as cramped as a well, with the large apartments with all the conveniences facing the street, and the small in the side wings and rear façade, implacably uniform and duplicated in a single plan from top to bottom.

   The unknown poet rang. Sober, in high boots and a clean shirt, strapped with a belt, September opened the door for him.

   In the first room a table stood in the middle, covered with a tablecloth, and with scraps of food on it. Around the table were four bentwood chairs which had been warped by rain. Hanging from a nail was an overcoat, which had turned reddish with time, and his wife's blouse. Half the room was screened off with a bureau. Behind it was September's marriage bed.

   The unknown poet laid aside his walking stick decorated with a bishop's stone, put down his hat and looked at September with genuine affection. He knew a lot about him already. He knew that, seven years earlier, September had spent two years in a house for the insane. He knew the high-strung and frightful element in which September was living.

   "I haven't been able to calm down since yesterday," September was saying. "Before the house for the insane, inside the house for the insane and in Persia there came to me such poetry as if you'd lived and died over and over."

   The unknown poet looked around the room.

   "Read me some of your poetry," he said.

   "No, no, later. Here's my wife."

   Out from behind the bureau came a slender woman with a nice clean, handsome seven year-old boy.

   "Here's my little bunny rabbit, Edgar. This is an extraordinary poet," he said to the child, with a glance at the unknown poet.

   "Pushkin?" the boy asked, his eyes open wide.

   September led the unknown poet into his room. There was a narrow little bed (September's separate bed), covered by a violet blanket with black horizontal stripes. A slender cushion served as a pillow. Scattered across the middle of the bed was a manuscript all scribbled over. On the window sill was a glass and standing on end was an open two-ouncer of Majorca tobacco. Near the wall were a little black table and chair. The room was covered in wallpaper with bright roses.

   September and the unknown poet sat down on the bed.

   "Why did you come here!" After a silence, the unknown poet took a look out the window. "It's death here. Why did you leave behind the shore where you were published, where your wife respected you because you had money? Where you wrote what you call futuristic poetry. Here you won't write a single line."

   "But what about your poetry?" answered September.

   "My poetry," the unknown poet reflected, "maybe isn't poetry at all. Maybe that's why it works the way it does. For me it's an allegory, a specialized material in need of interpretation."

   "I don't entirely understand what you're saying," September started pacing up and down the room. "I'd only finished a four-year city school, then I went out of my mind. Coming out of the hospital, I started writing symbolist poetry, knowing nothing about symbolism. Later, when I happened to come across stories by Poe, I was flabbergasted. I thought I was the one who'd written this book. I became a Futurist just recently."

   He stopped, lifted the edge of the blanket, pulled out from under the bed a wooden case, opened it, took out a manuscript, and read:



The whole world went off in trembling circles,

With a greenish light burning inside.

Leaving the house, I saw a rock face, 

A ship, and a girl above the sea.

Slowly, along the Pryazhka, go pair after pair,

And clinging faces. And clinging flowers.

Your soul's tall eyes don't peel off

Their lashes from my soul.


   "An amazing intelligence," the unknown poet thought while September was reading, "brought on by a mental disorder."

   He looked September in the eye. "Too bad he can't master his own madness."

   "I wrote this poem," September began pacing up and down the room again, "even before coming out of the clinic. I understood it then, but now I don't understand it at all. For me now, it's a heap of words."

   He bent down and pulled some other poems from the case. He straightened up and started reading once again.

   In the overall rhythmicized babble, some high-strung images turned up here and there but, overall, everything was lame.

   September felt this, squatted and confusedly started rummaging deep down in the trunk. He fished out out books of his poems which had been published in Teheran but, even in those, there was nothing.

   "The water's boiled," the wife turned to her husband, stopping at the door. "Pyotr Petrovich, why don't invite your guest to have some tea."

   "Just a minute, just a minute." And September, in a muffled patter of hopelessness, started reading his recent futurist poetry.

   The unknown poet was sitting on the bed, almost in despair.

   "Here's a man," he thought, "who had madness in his hands and he couldn't tame it, couldn't understand it, couldn't make it serve humanity."

   From the window now there came a nighttime chill. September and the unknown poet went into the next next room.

   Pink crackers were lying on a plate. September's wife was pouring  tea. Small, dark-haired and wrinkled but spry, she spoke very, very quickly, offering crackers and speaking once again. Finally, the unknown poet picked up his ears.

    "Isn't it true," she went on, "it's madness to come here, to live horribly here, while at Baikal he has parents, farmhands, a house--a full cup there, and we shouldn't have come here."

   On the table, a kerosene lamp cast a bleary light. Having pushed away his glass, seven year-old Edgar was asleep, his head lying on his hands.

   "My little bunny rabbit," September said, bending and kissing his son.

   Silence set in.

   "You'll destroy me and my son. We have to leave here. Leave here!"

   Getting up from the table, she started pacing up and down the room.

Late at night the unknown poet was coming down the stairway. On a deserted street, listening to the faded echo of his footsteps, he leaned his elbows on the cane with the large bishop's amethyst, thrust out his shoulder blades and started thinking. He'd like to be the head of all madmen, be an Orpheus for madmen. For them he'd plunder east and south and dress the hapless adventures befalling them in a variety of garments, falling off and newly appearing.

   Hatefully, he lifted his cane and threatened sleeping bookkeepers, singers and dancers of the stage. Everyone, as it appeared to him, who wasn't experiencing the most frightful agony.

   "Help! Oh help!" it seemed a girl's voice was screaming from the second floor.

   Understanding nothing, with power, with anguish ten times over, he ran hobbling up the stairway, ran down from it and, with a flying leap, hurtled through a window. His eyes came to a stop and his neck tensed up. Just like that, he grabbed someone by the back of the head and started beating him on the head with his fists. He was easily thrown off, then he grabbed on by the neck. He was tossed back, then he grabbed hold of a heavy chair. He struck.

   Then it was quiet.

   Lying at his feet was Svechin. There wasn't any girl in the room at all.

   "Now there's a laugh for you!" thought the unknown poet, coming to. "Devil only knows what happened."

   Commotion swept the whole apartment. Doors started slamming and feet started trampling down the corridor.

   The unknown poet was knitting his brow.

   They ran to get the police officer on patrol.

   They explained that, while Svechin was asleep, his acquaintance burst into the room through the window and attempted to kill him.

   "What a strange life," the unknown poet was thinking. "Seemingly, way down, deep inside me are vivid sensations of childhood. There was a time when I thought a woman was a special creature, for whom everyone had to sacrifice. Seemingly preserved in my brain until now were some pale faces, unkempt hair, and ringing voices. I must have hated Svechin subconsciously, otherwise how could this hallucination have sprung up?"

   Most surprised of all by this occurrence was Svechin. There was no way he could explain. He walked around in bandages, shrugging his shoulders.

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