Polina Barskova

from “The Forgiver”


the melancholy—the languor—the charm of the archive: the sensation of working a brainteaser, a mosaic, as though all these voices could make a single voice and yield a single meaning, and you could surface from this fog in which there is no past, no future, only guilty anguish. “No one is forgotten, nothing is forgotten“—no one can be helped, and everyone is forgotten.

Does that then make me Charon?

A late-night ferry in Petersburg, a flock of rowdy foreign girls: “Can you take us?“ “Can we have a ride?” “How drunk are you?” “Hey, come on”—cajoling, high-pitched chatter. We step onto the boat, and I notice near the captain’s seat a bulging magnum, more like a jug. It’s hard to do Charon’s job sober: the souls keep up their lament.

The archivist ferries souls from one folder to another, from the type of folder where the voice never will be heard to the type where it might be heard by someone, at least for a while.

The reader herself becomes an archive so she can produce more readers. This is the physiology of it: You can’t stop reading.

Sometimes it seemed the only way to get things read was to copy them out like Gogol’s clerk, letter by letter, concentrating so hard that your tongue sticks out: like a cat’s, or a boot’s. To trace the fading scrawls and restore them, thus carrying into the present the very act of over-underwriting.

Word by word, declensions conjugations vanishing like lard and sugar in November. Commas and dashes blanch and collapse, stop making sense, can’t breathe and melt away. Exclamation points were the first to die in blockade diaries, superfluous marks like those superfluous people, refugees without ration cards from Luga and Gatchina.

The main thing is to withstand time: time will do its best to crush you.

But the point of the whole exercise is to keep the other’s time from permeating the time you carry inside yourself, for yourself.