Photograph via Flickr by Jules Morgan
The End of the Conflict, or the Miracle of the Analog Clocks
She is from here, he is not: on the evening they fell in love, only the analog clocks stood still (some irregularity in the cycle of the moon; the not-so-tasty body of Christ; the rain that falls but doesn’t hurry in any language; maybe it’s better that I don’t try to explain how this is possible). They can go fuck themselves, she said, they can go fuck themselves, he answered. (They can go fuck themselves, the politicians, the soldiers, the terrorists, the Jews, the Muslims, the Christians, those who lower canaries into coal mines, the taxi drivers, the gamblers, the travelers in time, in ships, in helicopters, the ghosts, the settlers, those asking for the right of return, those against the right of return, the living, the dead, the demonstrators for, the demonstrators against, those who remember everything, those who forget almost nothing. To hell with them all.) This will be the end of the legend: when they got married, instead of rings, they exchanged reading glasses.
Closer to the Rain
The instructor of the photography workshop says that in a few years, digital video will be of such high quality, and the processing power of cameras so much greater, that we’ll simply capture everything on video, and take the still photos that we want out of the footage. The man who received the course as a gift from his children recalls: the first time that he and his wife traveled abroad together, the weather in Rome was a complete disaster. After the fourth umbrella they bought from a street vendor had broken within an hour, they returned to their hotel and asked the concierge to take their picture in front of a white wall. This was a long time before the age of Photoshop. They had to use the good old-fashioned method of scissors and glue with the postcards they bought at the airport. (“But all of this,” says the instructor, “is in the future.” Meanwhile, in the studio’s perfect light, he is about to demonstrate the position of the macro mode that every digital camera has: he places a pot of geraniums on a tall chair.) If only he could sort out all of these little stories and decide which was best to remember.
A Small Lexicon of Lullabies
And it was summer. The ghost was a young pregnant woman. And it was autumn. Once it was a little colder, and the maple trees grew a little slower. Stradivarius, they say, used to make violins out of them. And it was winter. The Zen monk updated his Facebook status: “In the evening, it snowed. At night I dreamed it was snowing.” And finally, spring: the ghost’s water broke.
As is known, every man is limited to a certain number of words in his lifetime, and it’s not like this number is such a big prize, some of these words might also be words
that you whisper in a foreign language that you don’t even know, in a dream
The bearded man who spontaneously combusted on Queen Helen Street in Jerusalem and burned to death was assumed to be a failed suicide bomber, but all suspicions were cast off after it turned out that A) no explosive residue was found in the area, B) two days before the incident he bought himself a membership to the museum, and C) he wasn’t an Arab. The passersby who saw him ignite described the flames as sky blue. The fire burst from his belly and lower back simultaneously and enveloped him instantly. He had no time to cry for help.
On the Oldest Jew in the World
In a letter from May 1945, from liberated Poland, my grandfather (then a young captain in the Red Army) wrote to my grandmother (then his fiancée) that he had seen an old man who was said to be the oldest Jew in the world—115 years old, maybe more. This was in the partisan camp on the banks of the Bystrica: the old man wore tattered boots that had been pulled off a German body. When my grandfather spoke to him in Yiddish the ripple of a smile appeared between his wrinkles—but he didn’t answer.
Of course, he didn’t have documents verifying his age. The Polish partisans said that thanks to the aura that radiated from this old gentleman, not a single one of them had fallen in battle for two years, since he had emerged from the snowy forests and joined them. (The partisans also said that in their opinion the vow of silence he had taken when his wife died ages ago—when she was only twenty-nine—was the very same trait that kept the old man alive for so long. As is known, every man is limited to a certain number of words in his lifetime, and it’s not like this number is such a big prize, some of these words might also be words that you whisper in a foreign language that you don’t even know, in a dream, for example, and who knows where you heard them the first time, and why is it that you repeat them night after night)
This is what my grandfather wrote in his letter, and my future grandmother, who at that time had yet to make peace with all the quirks of her beloved, and above all with his attraction to the esoteric teachings of the East, stopped reading and put the letter in one of the crates with the books that they’d just packed in preparation for the return from the Ural Mountains to Leningrad—according to her claim, when my grandfather returned from the front she even forced him, for two months, to write her real love letters, instead of all these strange stories that he sent her from ’42 onward, when he jumped onto one of the army trucks that was faltering toward Stalingrad. (“It was one of those mornings when the rain poured so hard, some said that on a day like this even angels are drowning in the sky,” but this is already an entirely different story)
By the way, despite my grandfather’s intense desire to believe what the Poles claimed about him, the old man actually didn’t seem that old—no more than eighty or eighty-five; his eyes were a clear and gentle shade of green. It could be that in those days, even older Jews were wandering in the forests of Europe.
The reconstruction of the crime scene, which took place on the very same night as the murder, indicated that the winged creature was shot in the back of the neck as he stood relieving himself. Ten measures of wonders fell to the earth, Jerusalem received more than nine. Early in the morning the city sanitation crew washed the spatter of piss and blood from the Western Wall.
Once upon a time, there was a legend about a lighthouse that turned into a ship and sailed all the seas of the world, and when trying to return, was shattered on the rocks of its childhood. Actually, I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than what happened to poet X, who woke up one morning and discovered that he was poet Y.
Exactly like her mother, who taught her the secrets of the profession, she patches together the cracked axles of their obsolete time machines
The Woman Who Repaired Time Machines
Exactly like her mother, who taught her the secrets of the profession, she patches together the cracked axles of their obsolete time machines, and listens to all of their tall tales, and raises her daughter alone in the house on the hill. Maybe a day will come and she’ll say to one of them—maybe the one who doesn’t remember that he already recited a Cummings poem to her, maggie and milly and molly and may went down to the beach to play one day; or maybe the one who always cuts himself more than once while shaving; or maybe to someone else, who still hasn’t arrived at her time—“If time travel were possible, nobody would stay in this time.”
The Fine Print of Life
This is a very short history of my grandfather, Arkady. His last words to my grandmother (I cannot prove that this is a true story), on the stretcher on the way to the ambulance, were, “I love you.” The aperture of time closes in on him in ’83, two years after he arrived in his new country. Four years earlier, in Leningrad, he took me to a market where it was possible to trade books that were forbidden to everyone for meat that was only forbidden to us. He smoked more than I smoked. He read more than I read. I remember less and less about him. His imagination was full of lions.
Stepping in the Same River Twice
The plumber who was called to the Museum of Modern Art at midnight was not especially interested in modern art (and particularly not at midnight). He brought with him a strange machine, a kind of mechanical metal snake that made more noise than a classroom of children in front of a Mapplethorpe photograph. “This machine can open a clog even in a garage,” he said to the museum director (who was already imagining the sweet scandal of galleries flooded with shit, and hoped in his heart that the master craftsman would fail). After he finished his work with unquestionable success, he said, in the manner of all reactionary plumbers, “You need to hang whoever designed your sewage system. There isn’t a single normal pipe here.”
Alex Epstein was born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) in 1971 and moved to Israel when he was eight. He is the author of seven works of fiction in Hebrew, and in 2003 was awarded the Israeli Prime Minister’s Prize for Literature. His work has appeared in the Iowa Review, Words Without Borders, the Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Tel Aviv. Blue Has No South and Lunar Savings Time, his recent collections of short-short stories, are available in English from Clockroot Books.
Becka Mara McKay is the author of the poetry collection A Meteorologist in the Promised Land (Shearsman, 2010) and the translator of Alex Epstein’s Blue Has No South. Her other translations include Suzane Adam’s Laundry. She currently teaches translation and creative writing at Florida Atlantic University.
The Diversity Test: Alex Epstein participated in a panel Guernica conducted with the participation of PEN World Voices in 2010. The panel, which was led by writer Claire Messud, also included Lorraine Adams, Esther Allen, Alex Epstein, and Norman Rush. To watch a video of this panel, click here.