Born in 1948, Vladimir Gandelsman is very much the literary child of the poets of the Russian Silver Age. He draws on their dramatic, spiritually intense version of modernism, the acme, or the highest point of expression, whether meditating on fleeting moments or on major historical events. His literary parents include Pasternak and Mandelstam. Proust and Wilde are his relatives: he draws on and develops their respective fascinations with the sensuous quality of everyday life. Gandelsman’s exquisite diction and surprising collages of words help us remember our own moments of heightened feeling.
The streets are named for German poets in my huge provincial Midwestern city. Dust whirls up from the tires of passing cars, lifting a veil over me, like Romantic longing. On Goethe, I want nothing more than to reach down and feel a lover’s big skull in my hands. On Schiller, lust subsides, among the wrought iron doors and grand steps, lined with hundreds of dollars of candles. Inside, patricians mingle in the high-minded friendships I desire for myself. About this, as so much else, the flowers in the window-boxes on Schiller are philosophical. Their arguments are convoluted, but concern the beauty of simplicity, freedom from need, and, even more often, the depredations of time. One fat peony speaks as if she were the Sybil: “Live with your century but do not be its creature.”
In this story, the gun
doesn’t go off. The sun
melts the pistol into a vase,
the intact barrel becoming a lip
to hold flowers. The un-murdered
kiss, their clothes sliding
to the floor, their orgasms proof
of a feminine ending.
There can be nothing humble about a modern supplicant
if circumstance leaves him begging for a five-pound block
of cheese. Someone makes sandwiches of broken glass
and light mayo for the children of the divorced, who are us.