The Old Garden: What Was Written in Yoon Hee’s Sketchbook (Part 25/28)

The Old Garden: What Was Written in Yoon Hee’s Sketchbook (Part 25/28)

October 27, 2009

Previous: A Book Filled With Graffiti

There they put you in a regular cage consisting of two layers of wire mesh; or rather, a small cage stands freely inside a larger one, and the prisoner only sees the visitor through this double trelliswork. It was just at the end of a six-day hunger strike, and I was so weak that the Commanding Officer of the fortress had almost to carry me into the visitors’ room. I had to hold on with both hands to the wires of the cage, and this must certainly have strengthened my resemblance to a wild beast in the zoo. The cage was standing in a rather dark corner of the room, and my brother pressed his face against the wires. “Where are you?” he kept on asking, continually wiping away the tears that clouded his glasses. —Rosa Luxemburg

Ah, sometimes I wish he would visit me. So I clean the dusty glass pane, the one he so painstakingly fitted himself, and look through the trees and down the dirt path, to the road to the orchard. Wishing he was walking toward me.

I wish I had lived with firmer convictions.
Always on guard and covered with honorable wounds.
I regret the days I’ve wasted because of fear.
I was exiled only once.
I wish I had lived more courageously!

Rosa once wrote in a letter that she wanted this poem to be her epitaph. But later she corrected this, as if she were mocking herself.

Mathilde, you don’t think I’m a serious person, do you? Do not laugh at me. I don’t want a lie written on my tomb. All I need on my grave are two words: twit twit. A sound of a little bird chirping. That little bird is flying to me now, I am so used to that sound. It is always clear and pretty and shiny like fish scales. Think about it. One day, you’ll hear the little sound of twit twit. Do you know what that means? It is the sound of an early spring. When it’s snowing outside, when it’s covered in frost, when we’re lonely, the little bird and I believe that the spring will come. If I cannot wait until then, if I die before the spring comes, please do not forget to write just ‘twit twit’ on my tombstone.

Rosa Luxemburg fell down like a dog when the Freikorps officials struck her head with rifle butts. A lieutenant put a bullet into her head, although she was already unconscious. They put Rosa’s dead body in a truck and drove around, then threw it into the Landwehr canal near the Tiergarten. There is no twit twit, no song of a little bird on her epitaph. Only a few dying red carnations, a symbol of Rosa, left by someone. In Berlin, I used to have light snacks at the Tiergarten. I remember eating little bread rolls called Brötchen while sitting on a bench not far from her grave.

I will always come back here. And I will prepare something delicious for the fledgling poet. If he comes back, and if I could last until I can sit next to his deathbed. But what was it, what does it mean now, the first step we took together? All the vivid dreams have disappeared like smoke, and there is not a scene I can recall clearly. Do I call this state of vagueness love? An old woman once told me: If I dream, I can’t remember anything when I wake up. I guess my brain is not working as well as it did when I was young. What is this, why am I dreaming about this? But then I can’t make heads or tails out of it. I think and think, but I can’t figure it out. I wish I could see the dead people. But you know what? When you see the dead in your dreams, it’s kind of boring. It’s like looking at a vegetable, so dull. Look at that dog over there, he wags his tail when he sees someone he knows, right? It’s not even close to that! You can’t communicate.

I traveled far away and I came back here. But Kalmae has disappeared. I decided to fix the house. Found my old letters high up on a shelf and reread them for a long time. So childish and full of dreams. I was about to throw them into the fire but decided to keep them. Like a passing monsoon, those two people. That young man and young woman do not exist today.

Can such direct opposites exist? Looked at monographs on Bosch and Bruegel all day. Bosch’s nightmare of a despondent hell and Bruegel’s valiant living human beings. In fact, they are the front and back of the same body. The scene is filled with a vast field, and a cow and a farmer plowing. In the left hand corner is a tiny ocean the size of a palm, and there, I can barely make it out, the two legs of a man who fell headlong into the sea. This is called the Fall of Icarus. Compared to everyday life, the fall of an idealist who flew too high with candle-wax wings is an unremarkable tragedy.

I walked around the courtyard, stepping on the stones that he’d laid one by one. I stopped and decided to flip one of them. It was repulsive and fascinating. There were three earthworms, a handful of sow bugs, a few clumps of green moss. I even saw deeply embedded in that moist earth the white root of a violet that had stubbornly sprouted under the stone. I regretted disturbing this little universe. I thought of the world a little bit while carefully placing the stone back exactly has it was.

Art, what the hell. Will never paint again. Meaningless innumerable mistakes. The word “mistake” is quite amusing. In Chinese, it means the tracing of a lost hand. Today, I continue writing the old letter to him.

Continued: The Fuel Hole

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