“On Skapo Street” (Vignette)

In my father’s country, there are many backalleys. If it were not so, I could never have gotten lost so often.

In Vilnius, it’s the small stretch of road that begins with a cramping tunnel of stone. Graffitied with years of obsession and frenzy, the tunnel comes out facing Pilies Galerija, the Castle Gallery, like it sits at the very edge of the world. The old city is dark after sunset, a harvest hue along all the walls where hovered lamps are shining.

There’s a painted bear on the end of the tunnel, white with stalactite fangs and glowering down the entrance door. Maybe staring down the poster to the right of it. Some Mike Jones tagged himself as the new “street animal” a month ago, the copycat counterpart to some stryt animali stuck in below Koma on the opposite wall

I just nearly slid looking at it, slipping on the pavement below while emerging from the tunnel’s end. There are bristles of second-rate snow on these cobblestones, shaved off from parts of the ice that have been trampled on endlessly by businessmen, dutiful daughters, drug pushers, and the fellow who some time ago shouted “fire!” in the National Drama Theatre. Everyone’s been here. I’ve always been here. And if I lean back my head, I still see the same four-paned window on the arch, caught in the thick between 11 and 13.

“I shall not wake up,” I whisper, far beneath the sound of the wind, “for the day hasn’t begun yet.”

It was my mother who sang and taught me that. And I hear that song in the tunnel paintings, some of them covering up deteriorated posters, signs from shows that have long since passed. I see that song in the white bear’s eyes, his artist sound asleep in stone. I feel his song in the stinging gusts of air.


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