A System of Absence

Late Soviet-era co-op apartment buildings on the Smolenka River in northwest Petersburg, near the Primorskaya subway station. Photo: Roman Bezjak/Hatje Cantz Verlag. Courtesy of Business Insider

* * *

Along with the heating, in every building
there is a system of absence. Concealed in the walls,
its noiseless radiators
flood the apartment with unadulterated emptiness
the year round, whatever the weather.
Connected to the main, it apparently runs
on fuel supplied by death, arrest or
simple jealousy. This temperature
rises towards evening. One turn of the key
and you find yourself in a place where there is
no one: like a thousand years ago,
or somewhat earlier—in the Ice Age,
before evolution. Usurped space
never relinquishes its
uninhabitedness, thus reminding
the upstart monkey
of emptiness’s primordial, pre-glacial right
to housing. Absence is merely
the home address of nonexistence.
Being bourgeois,
in the long run, at curtain call,
it prefers wallpaper to boulders or brown moss.
The more elaborate the wallpaper’s jungles, the unhappier the monkey.

1993

Original text. Translated by the Russian Reader

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