June/July 1998


a prose poem by Catherine Farid


"Goodnight, Sojourner"

Those were the last words I heard from you. Short band radio. Nothing cellular or digital about it: simple, simple, simple: that was your idea. If it had been up to me, I'd have arranged our meetings by encrypted email, and we'd have met on the rooftop of Trump Tower... instead of by short wave, in the truckstop on Route 4 in the middle of a cold Iowa farmtown. I used to dream you could hear me in our own secret language, a digital one, one without tethers or relays. I used to imagine you knew me that well.

They found your Volvo in a ravine somewhere in Belgium- I was never told the full story. Waiting in the glass and chrome terminal at Heathrow, my single carry-on bag stuffed with media bytes, press clippings, a change of underwear. The phone call, the news. I paused, returned to the desk and asked to exchange my ticket from Johannesburg to Kiev. I needed snow. Have you ever seen more perfect icicles than the ones in Kiev?

I followed you from the cemetery to the church. I watched you pray, light a candle, and leave, your boots sloshing through the medieval ices. My own personal Ovid. Your apartment, perfectly ordinary in every way, which is why it was so remarkable. How had you found something so perfectly ordinary? You knew I was there. You waited for me at the plaza, introduced yourself. I recoiled, began speaking Russian but you saw right through me. You said to me....you said to me, "I would know you anyplace" and I believed you. I crumpled every order I ever had and I had dinner with you, in your ordinary apartment, drinking ordinary French wine (my god, how had you managed that?). You apologized for leaving your CD walkman somewhere in Peru. I said I didn't mind. Music is good only for mathematical analysis, I said.

"Not true. Beethoven. Seven Bagatelles. Opus 33. Recorded by Schnabel in November 1938: music made for living. Andante grazioso, quasi allegretto...."

"You are trying to seduce me, " I said.

"Is it working?"

"How long do you have before you leave for Paris?"

"Ten hours"

"It is working just fine."

I think that is when you took my clothes off and tossed my Ferragamo slippers out the window, into the fountain below. "Some Russian woman will find them in the morning."

"And now?"

"And now, my neighbors will begin banging on the walls."

I smiled and agreed with you.

Seven years, fifteen million miles of earth. I wake up and wonder about my shoes. I want to find you in Kiev. I want this to be an elaborate setup. In ten days, five years, eleven months, I will walk into a monastery in Tibet and you will wink at me from under a hood. I will be with another man in London and you will carry my luggage out to the car. You will finally submit to the newer ways and call me on my cellular phone: will you need my country code?

I hear you anyway. Distant, unclear music playing like a radio (some impression of sound). Your signal isn't clear though. This is the first time distance has ever mattered.

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