By Mikhail Iossel | April 19, 2023

If I close my eyes now (even if while still keeping them open, if that makes any sense to you… as it does to me), with surprisingly little effort, it seems, I can become again a seven-year-old boy a lifetime ago (OK, let’s try to say something a bit more interesting and less repetitive than that), in another lifetime (OK, yeah, well…), sitting in a tall chair (what kind of chair, specifically, describe it… no, I don’t feel like it) at a round dinner table of old and tired dark wood next to my father (he’s a promising young scientist in the super-duper-secret field of, you know, submarine electromagnetism; and what I do not know yet, as a seven-year-old – and wouldn’t find out for a whole lot more years to come – is that when graduating from high school, he had wanted and hoped to become a doctor; but back at the time, in late forties-early fifties, in the fetid political atmosphere of late-Stalinist anti-Semitism and so on quickly building up to the so-called Doctor’s Plot, which… well, those who don’t know what it was could easily google it… anyway, in those years, young people with the word “Jew” written on the infamous “fifth line” of their internal Soviet passports were strongly and officially discouraged from entering the medical profession, so… and incidentally, at seven, I don’t know yet that we’re Jews, which is an unlucky lottery ticket in the Soviet Union or, broader, Russia; I would only be informed about that little detail of my being, by my parents, in a serious sit-down talk, sometime the following year, and that would be such a heart-stopping shock to the little me, such… oh god, we – me included –were those horrible, incorrigible, evil people I’d heard so much about from boys and older women down in the courtyard, it was us, me, oh no…), underneath an intensely and comfortingly (well, how else would I put it) harsh, yellow-shaded lightbulb suspended from the murky concave ceiling on a twisted length of black cord, in our oddly-shaped single room with a humming wall-to-wall woodstove (on whose endlessly repeated pattern of pale-blue ceramic tiles, the abnormally, Uncle Styopa the Militiaman-tall — yes, sure do google Uncle Styopa, or not, if you so wish, because what does it ultimately matter; google on the name Sergei Mikhalkov… Mikhalkov,indeed, quite the family — Tsar Peter, the Dutch shipbuilder, the mad (both literally and metaphorically) founder of this astounding, geographically accursed city of our lives, Leningrad, is depicted, striding purposefully along with a clay smoking pipe in his resolutely clenched… umm, jaw… mouth) and the hopelessly and sadly discordant Red October piano in the corner (in the corner of an oval-shaped room, huh… well, OK, whatever, moving right along), in a large (make it mid-sized) communal apartment (in a nutshell: doors to rooms on both sides of a long, very long dark corridor, sinuous, snake-like, the terrible dead, bone-dry river whose ominously towering banks… too many adverbs… cliffs, like… think Grand Canyon, well, no, not quite, not at all… over decades have been papered with consecutive layers of frayed newsprint, turned yellow in the water of time, all that insanely cruel and actually just insane Soviet history, Lord almighty, of which neither I nor other kids living in the apartment are in the slightest aware of, obviously, blissfully happy running up and down that corridor of horror; OK, and then one thoroughly unusable bathroom, at corridor’s end, where in the indescribable bathtub occupied by a pair of ancient Army boots, not a joy to behold, and an exceptionally ugly-looking oaken barrel of no longer edible pickled mushrooms, fairly bursting up on itself, amid the overpowering yet also endearingly familiar and nostalgia-generating and soothing reek of chlorine; one toilet next to the bathroom, with lines of people forming in front of it along the corridor first thing in the morning and, well, last thing in the evening; and the left, one – well, sure – kitchen, with an unclothed rickety table in the middle, and one gas stove with four burners… no refrigerator, that’s right, absolutely – not sure how to translate antresoli, other than maybe ceiling closet space in the corridor; you get the point) in the roiling heart (roiling, huh, what a lovely adjective… knock it off, if possible — all this… writing) of Dostoyevsky’s Petersburg (whether I would have heard that odd reference on the radio, as a child, at the time when Dostoyevsky’s very name, not to mention his books, deemed full of bourgeois individualism under Stalin, had only been unbanned but a few years earlier, with the onset of what would come to be commonly known by the historians of the era as the Khrushchevian thaw, I cannot be sure; and of course, the very sound of the name Petersburg, the great city’s pre-Great October Socialist Revolution, tzarist-era moniker, evokes nothing but strictly bad and loathsome connotations in my young mind; but… but what… OK, yes, but regardless, without quite knowing how I know it, I do know what this inexpressible city of mine is, what it is to me – gray stone and Karelian granite, the Swiss cheese of its interconnecting inner courtyards, the silvery mercury of the heavy water in the Neva, the occasional and always surprising ringing silences of transparently sun-filled cobwebbed early-autumn street corners in our part of it, amid the ceaseless hustle and bustle and whatnot of the heart of the heart of the… OK, moving on… and the massive old and indeed totally Dostoyevskean apartment tenements, no matter who that fellow Dostoyevsky may have been, and… and the long-accustomed-to stench from the nearby Obvodny Canal, the city’s main open-air sewage artery, with its frighteningly stagnant, dead water, and, uh… let me think, I can’t quite re-inhabit my long-nonexistent seven-year-old self right on the spot, on such a short notice, can I… yes, and the simmering dusky milky light of mosquito-ridden summer nights, no more mentioning Dostoyevsky, I promise, I don’t like him as a writer to begin with, and the unconquerable triumphant limitless darkness of the city’s boreal winters, how I miss it, seriously, and… well, the swarm of human masses in front of the aforesaid Varshavsky and Baltiisky train stations just across the hump-backed bridge over the Obvodny, and… oh, and the little life-sized Lenin, looking coy and, wouldn’t you know it, loveable, totally not inaccessible, sacrilegious as that may sound, in a shallow niche in train station’s wall; and the brand-new, ultra-modern Frunzensky Department Store, the second-largest in the city, maybe even in the country, well, no, that we’re all so understandably proud of, and… and of course, the Soviet Navy ships on the Neva that my father took me to look at one day back at the end of July, those gray whales, and that little ship on top of the Admiralty’s spire, the symbol of the city, and… and so infinitely, endlessly, impossibly much more; the more I, a seven year-old boy in the evening, keep thinking about it all, me and my city and… all the rest of it, there more there is to think about, of course, and it’s just too much for me, too much world, and the more I remember the more there is to remember still, as memories seem to come in the process of remembering, an infinity of them, flowing unto goddamn eternity, except that… well, our mortal lives are anything but eternal… no, wait, I don’t know that yet, at seven I’m immortal); and… well, and… and all of the above notwithstanding, or getting past it, and thinking and not thinking at once about everything and nothing, I’m writing out, with a nobly gleaming (strike that; what exactly is gleaming and why it is doing so nobly –that’s just writing) yellow wooden dip pen, “ruchka-vstavochka” (and a half-empty ink pot is just a few centimeters away and to the right of me on the table, by father’s unyielding elbow, as well as a stack of soft and fluffy pink squares of blotting paper), in a standard faded-green elementary-school notebook with eight lined pages, all the thirty-three (by the number of teeth in a grown human being’s mouth, it occurs to me, and I can’t help chuckling to myself… no, not really, that’s a fib, if that’s the right word; that’s not the seven-year-old me, it’s my present-moment’s self, the one of the quiet twilight of my life) letters of the Russian alphabet, slowly, time and again, practicing my, umm, penmanship, oh screw that (but no, I’m a good boy, and I always listen to and obey the grown-ups, especially my father) as per our first-grade teacher’s assignment (Kira Sergeyevna, her name was; that I remember, while having forgotten, somehow, much of everything else about my life), improving my inchoate handwriting, first the capitals and then the lowercase ones, the tip of my tongue sticking out, Аа (America is the historically doomed citadel of the international imperialism; America is the land of yesterday, world of the past, lagging behind us forever; Americans are eternally sad and miserable because they’re being exploited by their, uh, exploiters and, like, the Pentagon; Americans are deeply and hopelessly envious of us, the Soviet people, for a host of obvious reasons, and our hearts do go out to them, but within the bounds of reason, because there is such a thing as one’s personal responsibility for the… OK, they should know what I mean, those Americans, and the bottom line is, they all just need to rise up against their ruling class of capitalist bloodsuckers and shadowy billionaires and have themselves a proletarian revolution and, you know, join us in our purposeful march towards our radiant communist future; and granted, I’ve never seen a single real live American in my life, in all of my seven years on earth, except on television, and yes, we do have a TV-set, OK, later, later, don’t get distracted, where they look like more or less normal people, those Americans, only sad and miserable, although of course they are different from us, they must be… those poor sad Americans… and yes, like I just said, or thought, we do have a TV-set, our family does, the only one in the entire communal apartment, it’s tiny – the TV-set, not the apartment – and comes with a set of, like, two conjoined convex lenses of thick glass, a funhouse aquarium of sorts, which gets filled with tap water and then attached to the front of the palm-sized TV-screen for magnifying purposes), Бб (my little brother’s first name starts with this letter, but also… the beautifully voiceless… as I’ve heard him being described by someone I don’t remember who, probably my grandmother, the Leningrad one, Mark Bernes, grandfather’s favorite singer, who sings about thinking of his love on a dark, dark night during the Great Patriotic War, and I only have one grandfather, he and my other grandmother live in a lovely suburb of Moscow, called Moose Island, and I lived with them for a year, just recently, he’s a Party representatives at a large tire-making factory and she is a school principal and teacher of biology, but OK, no getting distracted again, and also Mark Bernes sings about how much he loves life, every Sunday morning or maybe even more frequently, and also about the fact that the Russian people, as such, of all the people in the world, don’t want war; and he also is a Jew, but I don’t know that yet either… not that it matters, so stop bringing it up all the time, the point’s already been made, although it’s not clear what it was… and well, it actually mattered – a lot, an awful lot – in the old Soviet Union, whether one was Jewish or not… oh really, you don’t say, Captain Obvious) Вв (by the way, apparently, Leonardo da Vinci was half-Jewish too, as it has just been discovered, like Hemingway when he was a child – stop blabbering, stop getting distracted all the time, what’s wrong with you, what the hell are you even talking about — I mean, now, sixty years later, it was discovered somehow that his mother was Jewish… sun of a gun) Гг (my mother’s first name starts with this letter, so I love it, and of course, it is the first letter of Yuri Gagarin’s last name, while being the first letter of the first name of Gherman Titov, the Soviet cosmonaut number two — his appearance probably was a bit less iconically, emblematically, quintessentially Russian, smile less multi-dimpled, personality a bit less gregarious, so that’s why, I suppose…) Дд (it’s evening, I feel warm, starting to doze off; coming from far away, it seems, my father’s voice is stern, though not angry, as he reminds me that penmanship is important and that… and he’s saying that, oh he’s telling me that, you know, The New Yorker magazine would only accept a story if it was neatly written out by hand, it’s a well-known fact, although of course neither one of us has ever heard of any such magazine, it goes without saying, to which I retort by pointing out that the magazine in question wouldn’t accept a story consisting of just one scene, regardless of the quality or of its writing, much less the quality of its author’s penmanship… all the more so that what we have here so far, dad, is not even a scene but rather an extended and fairly incoherent exposition, so… but on the other hand, who sez exposition is not a scene and a scene not a story and why cannot a story consist of nothing but writing, and… and he nudges me in the elbow with his elbow) Ее (Evgeny Evtushenko is still young but already one of the Soviet Union’s most famous and internationally renowned poets, and it was him who wrote that song they play on the radio all the time, about how Russians don’t want war; his real last name Gangnus, it’s German, which is neither here nor there, and I wouldn’t learn that pointless factoid until decades later also, like so many other things in my life; Mark Bernes sings it, that song, voicelessly and beautifully, like I already said, or maybe not, and…) Ёё (with all those songs, with all those cosmonauts,, with… with all that great literature, all that art, all that ballet, all those… all that… look at Russia now, o Lord, just look at it and shudder with disgust, and… just smite it or something) Жж (almost every morning back then began with Mark Bernes’s singing on the radio, both in the kitchen and in our room, about his being in love with life, that he loved it anew again and again, which, he admitted in the same song, was nothing new, of course, but still, still… it was good to know, that he loved life so much… damn liar) Зз (America was historically doomed, the world of imperialism was historically doomed, the West was historically doomed, the collective West was America — the epicentre and root cause of all the evil in the world, so there) Ии (our family name starts with this letter, enough said) Кк (this is probably autumn, fall, there is fire going on, cheerily and cozily, in our Tsar-Peter woodstove, November maybe, no, October, more likely, and so by this point I’ve already been told that come next summer – a lifetime away, to be sure, for a seven-year-old, but still, you know, within the realm of the imaginable – we will be moving out of our single room in this communal apartment and, much to my parents’ extreme and almost obscene excitement, getting to occupy a separate cooperative, or whatever it’s called, three-room apartment of our own on the outskirts of the city, in what could be another world, somewhere on an as-yet-nonexistent Cosmonauts Avenue, which… no, I can’t be thinking about this now, it’s too sad and horrible, it’s going to be the end of my world as it’s known to me, the end, it’s… but no, I can’t and won’t be thinking about that now, I forbid myself) Лл (Larissa is the name of the girl from my first-grade class that I like, and the thought of never seeing her again, because that Cosmonauts Avenue could just as well be located in the Soviet Far East, eleven time zones away, as far as I am concerned, since Leningrad is so enormous and I am so small and, you know, like, totally devoid of any geographic autonomy, well, that thought is just breaking my little heart, and I forbid myself, I forbid… Мм (my first name starts with this letter, and that’s important, because I am important, I am very important to the world, for the world only exists for as long as I exist in it… no, wait, that doesn’t sound right… well, yes, it does, and I also am eternal and immortal)… and so on, writing them out, those letters, with much care and deliberation, cautiously, timidly, all across the page’s expanse… Хх (the most popular dirty word in all of the Russian language, the greatest language in the world, as everyone in the world knows and acknowledges, starts with this letter, that word, and I’m not supposed to know it, let alone ever say it, not even in my head, and,,, well, I don’t believe my mother or either one of my two grandmothers ever uttered it in their entire lives, but… well, how can one not know it, even at my age, when everyone down in the courtyard and out in the streets says it all the time, all the men and boys and even some women, and even some people in our communal apartment, too, and it is stenciled everywhere crudely in dirty chalk, on every wall of every other building in our part of the city, it seems, that simple and catchy three-letter word, including the dark dank walls of the archway that leads from the cavern of our inner courtyard to the street and the larger outside world, and… I can’t help half-giggling, while writing out this letter, and my father notices, of course, and he shakes his head disapprovingly, telling me again to concentrate, because penmanship is important) Цц (“chicken fried, chicken steamed went out to walk along the Nevsky,” I start murmuring inwardly or maybe just very softly under my breath that silly old street or folk or something like that song that everyone knows but no one knows where or why they know it, “it was caught, it was arrested, it was told to show its passport” – and my father starts humming it too involuntarily, in my imagination) Чч (Charlie Chaplin, Korney Chukovsky, the idols of my chi… but no, no, I cannot do this, this is just too much for me, I can’t, because once you’ve started, where do you stop, I’m unstoppable, my train of thought is, my river of memory, for I’ve already had seven years’ worth of an eternity of words and names and… and memories, yes, and thoughts and… and now it’s many decades later, it’s evening, it’s dark outside…) Шш Щщ (silence, silence) Ээ (eternity, eh… well, OK, no problem) Юю (my father’s name starts with this letter, so it’s time to calm down, no one is dying yet, far from it, and all is good with the world) Яя (and that’s me, I, the last letter of the alphabet, as every single Russian-speaking child will have heard countless times from his or her kindergarten or elementary-school teacher… yes, me, whom everyone loves and who will never die – the last letter of the alphabet), and yes, writing those letters out under my father’s watchful gaze, as if he had nothing better to do with his precious time, and listening to him instruct me to do it again, again, and again (fail better, fail better, better fail, better fail better, sure, Beckett, sure, thanks a lot), patiently, painstakingly, diligently, gradually and inexorably bettering myself, because penmanship (I know,, it’s a stupid-sounding word, but it’s the only one I have for you, because quarrelling with or about words is a waste of time; and in Russian penmanship is chistopisaniye, literally clean writing, incidentally, and… penmanship, pen-man-ship, pen man ship – this sounds like that cognitive test Trump kept crowing about non-stop a while back, unforgettably enough, right — person woman man camera TV… god) is important not as such, per se (per se, per se, whatever) but as a tool, so to speak, for developing your character, your concentration, your attention to detail, your inner fastidiousness (say what… I don’t understand… my head is swimming) and dignity of spirit (all those words) and… while my mother and our (my brother’s and mine) live-in nanny Lyuba (a poorly educated peasant girl, now — inconceivably — already past the age of twenty, which of course is really old, originally from the Volga-bound city of Cheboksary, capital of the Chuvash Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, who’s been living with us without an official city permit since I came into the world, in some unclear manner or another, having been dropped by some random wayward crane from the sky and right into our room in our communal apartment, some such nonsense, and who secretly and unbelievably believes in God, which could turn out to be a seriously dangerous circumstance for her, were that shameful secret of hers to come out… somehow, had I been a worse person than I am, had I not loved her so much, had I not… well, but never in a million years would I as much as consider ratting her out, if that’s the expression, and who has a painted paper portrait of some woman distantly resembling my mother whom she, Lyuba, probably my favorite person in the whole world, claims ridiculously to be God’s mother, and she keeps that painting rolled-up and all hidden among her tangled clothing items in the black cardboard suitcase with her scant earthly possessions, as she calls her… well, her earthly possessions) are in the communal kitchen, my mother and Lyuba are, where the rest of the women of the apartment also have congregated in significant numbers, probably, definitely, each one waiting for her turn to wash the dishes or something like that before going back inside their rooms to their families, or the absence thereof, and preparing to turn in for the night or… yes, there, in the kitchen, where the radio, that black felt dish on the wall, is droning on, by turns ominously and, like, ecstatically, maybe and probably at some point on the subject of Cuba (“Cuba, my love” — I sing this fiercely beautiful, blood-stirring song all the time, accompanying myself on our sadly inadequate Red October with one finger), and how Cuba is an island of crimson dawn and anti-imperialist freedom and unvanquishable peace and forever-irreversible socialism-communism, if you know what I mean, and how the currently ongoing or still very recent so-called Caribbean Crisis (OK, so we’re in October still then, or early November at the latest) has been created by the very unattractively dying and still deadly dangerous in its agony poisonous snake of American imperialism, otherwise known as the Pentagon; and then the beautifully voiceless Mark Bernes, my grandfather’s favorite (you already said that, so… enough), starts singing about how if you want to know whether Russian people want war you should ask that question of the silence over the infinite expanse of Russia’s fields of grain and her grasslands (already said that, too, if not in so many words… clean writing, clean writing), as well as the Russian soldiers that are in the ground in eternal sleep, under the Russian birch trees, in silence eternal, and… and my little brother, OK, where is he, by the way, speaking of silence (the main source of which in our room and in the apartment writ large he never happens to be, if you know what I mean), well, yes, he must be with my grandmother, the Leningrad one, my father’s mother, who lives with the rest of her extended family, which is our family too, obviously (all of them are dead now, just saying, with one exception, unbelievably…. well, believe it), consisting, in addition to her and her mother (my great-grandmother, who is extremely old indeed and used to be married before the Revolution to a wealthy merchant or someone like that, and because of his wealth both of them were allowed to live in Petersburg, despite the fact that Jews normally were not permi,.. but OK, come on, I don’t know yet, at seven years of age, anything about our being Jewish, as you yourself have made abundantly clear more than once here, so don’t even go there, stop getting carried away)… so, that extended family, that of her (grandmother’s) older brother, an important figure in the Soviet cellulose industry, and his English-teaching wife and their three sons, my uncles, all three full of fun and vim (vim? zest? piss and vinegar? come on) and great and positive energy and, like, mischief and jollity and… mathematical ability, too, it should be mentioned (although why), my father’s age and younger; plus they have a permanent housekeeper, living with them, practically a member of the family, an older relative of Lyuba, her aunt, also from Cheboksary, yes, that’s the connection, always so friendly and sweet, over on Sixth Red Cavalry Street, in an almost unprecedentedly large rambling (my parents describe it as such) single-family (no one else lives there) apartment with a perfectly tuned concert piano (in a whole different class from our sad old Red October) and a special library room, where no one lives, nothing but books there and a plush blue couch, with some of those books in English, the willy-nilly chosen language of the international imperialism, yes, actually published abroad, those books, in actual capitalist England, having been held in their foreign hands by real actual foreigners, pretty incredible (one such old book there, about the jolly good England, with photographs from the beginning of the century, was one of my favorites; decades later, it would come into my possession, and then I would take it with me to America, that’s how much I loved it, and then it would end up being lost there, in America, already in the nineties, along with sundry other memorabilia, in the only one of the twenty-six boxes FedExed by me from Minneapolis to New York that never arrived to its destination, but… well, no, I’m not getting into that now, all those losses, losses, way too many layers of life to be dealt with, life, life….), plus, of course, the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, those fifty-two dark-blue volumes filled with facts and factual lies and shameless propaganda (but I don’t know that yet, do I, that it’s mostly lies and propaganda, and I’m just fascinated by it, all that knowledge, all that infinity of information, as I would remain through the rest of my life, forever immersed in encylopedias and dictionaries and… well, some other time), just an unhurried few-minute walk from us, that apartment was, or to quote the famous Bee Gees song, “…you can tell by the way I use my walk I’m a woman’s man, no time to talk,” and where the… OK, concentrate, concentrate, what the hell, you’re not making sense… (Аа Бб Вв Гг Дд… and well, I used to write everything by hand, pretty much, all my so-called literary, samizdat texts, such as they were, always the first draft would be in longhand, and probably the second one also, and only then, later would I go on the typewriter, four layers maximum of black rustling nasty finger-smudging copying paper, my clanky-clunky old metallic German typewriter, all those underground texts, mine and those of other people, typing and retyping, endlessly, banging away with two fingers, lifelong habit since those days, current students still occasionally ask me why I’m banging away on my laptop, as if it were my enemy, still with two, maybe three, maximum four fingers, well, I’m not a “blind typist,” as per the Russian expression, can you type blindly, they would ask, and no, I’m not a blind typist, nowhere near, and nor am I bilingual, incidentally, not even close, no, I’m a native speaker of Russian who knows English well and is capable of writing Russian sentences in English, if you know what I mean, which you probably don’t, because I wouldn’t be able to explain it myself, to myself)… and yes, that’s right, says the radio (I don’t need to hear it to know what it’s saying, almost at any given moment, and it’s always on, down in the kitchen), comrade Fidel’s Cuba, he and his barbudos, with our indispensable help, will absolutely defeat evil America, once and for all, and the historically doomed world of imperialism should make no mistake on account of its being historically doomed, it is playing with fire, which it shouldn’t be doing, because we’re a nuclear superpower, which is nothing to sneeze at, while it’s so cozily dark and warmly cold outside, in that velveteen darkness, October, October, early November, in the heart of Leningrad, oh my love, my glorious city, why art thou Leningrad, which I haven’t really seen all that much of yet, by the by, in my seven years in this world, on this earth, but so what, I have time to see it still, to learn every one of its hidden secrets, its nooks and multitudinous crannies, nothing but time, my love, my life is endless, even if now it’s drawing inexorably to a close, OK, good, no problem, and here in this oval-shaped room we have our fire, our friendly anti-imperialist Soviet fire going on in our Tsar-Peter ceramic woodstove, so I can be working on my freaking pen-man-ship in perfect comfort, indeed in a state of quiet happiness, bliss, a little soporifically maybe, for it’s getting late (but dad, there still is no story here, in all of this, not even a single-scene one, see, just a lot of damn exposition, dad, it’s not a story, not a story still… well, maybe later, maybe, at some point it will emerge, someplace else — and incidentally, on a brighter note, all through my school years, teachers have always praised my handwriting, my penmanship, my clean writing, and on one occasion, even a KGB kulturtraeger, if that’s a word, a censor from the organs, had praised it, too, saying that it gave him pleasure on a purely aesthetic level to look at handwritten drafts of my as-yet-untyped stories and, like, essays and stuff in samizdat manuscripts, which he couldn’t say the same of my fellow underground-writer anti-Soviet element, wouldn’t you know it, how nice; but now my handwriting is all but gone, rendered unneeded by decades of unuse, oh well…), and I’m thinking of how damn lucky I am, oh I know, I know, all of us are, to be living in Leningrad, that glorious city, our country’s cultural capital, in the future-bound Soviet Union, how did I even get so insanely lucky, to have had that figurative crane drop me into my parents’ metaphoric cabbage patch in the heart of Leningrad, USSR, instead of America, for instance — the terrible world of humankind’s ugly past and capitalist exploitation of the ordinary proletarians like us, yes, what a disaster that would have been (and yes, although I am a middle-class former Soviet Jewish Canadian-American and vice-versa, I don’t exploit anyone, I am not a capitalist, I am not an imperialist, I’m just trying to help young North American students of creative writing to become, well, better writers, although I cannot really help myself in that respect, but that’s just the way it goes… pen man ship, clean writing, clean writing), while my father, dead for almost a quarter of a century now, whom I’ve already almost outlived, is telling me again not to get distracted, to concentrate on my penmanship, because he can see I’m thinking of something… extraneous, of what, of… what has happened to us all, us and our former god-accursed Motherland, of the horror and pure unmitigated evil that Russia has become now, my or anyone else’s penmanship notwithstanding, but now is not the time, concentrate, concentrate, exist in the moment, shut out all the distractions, he is telling me, know that everything in your life worth paying attention to is right here and now, right here and right now, right in front of and around you, as it always has been, always will be, here and now, and nothing else matters, nothing else has even begun to exist yet, only these letters emerging from under your pen, Аа Бб Вв Гг Дд Ее Жж Зз… Зз… ззззз… pen man ship pen man ship clean writing clean writing…




  • Mikhail Iossel

    Mikhail Iossel was born in Leningrad, USSR (now St. Petersburg, Russia), where he worked as an electromagnetic engineer and a security guard at the Leningrad Central Park of Culture and Leisure, and belonged to an organization of "samizdat" writers before emigrating to the U.S. in 1986. He is the author of, most recently, of "Love Like Water, Love Like Fire," a collection of stories, " "Notes from Cyberground: Trumpland and My Old Soviet Feeling," and one previous collection of fiction: "Every Hunter Wants to Know." He is a frequent contributor to, and his stories and essays have also appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Foreign Policy, Best American Short Stories, and elsewhere. Iossel, a Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts, and Stegner Fellow, has taught in universities throughout the U.S. and is an associate professor of English at Concordia University in Montreal.

Dooney’s is serializing Mikhail Iossel's SENTENCE.

You can find the full list of posted essays here