“A thriller, a romance, a CV, a rose of historical winds, a song of crafts, an ontology of Eastern-Ukrainian mind in one, Carbon is told in polyphonic verse–a prayer for the beloved, anguished city [of Donetsk].”
LeipGlo is very happy to share an excerpt from this new, exciting, hybrid piece of literature by accomplished writer Svetlana Lavochkina, creator of our Literary Parlor column. Carbon was published in October 2020 and she is giving LeipGlo’s audience an exclusive first look into it here on the page and also, very soon, live!
Svetlana headlines our next Cocktail Open Mic, online, on 19 February – with pieces from Carbon.
It would be amazing to see you there, whether as a performer or just a viewer. It has been a while since we got together for that bi-monthly occasion we used to look forward to so much every time. Although lockdown still keeps us from being able to gather back at Baileo Tanzpassion, our usual open mic location, we will give it a spin via Zoom.
You can find more details about our virtual “Cocktail Open Mic Vol 14: reach out edition” via the Facebook event. At 7 PM on Fri, 19 Feb, you will be able to join the open mic via its Zoom link.
Now, without further ado, we give the floor to Svetlana…
Excerpts from Carbon by Svetlana Lavochkina
(University of Washington Press, 2020)
Roes of Yes
March 6, 1995
Herewith we express our deep concern with the quality of language teaching in our higher educational establishment. The Iron Curtain having fallen but only recently, it became clear that we professors do not possess the knowledge of the living varieties of the language, having never been abroad, having learnt our Englishes from dusty reels, from old grammar books, thus multiplying ignorance of modern colloquialisms and making ourselves incapable of producing a market-competitive workforce. We dispose of no up-to-date teaching means, textbooks or linguaphone courses. How on Earth are our students supposed to pass TOEFL, to say nothing of the GRE?
With uttermost respect
Chair of Oral and Written Foreign Languages Practice, Faculty of English Philology, 20 signatures
April 26, 1995
Dear Chair of Oral and Written Foreign Languages Practice,
In prompt response to your query, I have to inform you of this: your professor’s salary is 40 dollars a month and whatever kopecks you get as bribes under the table, so please say adieu to any chance of employing a native speaker in our far Ukrainian East. But I rejoice to inform you herewith of serendipitous news:
The Roes of Yes Mission from Alabama applied to me, declaring their intention to come to Donetsk Institute of Foreign Languages entirely pro bono, for six months, with thirty young missionaries and Dr. Ken Morass their leader. They will teach the students some religion, I didn’t quite fathom which exactly, but since in the post-mortem USSR religion is deemed legitimate again, such object of studies is perfectly passable. Concentrate on the granary of methodology gems presenting themselves in this constellation as a propitious chance: peer teaching, geography, full language immersion – crash course on site.
Elizaveta Argon, the only postgraduate in this Institute in command of English approaching minimal communication adequacy is appointed Guide for the Roes of Yes Mission. She is to simultaneously assume the responsibilities of a caretaker. Twenty rooms is not too much to attend to, and fair enough for the bonus almost amounting a professor’s salary. Failure to comply will incur dismissal.
Rector Arkady Myshkin
June 20, 1995
I filled twenty pickle jars with water and put some wasteland ikebana inside:
Nettles, wormwood, devil’s snare, thus decorating twenty hostel rooms.
I swept the floors with a broom, and took to a mop for the first time in my life
(my own apartment was last cleaned by the neighbors after Mother’s funeral).
I scrubbed ten toilets with a brush and a bucket of chlorine
that the Facility Management issued to me against my signature.
I was somewhat excited. Those Alabamans, real native speakers
whose mouths and jaws had been formed by the language
that capitalized the first person pronoun, singular.
Kings and queens, like me, whom no one recognized as such.
I had already worshipped aquarelle paints, herbs, clouds, tongues.
What the hell, why not a change of gods?
The crusaders arrived in Donetsk with their 50-tooth smiles,
wheeling their coffin-sized suitcases. The Gehenna heat
of our continental solstice was peanuts to them:
back home, they showered themselves with hurricanes.
Their sneakers gleamed white, as did their T-shirts
with cutaway drawings of a caviar-filled bass.
Crusader girls brought with them Camellia perfume,
o.b. tampons, disposable razors. They were astonished to know
that Ukrainian girls use cotton wool for their periods and rarely shave.
Crusader guys smelled of Longleaf Pine. Their football shoulders
busted the hostel door frames. In their pristine ignorance of germs,
Roes of Yes wiped the tables with the burlap I’d used for the floors.
Their skin – wheat, rye or slag pile hues, a yes – no see-saw
of stark features, regal dignity of gum-filled domes.
The soft purling drawl, the smudged diphthongs they prided in,
never tired of explaining how the Alabama accent differed from that
of Mississippi or Texas. No salty jokes, no hint at reproductive interest
but for the bass roes which just symbolized nascent yesses of faith.
The Leader of crusaders, Dr Ken Morass, platinum-blond, fortyish,
former geologist. Firm square jaw, eyes stabbing-turquoise
in hawksbeard eyelashes, feather-grass hair on sinewy arms.
Young Roes were in awe of him: “Of Robert E. Lee on the distaff.”
He and I in the hostel utility room, repurposed into the Mission Headquarters.
His bass fading tabasco, we finished discussing the schedule.
“I see unsullied purity in your eyes, Miss,” he cast an informal sideline,
A phenomenon rare nowadays. You’ll be the beacon of our mission.
Nota bene, in Roe Marital Code it is forbidden to make carnal love
even in wedlock. We stay clean in our reproductive endeavors.”
The bout of travel diarrhea subsided. Torn-off flush chains fixed,
the underside of American “I”s scrubbed off the toilet bowls.
I led the Roes on a tour of Donetsk on foot – they didn’t dare to go by tram.
They spoke politely of shabby chic, complained about long walks,
their smooth palms longing to grope their cars’ steering wheels.
The Opera House was turned into a sneaker-white cotton field.
Preliminary Rappelling Session
Lecture hall, ground floor.
Ken handed out the Doctrine of Yes to freshmen and sophomores –
hard cover, white cotton fiber, the heady smell of fresh paper.
The dust jacket featured a picturesque funnel of a crater,
its walls padded with fern, striped with torrents of a waterfall.
“Donbas brethren and sistren,” he started, “we’re both pit folks.
But your dads muck out Hades’ stables to feed barren furnaces.
Your pits are, in spiritual terms, no more than rat holes.
You, first-generation white collars, Soviet post-mortem,
slugs nuzzling linguistic scraps –
we’ve come here to teach you rappelling,
the challenge of going deep down the pit
for a sky-high rebound. Our anchor is faith,
our tether our dignity, virginity our gloves.
We swallow trotline draw hooks of our own accord.
The Neversink Pit, so deep that, from its bottom, we tear down
through earth’s crust, mantle, hotter and hotter
into the fiery core. We sow our nevermelt roes –
pierce the globe, come out on the antipode end.
On our see-saw, your Cat-Eye’s “no” doesn’t stand a chance.
The crusaders moved the chairs aside,
scattered dozens of rubber blobs on the floor,
blew them up with bike pumps, making them swell
into inflatable pools. The caretakers slung garden hoses
through the open windows of the ground floor.
Rusty streams of industrial water hit the pools.
“These are your Neversink miniature copies.
Now we shall be fraternized, sororized, virginally wed.”
“We’ll start with your pretty pale guide.”
I hadn’t been privy to this part of the schedule.
Before I could acquiesce or deny,
Ken dunked me, bass t-shirt, sandals et al,
into the rubber baptismal font.
After ten seconds without air, his grip on my nape,
he released me, half-choked, my clothes transparent,
and joined me in the pool.
“Herewith I marry you, Sister. Over the cirrus clouds,
We shall consummate our union.”
The freshmen and sophomores plunged into the pools
For a pair-up with the Roes of the opposite sex.
Unmatched crusaders ran about sneaker-squeak,
throwing handfuls of gifts onto the newlyweds’ heads:
moon pies, stuffed Mickey-mice, dimes, plastic beads.
The bell rang for lunch break. The missionaries
scrambled out of the pools, flooding the parquet,
leaving their new spouses alone, wet and fazed.
Preliminary rappelling was announced successful.
Down fell the brocade curtain of Ken Morass’ bass.
During the Twilight Communion,
the crusaders took out notepads from their backpacks
to write some numbers into prepared grids
in their curvy longhand.
Converting a freshman scored 2, a sophomore 4.
“Never mind,” Ken whispered into my ear.
“For them, it’s educational ritual, a game.
For me, you’re the act of genuine love”.
(an indigenous guide scored 20 points).
December 2, 1995
US Embassy in Ukraine, Kiev:
My birth certificates, passport, graduation diploma,
marriage license in legal translation,
My apartment sales contract for 6,000 dollars.
2,000 had already been spent
on my one-way plane ticket, two wedding rings
and the Chaste Zygote Feast for a hundred crusaders.
The rest, Ken deposited on the Mission account.
My wedding gown, a white tent dress,
across my breasts, a cutaway gravid bass.
Ken in a black tweed suit and white sneakers,
red-unreduced magma of pupils in hawksbeard.
“Children planned?” the consular clerk asked.
“Working on that, in accordance with our doctrine.”
We’d never shared a bed, Ken keeping his promise.
“Miss Elizaveta Argon, Dr. Ken Morass,”
“Of Robert E. Lee on the distaff,”
My husband added demurely.
“Herewith your marriage is deemed Bona Fide.”
Mrs. Morass’ Green Card approved.”
100 Conversion Points
The Roes looked crestfallen at the check-in counter
beside their coffin suitcases. It was snowing, so much in a clash
with their longleaf pine and camellia perfumes.
The freshmen and sophomores wept outright:
they had gotten used to their American partners in the six months
of sharing the rubber pools, Singing Neversink hymns […].
Cuddling wasn’t allowed but they knew each other’s nakedness
through the daily transparency of their wet clothes.
Only Ken was taking a wife to the antipode part of the globe,
destination Montgomery via Donetsk – Kiev, Paris, Atlanta.
The rest of the Roes were rappelling back un-zygoted.
None of them had been able to collect 100 conversion points,
they hadn’t been in the business for long. Ken said the time
of their true wedding encounters might approach
after the planned Yes-Mission to Chad in ten years,
the latter preceded by Botswana, Laos and Solomon Islands.
Ken himself finished his quest. He had taken a decade
to deserve a spouse (he always said he’d recognized me at once
from his previous incarnations as a bass).
One would presume I summed up my bio on the edge of restarting,
washed Mother’s grave one last time, made a farewell tour of Donetsk –
nothing like this! One would presume I was thrilled to board my first airplane –
humbug! Troposphere’s just mud diluted to nil. I had already known how to fly,
and much higher. […]
In my lap, a fresh issue of The New York Times from the newspaper rack.
President’s sexual misconduct – White House impeachment report
(text type argumentative, text structure – kabob).
Families jeered as the serial killer stiffened in the electric chair.
“I’d rather have seen him impaled,” said a witness whose sister was slain.
(text type – descriptive, text structure – inverted pyramid).
Back in my empire times, when expanding my word-bank,
I used to resort to artless mnemonics:
Impalement, impeachment – pale peach, I recalled with a grin.
One would presume I looked forward to grazing my slug
on my new green card fields, schemed to find my father and siblings –
hogwash! I fell fast asleep in the womb of a blanket; the stewardess tucked me in.
Through a drowsy slit of my eyelids, I saw Ken reach up to his backpack.
He fished out a bulb syringe and a plastic flask.
With tenses and time zones a mess, the stolid snacks
must have caused him some bowel aphasia.
Ken headed for WC over the Bermuda Triangle
while I, yet again, slid into pedestrian slumber.
Pale peach, are you jammed
or I am being executed?
I try to remember my crime.
Deserting the Cat-Eye?
Adopting an eerie faith? […]
“Tut-tut, why are you screaming?
They’ll think you’re being impaled!”
My husband pulled the bulb syringe
from out of the depths of my pants.
According to Chastity Doctrine,
we’ve just conceived a babe.
He wiped the blood on a napkin,
threw his tools into a barf bag.
A slug is a letter without address,
a homeless airborne snail.
The strong odor of conker blossoms.
Ken turned on the air vent.
March 24, 1997
I can still see that final jump. 162 feet. They tore down through earth’s crust, mantle and reached the fiery core. Barren Roe-wives were not allowed into the magma, so I was left on the Neversink edge to listen to their final sopranos and basses, to gaze at their turbo rappel.
Hear and see Svetlana read live from Carbon at:
Cocktail Open Mic Vol 14: reach out edition
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 19, 2021 7–10 PM (LEIPZIG TIME)