Tourist Numb, History-Seeped: Vilnius, Lithuania

A thing I wrote this summer while in Vilnius, all freaked out. Lost track of it (or maybe I thought I was being too obnoxious) so I’m posting it now.


There’s the usual tourist numb that begins in the eyeballs and travels down the face to the lips, down the alimentary canal, out along the nerves to the skin. Vilnius gives me no feeling at all—a neutral space where emotion could arrive. The streets are crooked brick that fills with water when it rains (Vilnians wear sockless sandals to imply the futility of resistance), the buildings are short, antique-attractive with ornate metalwork and tall windows. Vilnius is the girl who arrives toward the back of a group of shiny-haired doppelgangers, no less pretty than the rest, but there’s something forced about her and also something vacant and no matter how many times she tells me, I can’t for the life of me remember her name.


On the edge of the city is a police-enforced Rom village. The settled and their watchmen, parents stolen by nightfall. While in the most vacantly pretty of the old city, tourist chow dumplings, meat pies, sour cream borscht and brick-oven pizza beneath the windows of a building in from which a Lithuanian once fired a gun at a German soldier. The pressure of silent history is unlike a gas. No flicking of match tips could light it. The history’s gone dull, the kind of low, deep pain you learn to live with and eventually forget.

How many cities have lived on the ground of this city? Polish, Jewish, Lithuanian, Soviet, Nazi, Romany finally, panting under the bellies of deafening planes. Yet where are the remains? Digital tracings, shipped to YIVO, memory unspooling from softening cells as those who defied death curve into the long night that breathes above Paneriei and everywhere else without exception.

Any way to tell the story is an exercise in narrative. A shim. Behind it, static Vilnius, its drunks, its terse waitresses, the clink of change tells me who’s not here.

That’s not despair; that’s hindsight motherfucker.

The Consuming

(These are photos of ants dragging a dead scorpion along the sidewalk. In case you were wondering.)

An ant is stronger than an elephant. These ones were headed down the sidewalk in a flattening heat. I was walking my a pile of books, my camera and laptop, feeling incapacitated and maybe part of this was weight.

There are writers who are not afraid of the long sentences edging out in front of them, into the greyish light of a story still composing itself. An ant must be, i think, unafraid because—They say—an ant lacks self-conception, or lacks self.

I am afraid to write because I am afraid of cold water and how when I fall-jump into it, my heart for a moment stops and my lungs seize up. What is it that threatens to consume you? Anger can eat like a fire but it has only freed me. But trails winding through dense brush of the imaginary—pretended futures, pretended confrontations, other lives in which i believe i would not be afraid, would never be disliked or distrusted, where I would not have to choose—these, yes, they have eaten me. The compulsive escape. The blackhole of nonbeing, nonasserting, nonacting. Fictions of the mind and of paperback novels, videogames, television…where fantasy is not play but desperate, looking for a final way, a key to a door.

I fear this then, and it’s true the line is so thin between the liar and the storyteller. Fear the storyteller who constructs closed and apathetic worlds. I have bound myself up in overarticulated truths, priding an obsessive “real”-life honesty, while running to numb in the circuitry of another and divorced place. Run towards the liar then, and become her. Because it is the liar who breaks open the real, weaving through it garlands of the possible, of the maybe, the feared and the hoped-for. It is the liar, who we should make our lover and our prince, because she understands how dry and debilitated are the facts, like raw tinder—because, while the storyteller is locked in metaphor, apart from us, a servant to reality, the liar lights a match and lets it fall.

There being more than one “consuming”.

The Storyteller

I was not born in this town, but another far away. Across the world and with a name you would not be able to pronounce. You would misspell it and then you would forget. If I told you.

But—because, to be trusted, the storyteller must lay all his weakness and failure out—I could not in any case tell you the name of that town, because I do not remember. I, too, would say it wrongly, spell it clumsily, adding and subtracting letters like a desperate man.

If you insisted that I must know, that to you it is not important to write the name, only to hear it, to feel its strange and resistant shape against the fine auricle of your ear, I will redden and grow electrically still. Or slam my mug of beer onto the round table between us, making both our sets of teeth rattle. I might curse you, quietly. Certainly, I would not tell you the story.

“But why not?” you would protest, with innocent face of child, eyebrows raised and perfect skin alight with the justice of your fight.

I would say nothing. You can not understand what it means: that my town is nothing, a hole in the past, a dead end in history, while your town and its events are recorded permanently. Are certifiably real. Cannot disappear. Read More