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.

Even the dog, whose name was Samson

Imagine the man
who learns over a hotel phone line
that his whose family has burned in a house fire in Ohio,
nine hours earlier, the day before his short flight home.

From then on, it will play like the late night movie special every incoming dusk
flicker on the unwrinkled big screen, illuminating the darkness.

In order to remember
he will do small things. Chew his lip to its bright edge, til he can taste metal.
He will hiccup for hours at a stretch, neither able nor wanting to stop.
He will pull the tight skin from the back of his neck and pinch it hard between thumb and index nail.

Once, when he is doing the latter,
another man, wearing a grey suit poorly tailored and brandishing a half-centimeter shaving cut in the skin just beneath his left ear
will be about to raise his wine glass in yet another toast
of the interminable birthday party of their employer,

but will pause, noticing the tensed, raised arm of this fellow sitting across
whose face communicates nothing festivity,
rather a grim hardness that seems to reflect the laughter of the room and return it hollowed.
This will irritate the man about to make the toast. For an indulgent moment he will envision his own hand reaching to jerk the other’s down, to awaken him with bright slap.

This however will pass in a split second. And the toast will be made,
albeit with perhaps less confidence, the words clipped at the ends,
which the other guests, or those at least listening will interpret as a sign of the speaker’s encroaching drunkenness,

that some will find embarrassing and others amusing and a few
will watch the sweat accumulate in the grooves of his five o’clock shadow
and feel pride to not be so sloppy,
so blatant in their decomposition at this late hour of the evening.

The man, who for the hundred thousandth time is privately viewing a film reel of flames
collapsing the Sears brand vinyl siding of a low slung two bedroom house
will exhale as the toast is pronounced, and the brief attention of the speaker drifts away.
He will exhale again, pushing out the air in a puff,
and let his fingers move downwards, drawing a rich red line from nape to shoulder,
He will lower his hand
with great control
to the now wine drop spattered white-spread table.
He will exhale again.
Return to chewing his lip.

“Esperando Tu Olvido”

This is a little rough piece of writing. But that’s what blogs are for, right? Names have been changed for reasons of basic good manners.

Love is at least partly about being located. I loved him, therefore I was; I loved him powerfully, therefore sweated, dreamt, was feverish with strength.
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