augury doggerel

Saturday, January 26, 2002


Where we live, between old and older, the flat asphalt veers off to the left and leaves our street in boot-wobbling cobblestones that are sinking unevenly, collecting mud and puddles and thirsty birds.

Our building is fifteen boxes of people in a larger concrete box built to communist specifications now somewhere in central archives. We get our heat through underground pipes, steam from an invisible plant. In winter, you could trace a dry strip a meter wide across sidewalks and grass to the source, and you could leave your windows open all winter and pay the same heating bill as anyone else; they charge by the size of your apartment and the number of people officially living there.

Across the street is a row of red brick buildings from before the war, or before the wars; I am no architect; they could be a hundred years old. They are lower, more organic, outbuildinged, and even decorated: the top rows were laid in simple diagonal patterns. They make their own heat in their own fireplaces, which they have to stuff with coal from cold basements. When they light a fire on icy mornings, sharp black smoke shoots from their chimneys into the air over us. When we get a winter fog and the smoke of coal together, I think of the beginning of "A Christmas Carol."

The space between those buildings and ours is just the width of the thin cobblestone road and the sidewalks (mud on their side, concrete on ours). The few trees growing on our street fill with rooks. You can see them fill their chests and lean into the sound when they stand on branches and rraww.

Down the cobbles, two buildings away, is an old house with a back lawn leading down to the millstream that still runs through the city. Until this winter, the people in that house sold Christmas trees. This year they had just one tree, an evergreen growing beside the house. It's still strung with lights. Maybe someone is ill or has died. I don't know what they burn late at night. Garbage, maybe. Something else? The smell is furtive and unpleasant.

Two or three minute�s walk away is a wide, rolling cemetery packed shoulder to shoulder with stone graves. Near it is the psychiatric hospital. Both keep their backs to the woods.


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