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from the September 2016 issue

Two Miniatures

Yekhiel Shraybman’s tightly-crafted miniatures, narrated by the proverbial everymen from anywhere, invite readers to fill in the gaps and reinterpret them as products of their local context.

New Grass

Spring.

Somewhere in the corner of my concrete courtyard, right at the start of those first sunny days, a few blades of grass sprang to life, quickly, practically overnight. Soft green grass shot up, growing up through the cracks of the hard gray slabs, giving that corner a sense of beauty, a freshness.  It wasn’t so easy to see what was going on—did the grass sprout because the concrete had cracked? Or did the concrete crack because the grass had sprouted?

Little Senia crouched down, bent over with his face buried in the thin seedlings. Looking from behind at the way his shoulders moved, you could see his hands moving excitedly back and forth on the ground.

“Who are you taking that for?” I asked him abruptly.

“Taking what?” he said, without raising his head, throwing a bewildered glance at me over his shoulder.

“What are you doing over there?”

“Grass!” he said, his nostrils flaring. “New grass!”

“And you’re tearing it up, huh?”

In an instant, he turned toward me and sadly, silently sat down. Eyes full of regret, he shot back:

“Maybe you can’t see from over there. I’m not tearing up anything. Really! I’m petting it!”

 

The Sea

The sea is large.

The sea is something that enchants.

The sea renews. The sea heals.

The sea is still, good. And—angry, harsh, stormy.

The sea is blue. Greenish-white. Pink. Gray. Black.

The sea dresses up several times a day, each time a different color.

The sea is naked. Simple. Dresses in no color whatsoever.

The sea wrinkles and folds like the furrows on a philosopher’s brow.

The sea is full of wisdom. Deep down, whole worlds abound. While on its surface—the white and black flight of seagulls.

The sea roars and froths.

The sea is wide, generous, mild.

The sea is beautiful.

 

How can you write something great, something fresh about the sea? The sea is as old as the world—and the poets already took all the best words long, long ago.

I’ll admit it. Today I sinned against you, sea. I woke up at dawn, broken by the night. Flattened and ground to dust. I tore myself apart the whole night. A night without sleep, without rest. A night of heavy self-accusations. What am I and who am I? What have I accomplished in this world? Year after year, people reap their harvests, provide the world with clothes and shoes. People have split the atom, invented the television. People have sacrificed their lives for others. They leave something eternal of themselves behind. And I come up with stories. And even that doesn’t come so easy. If I could just sit and work day after day, from morning to evening sit and do my job like an ordinary tailor. If I could just bring someone a little warmth and pleasure with my little stories the way a new piece of clothing warms and pleases its wearer!

A difficult night. A night of heavy self-accusations. My first night this summer at the Yalta Writers’ House.

At dawn I paced around the room all alone, groaning. I ate breakfast without desire, cheerless. And afterward, I dragged myself pathetically, crumpled and broken, and brought myself down to the sea.

I undressed slowly and went into its waters.

And after one half-hour, I came out another person.

I strode home calm and content, unbent, at peace with myself.

And on the way, I confessed to myself that I had sinned against the sea. “The sea can drag you down,” I said aloud.

I did not condemn myself. Instead, the sea led me straight back to my room, grabbed me by the shoulders, and sat me down at my desk.

I sat and slowly, as though casting a spell, spun out a new little story. A little story that, as it is with each new piece I write, seemed to me to be the best story I had ever written.

I said to myself: and so what if this is just a dot, just a droplet in the great, big world?

I stand now by the window with my two pages and look out at a section of sea far off between the trees. It’s evening—the sea is dark, wrinkled, swaying. Its waves lick the shore, crashing against a boulder, showering it with every splash, spraying thousands of droplets into the air.

The sea is beautiful.    

The sea is generous, wide.

The sea is full of wisdom.

The sea is naked. Simple. Dresses in no color whatsoever.

The sea is still, good.

The sea renews.

The sea is something that enchants.

The sea is large.

.           .           .           .           .           .           .           .

.           .           .           .           .           .           .           .          

.           .           .           .           .           .           .           .

The sea is as large as its smallest droplets.

 

From Yorn un Reges (Years and Moments). © 1973 Yekhiel Shraybman. By arrangement with the author’s estate. Translation © Sebastian Schulman. All rights reserved.

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