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Chekhov’s Fancy

by Sven Birkerts

You can’t really think about life, not in the way you think
about other things, what to make for supper, where to stop for
the night. If you try you just get very tired.
Life scurries, bending low, keeping to dark corners. When
you look to the right it hurries past on the left. It is a most
gentle, timid, changeful creature. It will hold its own little cough
until you take out your handkerchief—you never, ever hear it.
As for hiding places—well, life loves words the best. It flies
through the holes in the alphabet like a circus flea. Sometimes
you open a book and catch it by surprise: it is sprawled out over
a whole page, or else curled up in an O like Diogenes in his barrel.
The mirror is another favorite spot. Life hoists itself into
the glass so that it can watch you. You stand, gaping, feeling
the tremble in the air. You think: Those are not my eyes!
They’re not. What you don’t know is that to those eyes you are
a god. You go crashing through space so assuredly. You reach
for something and close your hand right around it. Life flutters
its lashes, awed. You have the true freedom. You can turn
around. You don’t have to watch as the shape gets smaller and
smaller or see its primitive little face suddenly covered with hair.
You stride forward, oblivious to its sad, faraway salute.


Sven Birkets has reviewed for The Nation and has an essay forthcoming in The Iowa Review. (1982)

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