“How miserable I am!” he muttered, “my God, how miserable!” And joy gave way to the boredom of everyday life, and the feeling of irrevocable loss.
—Anton Chekhov, “Typhus”
He took to reading Chekhov late at night
and studied up on Fox Talbot and calotypes.
Watched the History Channel, anything
on Lincoln or the Civil War, Caligula,
who cut off tongues and fucked his sister.
After Chekhov, he’d head downstairs, putter
with a model plane or pull the lint out
of the dryer screen. Sometimes lie fetal
on the couch, make toast, unbuttered.
How miserable I am, he muttered.
Why Chekhov and not Kafka or Conrad?
Why Talbot and not Daguerre? Lincoln
and not Adams or FDR, John Wilkes Booth
and not Leon Czolgosz or Charles Guiteau?
Why model planes and not carved decoys
in the attic? All the while, he was affable
and focused, building a wooden box camera
and writing an early history of photography.
Grief, like photographs, inerasable.
My God, how miserable.
I’m thinking back on childhood. He sucked
his fingers, not his thumb. He seemed happy
but had trouble sleeping, afraid of the dark.
Aren’t all children afraid of the dark? Only
later came the other things, the unspeakable.
It reminds me of that deer we hit, the knife
my then-husband took to its throat, as men
do, letting one brand of suffering cancel out
another. That deer was a door to years of grief.
And joy gave way to the boredom of everyday life.
Chekhov’s stories are essentially plotless.
Mirsky wrote they are a “biography of a mood,”
and Chekhov himself hoped to write
with the objectivity of a chemist. Bored,
he traveled five thousand miles, three thousand
in a rickety carriage drawn by horse,
to the penal colony on Sakhalin Island. Chekhov,
in ill-health, suffering, trotting his way through
wilderness toward imprisoned sufferers, all to cross
paths with the feeling of irrevocable loss.
from Rattle #41, Fall 2013
Tribute to Single Parent Poets
[ download audio]
Diane Seuss: “My ex-husband walked out on us during a blizzard in 1999, dragging his clothes in two garbage bags down the sidewalk and away. From then on, my son was the child of a single mother. He was also a photographer, a reader of Russian fiction, a heroin addict, and now an addict in recovery. I write about him rarely, and always with trepidation, lest I sentimentalize or simplify what has been, for both of us, an undiminishable journey.”