I haven’t written in a while. I’m sorry. I haven’t written much at all, and the blank pages in those notebooks I bought at the beginning of the school year seem to reflect accusations at me when I look at them. Words just haven’t fit the way I want them to, and it can be so hard to mold my thoughts into language without strangling them.
On the other hand, it’s so easy to sink into nostalgia. In a single day, I feel so many empty, self-indulgent, easy feelings, emotions with intensity but no velocity. My mind is like a shallow pool whose waters refracted give it the illusion of depth, whose plane is circumscribed by imperceptible limits that nonetheless assert their presence. I don’t do anything with these feelings, but they circulate in my mind, like birds that have been trapped in a cage with nowhere to roost, permutations of the same thoughts. Would taking action to force change sully the purity of my emotions or is that a rationalization that emerged from my lethargy? Ilyana, my thoughts are trapped within me and I in them. You led me out of them, when I could. But now I only really have my books to lead me out. They extend a comforting hand, but they can only take me to where my mind meets with the minds of others. That world extends far and expands always, but it never quite breaches the frontier of the world that everyone else inhabits.
Mom worries. I’ve been in summer school the past month or so. It was kind of a big deal. Mom got called to school for a parent-teacher conference with my chemistry teacher, and they decided that retaking the class was the best thing for me. I was really close to passing, and Ms. Aira was contemplating giving me a few extra points so I wouldn’t have to repeat. “To take things into consideration” was her reason. Mom didn’t think that was a good idea though, so I’ve been retaking chem for hours every day. You don’t have to care about grades. Aunt Polina longs to worry about you though, and she has projected to worry onto me. (I don’t say that to make you feel guilty, so I hope you don’t.) She comes over to review the material with me every evening after dinner, and my test scores have improved a lot this second them around.
Recently I have been reading a lot of poetry, most of it pretty unusual, like calligrams or other poems that play with typography. I don’t know if you ever came across these poems much. The words might form pictures or they sometimes splatter all over the page. Sometimes there is only a single word on a page. Or there might be two words in one line but each word hugs opposite edges of the page. Even the word themselves get ripped apart, syllables or letters left to hang, stripped partially of their meaning. Words are also smashed together in a mad rush of sound. I find bits and pieces of myself in these strange poems, in the spaces and in the ink. They help me widen my mindscape, that limited pool, and they make me feel like I am getting closer to where everyone else is. It’s kind of funny, because often, I don’t have any idea what they mean. I mean, look at this, I copied this down for you (it’s from “A throw of the dice never will abolish chance” by Stéphane Mallarmé):
This poem provokes so many questions. But right now, the strangeness is soothing. The giant cascading words, the giant CHANCE, the “identical neutrality of the abyss.”
I’ve also been practicing cello a lot, although I haven’t really been going to lessons. Since my grades dropped so much, Mom and Dad decided they wanted me to focus on schoolwork and they’ve paused the lessons. If my first report card this coming year is good – B’s at the very least, they said – I get to continue the lessons. I’m not sure if stopping my lessons worked out the way they wanted to, because I still spent a lot of time playing, just practicing old songs or trying out new ones on my own. I learned to play “Bohemian Rhapsody” for you! I played it in front of your grave – did you hear?
Cello also helps me the way the poetry does, to blur the lines between my space and others’. Mom and Dad can tell, I think, so they can’t bring themselves to stop me. I’ll try harder when school starts. I miss having a teacher to help me improve. I also don’t want Mom and Dad to worry so much, and schoolwork is one of the easier things to control. (They are concerned that I never go out with friends and that I eat lunch alone. I tell them that I eat in Ms. Fajans’ room, so I’m not alone. From time to time, Leela Mehta joins us even though she has her own group of friends. We don’t talk much, but I found I don’t mind her presence while I read quietly. Mom and Dad do not consider this friendship.)
I have poetry and I have cello and I have you, even though I’ve been neglecting our correspondence. Tell me more about Iswy the Bookseller! I wish I could see those maps. They sound fantastic. Maybe they aren’t wrong, but the inaccuracies are hidden to us and the maps would reveal them. Is there one of home? Perhaps you could describe it to me, and I can explore based off of your descriptions.
Maybe it is because I am still alive, but Ygritte’s sorrow... does not perplex me, exactly, but I wonder that she should be distraught to see her son again. I would like to see you again, and I think that when I die, I would want to have my family around me again eventually. Do people always find each other again after death?
Oh, I should tell you that I think I have seen the floating graves, and not just in my dreams this time. Another strange thing happened to me a while back. I haven’t seen the girl on fire again, and I don’t know much about those questions I was supposedly asking, but I go to the Well of Loneliness often. Also, I haven’t seen a golden day since the one I wrote about, though I’m unsure if that is due to the weather or just due to me. Anyway, one time, I went to the Well of Loneliness after school. I don’t remember when exactly, but the days were beginning to get longer. This time, I did not sit against the well but instead found shade beneath a tree and sat facing it. I started reading my book – it was No Matter Where I Travel, I Go to Nowhereland
by Mascha Kaléko – but I didn’t get very far before my attention was caught by a restless movement above the well.
I lifted my head and saw blue-green sprites leaping out of the well in a coordinated fashion, like they were performing a choreographed dance. I looked around to see if anyone else was around, but I didn’t see anyone. The sprites chittered melodically as they danced, twirling this way and that, until they noticed me watching and froze. For a moment I was afraid that my attention started them and they’d disappear, but curiously they turned toward me (or seemed to, anyway, their lack of features resembling a face made it hard to tell) and bowed. I lowered my head to them in response, because it felt like the right thing to do. They were delighted by this and continued to dance in a greater frenzy before. They left the immediate parameters of the well and darted about the clearing, even swirling around my head. I wanted to join them, but something in me warned against it.
At a signal imperceptible to me, the sprites all froze again and winked out of sight. As I wondered if I had imagined the entire display, a ghostly, writhing figure twisted up out of the well. Its scales were a bluish, matte color, but they seemed like they would shine if sunlight could touch them. It looked like an unnaturally elongated lizard – a Tatzlwurm? It, or its specter, hovered above the mouth of the well, struggling and railing in a futile resistance against something I couldn’t see. It noticed me after a few moments and lunged at me. I scrambled backwards, but I didn’t have to. Something was holding it back, probably the same thing it was trying to escape. Then, as suddenly as the sprites, the Tatzlwurm vanished.
In its place, floating graves slowly materialized. I think they might have been the same as your floating graves. Green roses clung to the graves’ sides, as moss drapes over headstones. A sea of them stretched beyond the edge of the well to some mysterious vanishing point and out to the sides, maybe past the sides of the clearing. I don’t know. I was mesmerized, immersed. I felt like they surrounded me, though I had not moved. I closed my eyes and felt the gentle vibrato of the graves swaying in this invisible ocean. I listened them hum, faintly at first and then louder so that I could hear nothing else, not my own thoughts, nor my consciousness. My self was dispersed among the graves; their music absorbed my heartbeat.
I don’t know how long that lasted, but a rolling fire started consuming the graves at the far edge of this sea and its roar snapped me back together into my person. The flames twisted together with a violence and fury that reminded me of the Tatzlwurm and spun into a bird with sparkling seafoam eyes. Its fire-feathers gleamed with silver and gold, flashing with each flap of its wings. A song emanated from the flames, vibrant, powerful, and uplifting. As it sang (projected song?), the Firebird soared upward and disappeared. The song’s notes lingered in the air long after the Firebird left and I sat unmoving in the clearing even longer after.
I stayed there, still and insensible, until Dad found me. He yelled at me at the clearing, was angrily silent on the drive home, and then yelled at me some more; Mom yelled at me and then cried and mentioned you and cried harder. (I guess I should also mention that, while this was technically after school, I also skipped school that day to go to the public library and the principal called home.) I listened to them, said sorry many times, ate my cold dinner, and went to bed soon after, my mind still on the extraordinary pageantry I had witnessed.
Mom is calling me to go eat, so I’ll wrap up. Here’s a short bit from a poem I like, from Mascha Kaléko. It’s from “Mein Schönstes Gedicht.” I translated these lines (with help from Google Translate).
Mein schönstes Gedicht?
Ich schrieb es nicht.
Aus tiefsten Tiefen stieg es.
Ich schwieg es.
My most beautiful poem?
I never wrote it.
From the deepest depths it rushed up.
I hushed it.
Love (and apologies),