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There was one autumn vulnerable light
locked in the transparent and fragile objects
of a mental hospital within my sight.
I took my medicine without progress,
which made me meditative but not bright.

Each day I woke at seven, ate bland food,
drank weak cold tea and walked under the escort
of a physician in an unfriendly mood
to a remote section. Here my imprisonment
became almost inanimate, absurd.

Among some loonies in the corridor
I’d wait in a silent line for the door
to open wide and let me in again.
The male nurse called with a phonetic flaw:
the stress fell either after or before,
but not in the golden mean of my strange name.

I was eighteen, morose, a little blind,
bereft of glasses after that fistfight
with a policeman. Thus I was arrested
and woke up on a rough asylum bed.
Evil regimes must kill, but understand
who has an Achilles’ heel, who an Achilles’ head.

Slow as a turtle after taking pills,
I walked to the “art therapy” ward, where patients
made paper boxes or “developed new skills”,
e.g. cleaning rusty irons, knitting mittens
and socks for patient nurses and impatient docs.
But I would always doze or, playing hooky,
read a forbidden book under the desk
with nurses in the background watching hockey.

Then one good day they brought a bunch of kids,
who limped, and drooled, and smiled with their wry mouths.
They looked at us from behind heavy eyelids
and couldn’t do a thing. After two hours
they were all taken back. Some fellows said:
“Those kids looked really, really sad.”

Another day they came again and stared
at us, the other patients. No one cared.
They were mumbling a dark stifled cry,
sometimes they touched the paper, gave a shy
and happy sound of comprehension. Weird!

They had no difference, but their clothes did.
There were skirts and pants. A female child
came close and bestowed on me a glance
of admiration in her greenish eyes.
I looked in them and saw an abyss of sadness,
the asylum of our mutual madness.

I looked into her eyes and saw my face
and yellow spots of Russian swamps in April,
a chain of golden lights, a lace of days,
while she stood still, a little ugly angel.
I made a box out of gray paper. That
was all that I could give instead
of wisdom to myself and to that orphan.
But she seemed happy with my paper coffin.

Her name was Carmen. Colorless and sloppy,
her flesh was older than her mind.
To stare at nothing seemed to be her hobby,
as well as mine.
That autumn, just to meet her expectations,
I learned to make all kinds of paper things:
planes, boxes, trains and even railway stations,
and white, white ships, and cranes with widespread wings . . .
They flew and swam across the dirty table,
across the lakes of glue, and seas of paint
toward the window with its yellow maple,
whose autumn brushes always were so wet.

That eighteenth autumn, all those ugly ducklings
taught me to laugh at the slapstick universe.
Forgiveness and forgetfulness, my darling,
oh my Carmen! My life is also scarce
and made of paper.
                                     In the evening, nurses
would take them back to the orphanage and I
would walk across the park which mumbled verses
in the blind alleys for a lullaby.