by Sagy Zwirn
Sagy Zwirn is an Israeli writer in the  master's program at
Tel Aviv University. In his thesis he explores certain
philosophical elements of Dostoyevsky's "Crime and
Punishment." He recently completed a novel and a play in
English and has a book review forthcoming in The
Quarterly Review. This is his first published story.
Outside the sun is dying and the darkness rises.
Inside this impromptu lecture hall you have never felt
more alone. There are people behind you but you are the
only one in the first row. And then there is the table in
front of you, with the two women sitting behind it,
looking right through you. You, the artist, are a prisoner,
and you feel that though you have come here, though you
have chosen this place and time, you are not free. No
gods pushed you here, but a mute power holds you down.

“I’m so happy to introduce Ann Carmois, the distinguished
poet,” says the younger woman. “We will hear her poetry
firsthand, and afterwards there will be audience
participation.” The younger woman is less impressive but
she is pretty enough and you find yourself welling with
attraction for her. She is not that bright, nor is she
foolish, nor are her curves as pleasing as they could be,
but something in her childish, yet erudite tone and the
frivolity with which she speaks draws you in, and all this
does is increase your anxiety. Ah!—you simply want to
run, run, run, but you cannot move, cannot stand, cannot
speak. You think that it might be a dream and are held
down, not by deities but by cords of your own making.
The room is pressing, it shrinks, and all the people, the
chairs, the floor, walls, ceiling, empty smiles and other
acts of artifice, all become a mass of substance, a blare,
a burden. You are alone and the whole world is a vehicle
for your imprisonment. You wish to come to this so called
poet, hold her hand and speak to her and let her know, or
go over to her friend and kiss her and hold her, and find
some release for your yearning, but no release comes.
You want to cry, to yell, to let your true plight show, to
let it shine brightly through the darkness in the room,
which is heavier than the darkness outside. You are
there, and the poet and the other one, but the other
observers do not exist. The two women don’t see you,
because they are speaking to their audience, and you are
merely a grain of sand in an endless desert for them to
walk on. They do not just look through you, they walk on
you with this look, and assure you that for them you are
not real, you are not a person. They don’t absorb
because they cannot see you anymore than a traveler can
see each piece of earth on which he steps. But where are
they going? Where are these travelers headed? It is not
clear but they make it seem like they know. The
claustrophobia increases and you cannot fight your place
in this anymore. You don’t ask for a place, you don’t ask
to be talked to, you merely ask to exist, even if it means
to be the sand. You want to fall to your knees before
them and ask for absolution, because now, in this tight
room, in this darkness, they are close to divinity. Just let
me touch your shoes and find some truth, you would
plead. If I am sand then let me at least be sand, and don’
t take from me this last right, for I have earned it. This
far you have fallen: an artist, yet pleading to be walked
on. Why have you let them reduce you so, humankind?
Why have you allowed them all to let you find solace in
this, this depravity? Or is it a dream after all? Perhaps
you are wrong—you are not their plaything, these women,
more venerated, more loved, more admired, they do not
stand upon you, and you are not theirs to do so. They are
neither loved nor revered nor…what of this is true? You
seek guidance, you want love and tenderness and they
have taught you that it is wrong. The poet is smiling. She
must be a poet because she was so introduced, and what
can undo the word? A word said can be no lie, because in
the saying it becomes reality. She is not young and not
appealing but in her eye lies the spark of creativity, now
obscured by the fog of self importance. She holds the
hand of her friend and it is a firm grip. The other one
smiles, and you wish for either of them to love you this
way, to look at you with this fire, this torch of violent
caring. Oh, how you wish for them to accept you. Still you
hold on to the self love of an artist, and you say that you
are better than these posers, these fakes, that you do
not need their affection or anyone else’s, and in part you
think so, and in part you lie to yourself, and in part you
see the lie, and lie further to hide the lie from yourself.
You love them and at the same time look down on them.
You need them and you dismiss them out of hand. That is
your heart: conflicted, fragmented, and you need to pick
up the pieces, to make it whole, but still you cannot
move and cannot speak.

The young one smiles and holds the poet’s hand. “You
should tell them.”

“Yes. Ah…“ She stares as though this great and wicked
genius in her makes her difficult for humans to
comprehend. “It is hard to explain. I need a place to put
myself. Poetry…is not fiction. It is stronger, more apt,
more…true. Prose is for weaker men.”

You hate her more now, because she is playing the part
of the poet, and she revels in herself:
Why do I want to
be like them? I make art, and I look for their approval.

This is not a place to find meaning, and art, and
greatness, but a place to prove how smart and civilized
you are, and you want none of this charade. If prose is
rougher, less pretentious, you wish for it to love you and
take you in because this theatre of acknowledgment is
hell, right here, right now.

“I wanted to write, to make a philosophy that is not
anxiety, not guilt. I wanted to write a philosophy that is
also love, and it brought me to…well, I cannot put it into
simple words, so I should read my poetry…”

Under the table, the poet places a hand on the other
woman’s leg.

“What can I do, in my sea of sadness, in my pool of
Can I demand or cry or play? Not me, not in this place,
not now.
For the art of being an artist is more deadly than all other
And my Dante, my Shakespeare, they wish me to find a
moment of freedom…”

And where is
your freedom? Where is it NOW? These
women have stolen it. So many faces, so many smiles
screaming love and they love no one and you are alone.
Let me stand! Let me break free of these chains, these
shackles that keep me here to be stepped upon! You
scream, but the voice remains within you.

“How I have fallen…fallen, and now I am dust,
A place of no special significance.
I…I…I am alone, and the sand washes the earth
And they hold me, walk on my body,
The Eucharist of someone else,
Not me, not the observer, not ever.”

Ah! They have stolen from you! There is a thumping
noise, a bit similar to drums of metal, and suddenly there
is a foreboding as the sound meets the words.

“So let my love show, let my pain rise in the darkness…”

They have taken your words so that they could become
human, so that they could be loved. What greater sin is
there? How have they found you? You have become a
thing, a tool for the poet to use.

“You are mine, mine, mine.” The poet moves her hand
higher and it is close to the lively friend’s waist. “And in
the darkness, I do find the promise of the ages, so that I
can cry, and grow, and find a place, a time, and all are
dust now because I have consumed them all. I am the
storm, holding in the decay of other things. Finally I am
whole, and finally I am not alone.”

They grab each other and they kiss, and the observers
nod in delight: “Yes, this is that philosophy, the
philosophy that is also love. How very clever to make love
and passion the very poem.” The two mount the table
and the poet smiles while the other one undresses her
and kisses her breasts and her stomach. She takes off her
pants and lies down on top of the poet.

As they move and moan and do their earthly business
they are so very happy in their act, an act of great love
and great caring, and it is almost touching. Excited voices
come from the dismantled throng: “Brilliant! What a work
of genius! To start in words and end in flesh, a poem
written in skin and naked humanity! A poem that is love!”
In the background the thumping noise persists and melds
with the lovemaking and the simpering faces of the poet
and her lover. It is a grand melodic overture to divinity
and humanity, and all the words and feelings you possess
burst out of these two graceful females; all that you had
in you finds release in them. But you are still prisoner,
and only they receive the stolen prize of freedom and

One of the observers gets up: I am not ready to watch
any more. I too want to be an artist of love. I too want to
write poetry in flesh and find love in beauty! I too am not
alone! She does not say it right away, but when she joins
the two women, when she kisses the poet’s nipples and
the lover’s flesh, when she too undresses and joins them,
the two accept her lovingly and as she begins to moan
the words flow though her unwillingly, like water bursting
through a broken dam. The poet cries and the other two
press their bodies to her and in their warmth console her:
“It is more than art, more than love, more than poetry! It
is an ordinance of God’s love, of his very spirit.”

A man comes closer to the poet and her two lovers and
thanks them, but they repel him. Another woman and
another flock to the table in front of you. The few men
leave, and you remain alone, no one behind you, while
right before you, a few feet away, is an ever growing
mountain of naked women, their eyes closed, their lips
curled in desire, their screams of pleasure growing louder
and louder. At the core of it all lays the poet, the heart of
this epic poem. She conducts the whole endeavor and the
rhythm now becomes that of the thumping from behind
until there is no telling them apart. You wish to run, to
leave this act of plagiarism, for they all, every last one of
them, stole your emotions, your desires, your art. And
what now—are you still an artist when they have taken it
all away? So very alone, you want to flee, but you are
their prisoner, a prisoner of the whole of mankind, of
these lovers, which are one in the same. You hold up your
hand and now the poet sees you. She laughs. All the
others laugh, still moaning, their bodies still sinking into
one flesh. They laugh a deep and hearty laugh, and they
all look at you, and are so happy that you are there,
because without you, without their audience, they are not

“This poem does not end,” the poet says, and at once, as
though she has sent a silent signal to all the other
women, they change position. The poet remains on the
table, still looking at you, but the others all lie face down
on top of her and on top of each other, so that their
naked asses face you.

“You are the sand,” says the poet. “A traveler must have
something to walk on. You were always ours, even before
you came here, and we are not letting you go. This poem
is truth; it is love, and it is eternal.”

You yield and do not leave. After all, every poem must
have its audience and every love must break someone.
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