White Starts & Wins (based on a true story)

I don’t know what got into me that evening, but I crossed to the other side of the street. Nope, I wasn’t expecting to see if the grass was greener there or if a lion could play chess with a lamb. I was simply going home from my yoga, and had decided to vary my usual route a little bit. What could go wrong? It was an innocent decision!

When I noticed a black dog near the porch of a small grocery store, I immediately realized that it was ill and disabled. And not because of its unnatural pose (its hind legs were spread out). Not even because of its pathetic and emaciated look. But because of its eyes.

I’m not a dog person, it must be said. Moreover, I’m rather afraid of dogs, especially stray ones. But at that moment it wasn’t about my attitude to dogs. It was about being humane toward another living being.

So, in the heat of the moment, I entered the store. If I’m honest, I don’t like this place much. It’s crowded, noisy and stinky, with rather gross staff (though what would you expect from the cheapest chain store in town?). I didn’t plan to hang about in any case. I grabbed the first packet of cheesy sausages that was available, and joined what appeared to be the shortest queue to a checkout. Of course, my choice was wrong. Isn’t that usually the case?

Outside on the porch, I tore open the plastic packaging, trying to not spill its smelly liquid on my new sneakers. I took up a sausage between finger and thumb, and carefully cast it to the dog. Point-blank shot! I was puffed up with pride and the realization of my own coolness.

Alas, while the black dog was sniffing at the sausage, another dog came along. It was a white one. It jumped over, grabbed the sausage, and ran away. I gasped. I wasn’t ready for such a turn of events! The black dog wagged its tail at me apologetically, as if to say: “Sorry, human! I’m such a goofball.”

Of course, this was rather amusing at first, so I didn’t make a drama of it. The night was still young after all, and the packet of sausages still full. Naturally, I tried a second time, and the next sausage landed near the black dog in much the same spot. But it too was quickly swallowed up by the white dog. The black dog looked at me with guilt, as if this was somehow its own fault. I tried a third sausage, but this only shared the same fate as the first two. By this point, that impudent white dog wasn’t even bothering to run away with its spoils. It would sit a little to one side, wolf down the ill gotten gains, and lick its muzzle. Obviously, my tactic was coming apart at the seams. Damn.

A group of idlers started to gather around me. Someone felt sorrow for the poor black dog, and someone else was making rather ruthless comments like: “The strongest survive.” But the most annoying category of spectator started to give me ‘indispensable’ advice. Still, the matter didn’t go any further than mere words. No one was rushing to take a damned sausage, approach the black dog, and feed it. Why? Because, let’s face the truth, it was a stray dog (hell, two stray dogs!) that would bite you in all probability. And not to mention ringworm, ticks, rabies and other side effects of such contact. So, of course no one else volunteered.

I decided to change my tactic. I divided the next sausage into halves, and threw one part as far as possible toward the bushes. My plan worked. The greedy white dog immediately rushed over there. I moved a bit closer to the black dog, pushing the second part of the sausage toward its muzzle. I was getting ready to make a little happy dance when the black dog finally took the piece of sausage from the ground. Its tail said: “Thank you, kind human.” But, alas, my joy was short lived. The black dog dropped the piece of sausage from its jaws. And that’s when the white dog took its chance. The whole scene was beginning to look like a cheap comedy, and I was in no mood for laughing.

In just five minutes, two wasted sausages and a total disregard of safety around stray dogs, I became convinced of two sad facts. Firstly, for some reason, the black dog was unable to keep a piece of food in its jaws. It was perhaps so weak that it couldn’t make the effort to chew. Or it had given up and didn’t want to continue its senseless life any more. Secondly, the white dog had a voracious appetite, and was not going to rest until it had gotten everything I had. It wasn’t going to give the black dog any chances to get some food.

I don’t know how long I stood there with the last sausage between my thumb and forefinger, and the empty plastic packaging. It was dripping right beside my left sneaker from the other hand. And the crowd was melting away. People had lost interest in this mini-spectacle, and were going back to their usual affairs. Daylight slowly faded away.

I looked at the black dog one last time. It seemed to be dozing peacefully. The white dog sat near it, yawning. Then it laid down and nuzzled into the black dog’s hip. It was at that moment I gave up.

I cast the last sausage towards them, turned, and went home. It was only when I was taking my keys from my pocket that I realized I’d still kept the empty plastic packaging in my hand.

I haven’t walked on the other side of the street since.

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA
© All rights reserved 2019

Eugene (based on a true story)

1.

Let me make things clear right from the get-go. I’m not a believer.

I don’t believe in supernatural geezers with unkempt beards and such, even though I deeply respect religious liberty. Even if you’re a passionate parishioner of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and wear a colander instead of a hat, I promise that as long as you don’t try to hang spaghetti from my ears, I’m completely tolerant.

Well… actually, I don’t know why I started with this declaration. I wanted to tell you something quite different. I wanted to tell you about Eugene.

2.

I noticed him when I was going to my yoga class. I normally wouldn’t have paid attention to yet another beggar on the street if he hadn’t been busy with a pretty unusual thing.

Now, you could say, “Tati, what’s so unusual about needlework? Embroidery is no big deal.” Yes, I would agree if it had been my grandma at the local stitch club ‘Tweedle-Needle’, but not a messy, homeless vagrant sitting on the ground near a central mall—right on the passage between two crossroads. This guy looked absolutely canonical. Long dirty grey hair and beard, rags, a bag full of undefined stuff, a plastic cup with coins, and a frame with an art canvas.

I slowed down a little, but decided it wasn’t too polite to goggle at someone so openly. Even flotsam and jetsam have a right to privacy. So, I walked past, squinted at him, pretending that I didn’t care. In fairness, it must be said that he was so involved with his creative process that he would hardly have noticed me anyway.

3.

This man became my favorite scene on my way to yoga. Three times a week, I was passing near him and glancing furtively. I was feasting my eyes with him. I was seeing a flower-piece motif blooming in his hands, taking on its eventual colors and form. (By the way, he was embroidering with beads—I noticed this a bit later.) Also, I noticed his emaciation, the hampered movements of his hands, and a pair of crutches. As well as his funny hipster-like glasses with a pink rim.

As I was passing near him one day, I began to wonder where he had learned his craft, and how he’d gotten the beads and canvas and such… I then realized that he’d almost finished the picture, and I was risking losing the pleasure of seeing him create. The solution was obvious. I decided to buy him a set for beading.

4.

I stood before a shop display, looking like a cow gazing at a new gate. I’m not an experienced buyer of fancy stuff, you know. After some deliberation, I chose a portrait of some old man who reminded me of the vagrant. A label informed me that the man in the portrait was Sergius of Radonezh. Okay. I didn’t care what the vagrant would embroider. My only concern was to make sure he kept embroidering.

5.

“Good afternoon. I bought this for you. I hope you’ll like it.”

He didn’t react. Today he was busy with weaving love beads. A nearly empty cup with alms, like black sheep, stood right between the plastic cups filled with colorful beads and trinkets.

Up close, his angularity was more evident. My mind even made a strange connection with the image of a broken tree that had crooked twigs-hands and knobby roots-legs. The real Leshy right in the middle of downtown.

I repeated my message—a bit louder this time. He raised a blank stare toward me. Maybe he’d become estranged from people greeting him in a polite, formal way, but some moments later it dawned on him. His face broke into a nicked smile.

“Why, it’s Saint Nicholas!”

I didn’t see the principal difference, and so I nodded. Okay. Have it your own way.

He turned out to be an absolutely adequate human being, with clear speech, a nice smile, and kind grey eyes. He told me his name was Eugene and that he was homeless, but that he wasn’t an alcoholic or a drug-user—he was making and selling handicraft. I listened politely, waiting for a pause. When he reached out for a cardboard box with bracelets, I quickly murmured some excuses that I was running late for my yoga class, and ran away. I didn’t want him to start pressing his product line onto me. I didn’t need love beads. I just wanted to see how he embroidered when I was going to my yoga. That was all.

6.

After this, everything went on as usual. I was going, he was embroidering. I was passing near him without stopping. Sometimes he was absent—usually when the weather was rainy. Once or twice I saw him with, so to say, a ‘colleague’, a woman. They would sit on the ground together, just talking. She would be eating an ice cream, and I would instantly imagine how he’d buy sweets for his girlfriend—like a real homeless gentleman. Sometimes when I was approaching him, I would see how he’d lift up his face and look at the passersby as if he was seeking someone in the crowd… I would pass him again and again and never stop.

7.

One day, I was standing on the crossroad near this central mall. You know these idiotic double crossroads, what with their asynchronous traffic lights. You manage to cross one part, but before you reach the next part (if you’re not a world champion in the one hundred meter dash of course) the red light turns on. That’s why a bunch of people were hovering on this small patch with me that day, waiting for the green light, and leaking through slits of traffic with the more impatient pedestrians.

So, I stood on this crossroad in the middle of the crowd when someone twitched my sleeve. I turned and saw this woman—Eugene’s girlfriend. She had in her hands a plastic bag.

“Eugene asked me to give you this.”

I didn’t have time to say something. The crowd caught me up and carried me away.

8.

At home, I got the plastic bag out of my backpack and unfolded a piece of cloth. It was a finished portrait. The work looked very neat—bead-to-bead and stitch-to-stitch. Even its underside was tidy.

“Oh, what is this, Tati?”

Damn! Would grandma ever learn to knock before entering my room?

“It’s Saint Nicholas.”

She took the portrait and got her glasses out.

“Nope. It’s Sergius of Radonezh, Tati! He’s a patron of students. Nice work, by the way.”

I shrugged my shoulders. I never could understand how a person who’d spend half a day looking for her glasses (only to finally discover them on her forehead) could remember the names and occupations of a whole pantheon of gaffers.

“May I take this?”

I nodded indifferently and went back to my affairs.

The next day, I discovered that the portrait had been framed then left on my table. At first I took it away, but later changed my mind and put it back. I didn’t want to upset my grandma. The main thing was to not forget to hide it whenever my friends came round. They’d be sure to make a laughing-stock out of me.

9.

Since then, the portrait stands on my table. Forgive me, Sergius of Radonezh and Saint Nicholas, but I call it ‘Reverend Eugene, Vagrant and Embroiderer’. I’m not a believer. I don’t believe in supernatural geezers with unkempt beards and such.

But I do believe in people.

 

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA
© All rights reserved 2017

BUT IS IT POETRY? // Butchering

A medium size.
A medium density.
A medium price.
Generally, it’s dark blue
in the null assemblage point.

(Sometimes it becomes
red or green. But it’s kinda
my little secret.)
A fray is on the back edge
and a slight scent of joss sticks.

Dozens of defects…
The usual thing, in short.
Where is theurgy?
It’s a matter of arrows.
The bright red on the dark blue.

It’s my secret path,
my color-coded loophole,
my molded carcass.
A scheme of the primal cuts
for my gnostic butchering…

Numinous blades slip
and split along my axis.
The golden section…
I yield my offal and meat
under the Karma Cutter.

When my shanks sprawl out
and my round points to the east,
I distinctly hear
chuckling of a sacred cow
in esoteric silence.

 

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TONY: Butchering. Let’s discuss ‘Butchering’.

TATI: Okey-dokey. Let’s butcher ‘Butchering’. Get your knife, Tony the Ripper.

TONY: I’m a bit squeamish at the sight of blood and guts, so please forgive me if I happen to clunk on the floor in a dead faint during our conversation. Even the thought is distressing.

TATI: Don’t worry. There’s a yoga mat. Faint as you please.

TONY: How thoughtful! Have I ever told you how thoughtful you are?

TATI: Hmmm… Should I answer this question?

TONY: Well, questions usually precede answers. That’s how the universe works!

TATI: I will remember this piece of wisdom.

TONY: Anyway, I find that I need a dictionary whenever I read of one of your poems. So many unheard of words!

TATI: Should I say, “Sorry?”

TONY: No no no. Just explain what some of them mean is all. I’m a bit of a dim bulb, you know.

TATI: Who is a native here, Tony? What should I explain?

TONY: Everything! I mean, what’s it all about? And what do you mean by ‘null assemblage point’?

TATI: Have you read Carlos Castaneda?

TONY: No. Did he become a library book?

TATI: Assemblage point: In Castaneda’s works, the term means a locus of perception within the energy field of a being. Moving the assemblage point causes the being to perceive and interact with a different reality.

TONY: That sounds like meditating to me.

TATI: Does it make things clearer, Tony?

TONY: Marginally. I thought the poem was about your yoga mat. It is in the title after all.

TATI: Bingo, Captain Obvious! Yes. Do you know words ‘yoga’ and ‘mat’?

TONY: Of course! But what does ‘it becomes red or green’ mean? And why is that kinda your little secret?

TATI: The thing is… well… Once or twice I’ve had an interesting visual illusion during my lessons. I saw like my yoga mat changes its color.

TONY: Oh, so you find this embarrassing for other people to know? Sounds like a pretty cool altered state of consciousness thing to me! Unless, of course, you’re some kinda junkie. Are you a junkie?

TATI: What? Of course no, Tony! But who could believe I saw this and was completely sober? Could you?

TONY: That’s a fair point, but I always look like I’m stoned, even though I’m not. At least you look like a respectable modern woman, a professional whose integrity is not to be questioned.

TATI: Errmm… is it a compliment? OK. Thank you.

TONY: What I do find a little questionable are the last two stanzas in your poem. I have a feeling that you’re literally sacrificing yourself to some… well… I don’t know what.

TATI: Let me reread it.

TONY: Okay, you do that. I’ll remove all sharp objects from the room.

TATI: Done.

TONY: So, what are those stanzas actually about then?

TATI: Damn… it’s not very easy answering such questions actually…

TONY: Aw… Please do try! I wanna know if it’ll ever be safe to eat with cutlery in your presence again.

TATI: Actually, it’s about my state when I do my yoga. Tony, have you practiced yoga?

TONY: A little bit, yes.

TATI: Have you felt sometimes something special? Something that you can’t explain with words? Just feel with your skin, like goose bumps?

TONY: Admittedly, yes. It’s rare, but it has happened. In fact, it’s more like a deep calmness that comes over me.

TATI: Do you find it’s easy to express? To explain to other people what you feel?

TONY: Not always, no, but that’s what you’ve attempted to do with this poem, is it not?

TATI: Yes… and now I wonder if such things should be poemed at all. It looks like we swapped in our discussion. I asked more questions than you.

TONY: Yeah, I kinda dropped the ball there, didn’t I? I guess we can conclude that some things are better left unexplained and should just be experienced instead. But does this mean that in future you’ll refrain from writing odes to your yoga mat?

TATI: Nope.

TONY: Such a relief! A world without your poetry would be like a boiled egg without soldiers!

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2017

Butchering (paying a tribute to my old yoga mat)

A medium size.
A medium density.
A medium price.
Generally, it’s dark blue
in the null assemblage point.

(Sometimes it becomes
red or green. But it’s kinda
my little secret.)
A fray is on the back edge
and a slight scent of joss sticks.

Dozens of defects…
The usual thing, in short.
Where is theurgy?
It’s a matter of arrows.
The bright red on the dark blue.

It’s my secret path,
my color-coded loophole,
my molded carcass.
A scheme of the primal cuts
for my gnostic butchering…

Numinous blades slip
and split along my axis.
The golden section…
I yield my offal and meat
under the Karma Cutter.

When my shanks sprawl out
and my round points to the east,
I distinctly hear
chuckling of a sacred cow
in esoteric silence.

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA
© All rights reserved 2015

Mantra Meditation

Their voices are soft and belled.
I feel that I’m stuck inside.
I’m absolutely unshelled
and wide-closed-eyed.

My voice is a tongue of these bells.
It chimes. It’s echoed by walls.
And every one of my fibres and cells
Are blithesome, free-willed thralls.

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA
© All rights reserved 2014