from the essay collection Meanings
by Doris Kareva
translated from the Estonian by Tiina Aleman
At the heart of the World House, at the door of the hall of pillars, keeping watch is Marcello. Nothing escapes his edgy, constantly scanning, bird-of-prey stare; not one soul goes unnoticed.
In shimmering billowing satin robes, at an unhurried pace, enter black-skinned monarchs with escorts who fan them with invisible palm boughs;
hurrying in, with intense full-soled steps, are tall, bony, feminist, Nordic women.
there are ministers of recently independent countries, with youthfully restless strides and angrily determined expressions;
like a flock of butterflies, the relentlessly smiling enigmatic ladies of the East float by in colorful kimonos, togas, and saris;
stepping out of dark low limousines are men with oil-slick gazes who precede dispatched turbaned dignitaries;
hippies gone grey, with bright, constant, sanguine smiles that reveal a growing number of missing teeth;
uniformed men with clenched jaws and tight collars from the dictatorship nations,
from whom wafts heavy grim odors that even the liberal use of the toilet water of Freedom can’t mask;
in an even, sandal-footed step, with a gentle, untroubled pace, are monks with bare heads and bare shoulders wearing robes varying in colors from burnt orange to sand;
in checkered, formfitting, tailored suits, quick-witted western women ready for kisses, extend their well-powdered cheeks;
the nearsighted, barely-bearing-up-under-their-corpulence presidents of countries that still exist only because of hunger relief arrive in private planes along with their unforthcoming retinues;
casting dark flashing glares, wearing seductive slick suits, are the shiny, articulate, intensely casual noble diplomats;
swaying their enormous hips, swathed in brightly patterned textiles, with luscious lips and sultry eyes are the women from southern lands;
with meager, dry, business-like glances, clutching their briefcases under their arms, always in a hurry, dispensing smiles as thin as a communion wafer, are the secretaries of state—
these are on whom the destiny of the world depends.
These who are invited, elected, ordained.
These who are of the moment. And many others.
The entire, colorful, flowing, jostling, procession, as if walking onto Noah’s ark, passes beneath Marcello’s always vigilant falcon’s gaze, his clicking aparatus records with dispassionate objectivity the entire human carnival.
Quivering, quicksilver, rising and falling, invisible pillar of the world, he candidly notes his century’s every vibration, fever, and tremor.
Like the joker in a pack of cards, he has free admission everywhere—at banquets with kings, in back chambers with queens, at the tavern table with the knaves.
The reach of his six-pronged tongue explores all parts of the world, crevices; valleys; from the vestige of space between his two eyes, he finds an unexpected delicacy. Not one espresso or rice wine is strong, quick, or bitter enough for him.
An unfiltered foreign legion cigarette smoking between his teeth, his eyes narrowed, he constantly gestures s to fleeting acquaintances.
He remembers everything and everyone. He perceives in an instant and comprehends without words. His compassion is cosmic.
At night, when the world has called it a day, across stone floors receding footsteps have faded, only on the flickering video screens is there still a phantom echo; the starlight is extinguished, Marcello closes his eyes in his attic chamber.
In his dreams rise again the tidal waves of longing, foaming and humming as they flow over the terrace of his home. Magical sunset skies alternate with hurricanes, earthquakes, the horror of war…
Along the hillside, though, at first just a tiny dot, slowly approaching him is a girl with flaming hair,
a girl with breathless breasts
a girl with nameless loins
who will become the mother of his child.