AGAIN I SEE VESTA. She’s at the parchman farm with her husband, the Pole Radek, but all the pressures of farm life have toppled her over the edge. Clad in blouse and skirt, she loses control, cries and howls, reaches for Radek’s silver pistol and lets loose, shooting friends, relatives, neighbors. Radek and his brother Marek stack the corpses in an old cellar, the bodies laid along the wall shelves like in some early Christian catacomb. The brothers panic and scheme. They ride away in their truck and then it’s just me and Vesta, who seems tired by all the bloodletting. I am afraid she will kill me too, so we play nice and as she gets into bed for the night, with her golden locks strewn across the pillows gleaming like patches of wild summer strawberries, she looks up at me and sighs and we embrace and exchange. Her flesh comes alive to the touch, her strawberries rise up as if to taste the rain, but then she pushes me away. “You have to go,” she says. “He’ll be back soon.” Downstairs, she shows me an old Russian tractor with an odd curved key. It takes some time to get it started. Then I hoist her up on its lid and bury my face below her skirt into that brilliant fertile crescent. It feels as if I have surrendered my very soul up to kingdom come and my heart now is at ease. “You really must go,” she says again. “I love it, I do, but you have to go. He will be back very soon!” I look at Vesta in the light of the barn and think about the bodies stacked up in the cellar. She looks gorgeous but it is time to go. Then I ride the sputtering old tractor over the hill and into the starry evening darkness. “As soon as I get home, I’m calling the police,” I think to myself. “Then I will tell them about the murderers and where the bodies are.”
“You have seen them/ the ones who feed the pigeons/ cutting the stale bread/ with their thumbs & penknives/ the ones with old pocketwatches/ the old ones with gnarled hands/ and wild eyebrows/ the ones with the baggy pants/ with both belt & suspenders/ the grappa drinkers with teeth like corn/ the Piemontesi the Genovesi the Siciliani/ smelling of garlic & pepperoni/ the ones who loved Mussolini/ the old fascists/ the ones who loved Garibaldi/ the old anarchists reading L’Umanita Nova/ the ones who loved Sacco & Vanzetti/ They are almost all gone now/ They are sitting and waiting their turn/ and sunning themselves in front of the church”
— from “The Old Italians Dying,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1919-2021
YESTERDAY WAS independence day, but a mix or combination of the two. Estonia’s takes place in dreary doldrum winter, the 24th of February, America’s in hot and humid July, the 4th, but this one was the Estonian celebration but in the hot summer. There was an old white house, with many floors and rooms, and there was a crowd of people there. Miss Cloud and the Designer were there, but they ignored me, and I eventually stumbled into a bedroom with a rather lean, classical beauty, tanned from head to toe, who was reading some kind of artbook, perhaps a Matisse or Modigliani collection. She was completely nude, with a towel wrapped around her head, and I attempted coitus but no dice, she just yawned and kept on reading about Matisse, and I dismounted and withered away. Later, I found myself in a nearby house when a tornado swept across the land. I could see its plumes of wind, and the sky lit up white as the house vibrated. I locked myself in a bathroom with another woman, and we dislodged the large wooden door and turned it into a sled. We used this door-sled to escape from the house in the midst of the white whirlwind. July had turned back to February and there was snow on the landscape. We rode that sled all the way back to the first house, like Timothy Dalton and that cellist in The Living Daylights, where the long, lean, and ultra-bored Matisse lady lied sprawled in her bed, gently turning those pages, as if nothing was amiss. We debated returning the stolen door-sled, but decided against it. There had been so much devastation because of the great tornado. Nobody would even notice that it was gone.
MARRIED AGAIN. The circumstances behind the marriage unclear, the back story, the underpinnings, if you will. An old schoolmate, in whom I had limited to no interest in real life, but this is not real life. A big Boston Brahmin wedding on Beacon Hill, with white dresses and limousines, followed by the departure for the honeymoon in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. She suggests going via Long Island to visit our parents, who somehow were not invited and were unaware of the joining. The quickest way is the Georges Bank Tunnel, which connects Boston with Cape Cod and the islands, running out through the harbor, hitting all the smaller shoals, Gallops Island, Lovells Island, Great Brewster, Middle Brewster, Outer Brewster, then far out with the currents to Georges Bank, the historic fishing grounds of the mustachioed fishermen Basques and Portuguese in their seawater-slickened oilskins, then back around to Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, off past Naushon, Nashawena, and Cuttyhunk. The tunnel was constructed from sand-colored bricks, obviously during a public works program in the 1930s. One floated via the tunnel, which was half-inundated with water that carried a traveler from stop to stop. Somewhere in that area we came upon an island that was still under attack from the Germans, so many decades on. Several young women had been raped and murdered, and their bodies had been dragged before a gray house in the New England saltbox style, where flies buzzed about their puncture wounds. It was then decided to evacuate all of the survivors from the island. The Germans were still out prowling and patrolling the island, growling in their guttural tongue, mach schnell, arbeit macht frei! By nightfall, it was clear these sons of the Führer would be back.
WE USED TO BE, by some metric, people. Or individuals. Or whatever term we once used to refer back to ourselves. These days though, we are increasingly droids, profile images, blocks of text, focused on achievement and efficiency. We all partake, we all want to work. We need money. We do it. Yet at some point there is the great crossover, where you leave your body and soul behind. The internet of things shapes all things, rewires, reframes, recomputes. You are no longer you exactly. We once took photos to see how they might come out. Or to commemorate a family event. Now we even go places to take photos so that we have something new to share on social media. Things are crooked, ühesõnaga, in a word. Things are not as they should be, or at least there is that lingering feeling of 0s and 1s, of digital fuzz, detached, divorced from blood and biology. A weird dream last night, a big sea, and lots of people, circumstances. Nothing I can recall now, many hours after waking. No sex though this time. Hate to disappoint.
YNOFB, why no Facebook? It is rotting my brain, seriously, and I just can’t even stand to look at it anymore. I have become like that writer in Bag of Bones who gets physically ill each time he stares at a computer monitor. And so I yanked the plug and set my self free. Account deactivated. Gone! What is interesting is how married people are to it, and how they come out of the woodwork to try and drag you back in. It’s puzzling for them, that someone might not do what they do. I don’t know. I’m just not feeling it anymore. Will I be back? Probably. But not happily.
I MET JAAK JOHANSON few times, and several times during Viljandi Folk. I recorded some notes while I was working on a chapter for My Viljandi about the festival. These are from July 2019. // I was seated at a table when he just happened to appear across from me. “But Jaak. You’re so much older than me, but you look so young,” I said. “How do you do it?” “Simple,” he answered. “I breathe very slowly.” Jaak’s people are from Viljandi area. He has deep roots in the soil here, but they were actually gypsy traders. “They came here with the Swedish king in the 1700s,” he says. “And they liked it so much that they stayed behind!” One can see why they liked it. Behind his brushy bush of dark hair, one can see the light on the rooftops from that almost Islamic crescent of moon in a light blue night sky, crossed with the spire of St. John’s Church. Later, during a concert on Kaevumägi, Johanson comes out on stage with a bag over his head. It turns out that he is the guest of honor. // In memory of Jaak Johanson (1959-2021).
LAST NIGHT I DREAMT of Igrayne, we went to some kind of art cinema in Tallinn’s Old Town, you know the kind, with walls painted black, folding chairs. Igrayne likes to wave her hands around when she talks, and then puts them on her hips, to feign disgust and outrage. She has long light-colored hair and is not afraid of donning a miniskirt. Her hair used to be some natural color. Now it’s? Something else. Pink? Platinum? Bottle yellow? It’s fun to watch Igrayne communicate. Her violent words spurt out like free jazz, peppered with slang, salted with broken English. She thought the film was terrible shit, and was annoyed for having to even endure it, but I told her that it had some merits. Then we had a nice wet kiss and it seemed to resolve her internal conflicts about the setting and the scenery. Afterwards we were on a school bus together, during which time she went down on me. That was a real pleasure. Later, I received word that my mother would be flying in to visit. We were to meet in Abja, which is a little nothing town on the southern Estonian frontier opposite Latvia, but which looked a lot like Cutchogue, Long Island, in the dream. I couldn’t figure out which way the plane was flying, and I didn’t know if I was supposed to go to the airport, or would she come herself? To make matters worse, there was some kind of photoshoot for a magazine in Abja, and I arrived on time, only to discover it had been cancelled, and found myself wandering around a hotel at the “beach,” the Abja Hotel, which was set back within a nest of pines along the sea. At some point, I meandered into a party where Esta introduced me to an old university friend, who was a beautiful woman with smooth tan legs and blonde hair and a birdlike chirp of a voice. A rather comical type this one. I remember that, and that she was very sweet and welcoming and her legs were very smooth, and thought, why not, you can be my new partner then, then scooped her up in my arms like King Kong and away we went. It was a glorious homecoming, us together. A triumphant return.
SITTING AROUND watching winter sport on TV the other day, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the skiers, and especially the women cross country skiers, and especially the youthful one from Sweden with the gems of eyes and tuffs of hair (and freckles and charisma). What a striking beauty. You know, when she reaches the finish line, pulls off the hat, sweat all over, glistens in the sun. It’s like the raw sugar juice off a maple. Then I thought, there are so many other women in this world. Not just the ones across the street, or the ones down the lane, or the ones up around the bend. There are so many of them, and they are all so different, and they are all so interesting. I redoubled my own efforts to ski cross country in the meantime, because I was never instructed as to how. At the ski shop, I learned my own were the wrong length. I had almost no idea what I was doing, but have done it anyhow. I had them waxed. It was time to become more real about it. I probably owe a small part of that edge over the edge to seeing others devote themselves. A lot of clarity comes from rote physical exertion. It burns off the worries, thoughts, trauma. There is peace in it. The peace of the winter. I am grateful to her now that I think of it. I’m grateful to that svensk athlete. She gave me a piece of my life back.
I’VE BEEN DOWN SO MANY of these streets before, though it’s easy to get lost back here in this new part of town. Light falling snow drifts down in thick wet white chunks at 1 in the morning on a Monday, officially, the start of the work week. A world or life of excommunication in a cold place that doesn’t even know the meaning of the word. Snow drifting, snow wind rustling the house lights, some Christmas lights still up, lanterns on the street corners, lanterns in the windows, all covered in wind, night, and snow. So quiet in the black of the winter, so silent, not even dogs barking. Just nothing, just deathly silence, the silence of the windows, the silence of the people you thought were your friends. When she moved here, she did something wrong, and when she did something wrong, her friends dropped her. They refuse to even speak to her, and everything she did to unwrong her wrong only made it wronger, trapped like an animal. There must be another way forward than this kind of village small-town hell-bound mindset. What you did. What you said. How you said it. How you did it. That thing you said, that thing you did, that way in which you did and said it. Village codes violated, a grotesque breaching of all normal customs, a disgrace. Nightmare lanes. Walking and walking. The harrowing voices ringing like swampland birds of prey. “It’s not normal. It’s just not normal.” The Christians killed pagans, burned witches, pressed men to death, severed heads, hands, alighted political enemies at the stake, and sent many thousands to die in pointless wars in the Holy Land. They were a violent rueful lot. The pagans did mostly the same. But if there is any base, põhi, grounding of empathy, altruism, charity, goodwill, humility, it can’t be found here. This is the land of E, E is for ego. That thing you said. That thing you did. That way you did it. A turn of the corner. All still silent and peaceful. The public is sleeping in its beds. The snow is still drifting. There shall be peace in town again, at least until daybreak.