its worsening convulsions, at which point I would slip into a peaceful slumber. Poetry gave me the sense that I was closing my eyes to the image of Youssef, who had absented himself from me. He used to read me amazing verses that he’d composed. I encouraged him to publish them in a collection, but he rejected the idea. ‘I’m a painter,’ he said,‘although every now and then, when I feel as though a painting has been saturated with colour, I have to resort to words to convey what I need to.’
“After reading a few pages out of Mayakovsky’s collection, I came to a passage in the middle of the book where he says:
If you prefer, I’ll be pure, raging meat Or if you prefer, as the sky changes tone, I’ll be absolutely tender, Not a man, but a cloud in trousers! …. I’ll cherish and love your body as a soldier, mutilated by war, useless, alone, cherishes his one leg.* “When I turned the page, I came across two pieces of paper, folded up and badly creased, inside the book. I unfolded them and began reading what was written on them.Their contents were hard to make out, as the handwriting was tiny and uneven, and some of the letters had been swallowed up due to an unsteady hand. But here is what I read:
I’m surprised at how alien my body feels to me. I feel crippled, unable to stand. It’s abandoned me, and in its place it’s left something that bears no resemblance to it, as though I were walking on crutches of air. I’m vexed by a feeling that I’m inside of something resembling the body, but that I can’t fully trust.
“These words brought back the memory of Youssef’s abandon-
* John Glad and Daniel Weissbort (eds), Russian Poetry:The Modern Period (Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 1978), pp. 9, 27.
86 BANIPAL 70 – SPRING 2021
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