If you sit alone in a room long enough, and if you do so year after year until you’re so old or so young you don’t know what or who are where you are, you can rest assured of at least one thing: you’ve put in a good day’s work.
A Rose and Other Matters
I’m tempted to move the book with the picture of André Malraux on the cover back to the little round table by the rocking chair in the other room. It’s distracting to have him looking up at me from my work table, right palm against his cheek, half-smoked cigarette between his lips, expression impatient, frustrated, and bored, fresh plots and accusations forming in his mind. But I won’t. I’d rather stare back at him instead. Let him be distracted, even though he’s dead.
Is death the ultimate form of distraction? Or is it an acute form of attention?
This morning on the Internet, I saw an old picture of the poet Sergei Yesenin lying in his casket, surrounded by mourners. One of his wives, if I remember the accompanying note correctly, was Tolstoy’s granddaughter. Or maybe one of his granddaughters was Tolstoy’s wife. Or maybe one of his Tolstoys was his wife’s granddaughter — unless his granddaughter was Tolstoy.
In any case, Yesenin looked neither distracted nor attentive. A flower — was it a rose? — had been placed in his hand. Did he know it was there? It didn’t seem so. His head lay on a pillow, slightly elevated. His eyes were closed, and he wore a remorseful expression that was almost a frown, as if to say, “Why did I kill myself? I should be writing.”
Yesenin committed suicide. But it hardly matters now. It matters because we like to know, or think we want or need to know. But those are trivial reasons. It mattered to Yesenin, not us. It mattered to those who knew, loved, liked, needed, hated, admired, and remembered him. To some, it mattered so much that they also committed suicide. That mattering is what matters, just as our own mattering matters to us now.
The flower in his hand — who placed it there? What did it mean to that person? What did it mean to each of the others who saw it? It might have been a book instead. It might have been a string of beads, a photograph, a medallion, or a pen.
Whatever it might have been, the end was the same: Yesenin was lowered into his grave, and those who mourned or celebrated his departure returned to their own private tedium, befuddlement, and despair, their own joys and accomplishments, their own beliefs, hopes, illnesses, triumphs, and mistakes. And today the earth is populated by their descendants, and by the descendants of those around the world who didn’t know Yesenin but knew someone else. Enter here the list of names. Be sure to include your own. Enter here the beauty of the rose.
Songs and Letters, December 27, 2006
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Categories: Songs and Letters