To pack and set off, to leavewithout a trace, at noon, to vanishlike fainting maidens. And burdocks, greenarmies of burdocks, and below, under the canvasof a Venetian café, the snails converseabout eternity.
There was always too much of Lvov, no one could
comprehend its boroughs, hear
the murmur of each stone scorched
by the sun, at night the Orthodox church’s silence was unlike
that of the cathedral, the Jesuits
baptized plants, leaf by leaf…
See you? Now he is coming!
I do not go to meet him. Not I.
I stay upon the brow of the hillock, and wait there
and wait for a long time, but never weary
of the long waiting.
I am remembering the city now, a few days after Russian missiles landed near its airport. Lviv has become a haven for refugees. I think of the Armenian cathedral not far from our hotel, a place I walked to several times. The market square. The narrow streets. The Opera House with the the high notes of Butterfly’s aria lingering still in the old wood and heavy curtains. I began a novel last spring set partly near me in a village I’ve called Easthope and partly in Lviv. It’s not autobiographical, not really, but asks a question about something I’ve asked and couldn’t find an answer for. Couldn’t. Probably never will. But in fiction the question can be asked and answered so that’s what I hoped to do. Then I put the work aside because I needed to work on final edits of Blue Portugal. Then the Russians attacked Ukraine and I couldn’t bear to write anything at all. Why bother. Why bother with fiction when people are leaving their homes, when hospitals are being bombed, children killed in their schools. How could I write of Lviv.
On Friday, though, I opened the file and read the correspondence the main character is having with a cousin she didn’t know she had. A cousin in Lviv. Because the main character has already appeared in an earlier novel of mine and sort of agitated to be written about again, as a woman rather than the child she was in that earlier novel, I realized, doing the math, that this novel needs to be set about 8 years ago. (I hadn’t really thought about a specific time for it. I’d just been writing it more or less in the present. But the present tense of the narrative is actually nearly a decade ago.) So I decided to keep writing, to let the plot unfold like the textiles in the small museum run by the cousin in Lviv, a city as haunted as any, and even if I can’t return, my character can go for the first time. She can hear an opera, drink coffee on Serbska Street, look at old books at the market by the Fedorov monument, and sit with her cousin, drawing the tree that gathers them both into its root system, families on each spreading branch.
there was so much of the world that
it had to do encores over and over,
the audience was in frenzy and didn’t want
to leave the house.