Last night past what used to be the munitions warehouses, soft red brick in the gloaming, I took I and her mother to dinner at a new café. We eat together once a week, but only once went out – or tried to go out – it was in the Химия, I’s mother taking an hour to get ready, not having had an evening out in a very long time, and just as we reached the restaurant Amber, a woman suicided, leaping from the fifth floor of a khruschovka. She was young, well-dressed. Silently, everyone surrounded her at a slight distance and stared. We watched as different authorities – the militsiya only recently renamed the police, paramedics, etc. – drove up and gazed at the dead woman. Did she jump while at a party, or dress up for death? They don’t want to get their Black Berta dirty. Inspected her and drove off. Finally someone removed the body.
I looked at me, sneered, and said write a poem about this. Yes, I answered, I will. The Body in the Chemistry. It was nothing, just another dead girl in a dismal district. A departure, a thud. What I really meant to write about was I – her growing there, where, my often wondering in the tramway what it would have been to be brought up here, blue men in fur hats lined up outside the liquor store or returning bottles to the tarnik – and I, now and then with her mother buying a carp and releasing it in the Chemistry Pond. Ķermenis Ķīmijā, the Body in the Chemistry. Ķermenis, body, is from the Old Prussian kermens – likely IE *ker- , “to grow, to feed,” – create, then – but the word may also relate to the Prussian sermen, sirmen – funeral feast. Līķis, corpse.
And the word is kore. The Kore. They don’t want to get their Black Berta dirty, hardly a need to mess with a corpse. Write a poem about this. Everyone stood silently, staring at the fallen object. Not far, in another khruschovka (buildings, identical from here to Vladivostok, are known by whose rule they were built under – the dark, massive structures Stalin made, the shoddy, blank brezhnevkas of the stagnatsiya) there is an apartment where everyone hangs themselves, tenant after tenant. The cavalry which rode up Cavalry Street from the Fortress took criminals to “the desert” and secretly hung them, and it is now rumored that the accursed apartment is where they did this. I’s mother, last night, delighted by the café though they spoke only Russian, with heavy Belarusian accents, not even having bothered to learn a single word of Latvian (the menu bilingual, but the calf’s tongue for some reason left in Latvian on the Russian side of the menu, but without its diacritic, so that the appetizer tongue became little female liar)… I’s mother was in another world, coming back: imagine, she said as we crossed Cavalry Street, imagine men, young men, on horses.
In Allée Park there is a shooting gallery, a place where wealthy men (tinted windows, leather jackets, wives barely able to walk, the tight dresses and impossible heels) can try out pistols before deciding which to buy. When it opened, men who were not wealthy went there and shot themselves. Two newspaper photographers in a single month. “What are we supposed to do, ask them what mood they’re in before we hand them the gun?”
The photograph is of Smilšu iela -- Sand Street -- which leads to the Chemistry. It was renamed after the cosmonaut Titov during the occupation, as Jātnieku (Cavalry) Street was renamed after Gagarin. The earlier names have been restored.