Thank you, Museum of Communism

As a refugee from the former Soviet Empire I was overwhelmed by what I found in its former colonies. Knowing that my Cuban brethren are still trapped inside a grotesque relic of that totalitarian nightmare, and knowing that my parents had sent me to the United States so I wouldn’t end up in these places through which I was traveling, I couldn’t help but feel a constant twinge of something I couldn’t identify: a strangely mixed emotion–part sorrow, part envy, part gratitude, and part rage–that drew me inward and made me feel more like an exile than ever.

I must therefore thank you Czechs and Germans who were bold enough to rid yourselves of your oppressors twenty years ago. The legacy of your accomplishment brought me in touch with my own past in a very immediate way, and it gave me hope for the future of the ruined land I was forced to leave behind and from which I’ve been barred, along with my books.

I’m especially grateful to the Museum of Communism in Prague, in which I never set foot. I only saw posters advertising its existence, but that was enough for me. It knocked me off balance just to know that such a museum exists, in which I and every Czech over the age of twenty-one could be at once a visitor and an exhibit. You realigned my thinking and my center of gravity, Museum of Communism, as all great paradoxes tend to do.

~ Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana, in Learning to Die in Miami, pp. 305-306.

Gold Coins

A meditation on faith and political fortune by Vaclav Havel, with English and commentary (below).

Zlaťáky víry mého jara
se po kaštanových alejích rozkutálely
a rozptýlily v mlžných parách

Alej moje plakala k zemi
červené a žluté a zrzavé slzičky
jež na cestě dělaly sněmy

Hromady spadalého listí
předvádějí zběsilé vířivé tance
ty můžeš v knize osudů čísti

U osamělé lavičky
leží v rozsypaných peřinách
dva kaštany a jeden starý klíč

Docela rezavý klíč

Je to klíč od malé kované skřínky
jež skrývá v sobě červenožluté posly
nových monstrancí lásky

Zlaťáky víry mého jara
se slétly jak poslušné děti
do skřínky mého srdce

Ve jménu krásy podzimního listí

“Zlaťáky víry”
ČTYŘI RANÉ BÁSNĚ, 1954
Vaclav Havel

¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸ •°°°•. ¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸ •°°°•.

Gold coins of faith in my spring
Rolled along the chestnut avenues
And dispelled the foggy vapors

The alley cried to my nation
Tears of red and yellow and red
Which way to the Diet

Stacks of fallen leaves
Demonstrate that frantic turbulent dance
You can slate the fate of pieces with

The solitary bench
Lie scattered feather bed
Two old chestnuts and a key

Quite a rusty key

Starting from a small lockbox it was forged
Which implies red and messages
New love monstrance

Gold coins of faith in my spring
Swooped in as obedient children
Boxes in my heart

In the name of the beauty of autumn leaves

“Gold Coins”
Four Early Poems, 1954
Vaclav Havel

¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸ •°°°•. ¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸¸.•*´¨`*•.¸ •°°°•.

Commentary

What are the leaves of autumn, and what is their beauty?

Imagine spilling hefty coins from a little treasure chest and watching them roll confidently along the ground, each enduring until, spinning and rattling, it lands upon its place. This is the image Havel invites us to consider, weighing each coin in a realm of faith. For in youth, each idea and ideal rolls well past its corresponding idol in pursuit of truth. Shining in springtime light, each golden, glinting wafer eschews uncertainty, a vaporous fog.

Imagine now the spilling of leaves from a chestnut tree. What is the leaf but death meandering earthward? Each feather falling leaf describes a path from air to ground until, like a rolling coin that settles, it finds its place. The chaotic dance of plummeting autumn foliage, patterns descending from on high, shows the destined path for every coin below. The leaves: by their erratic descent you can slate the fate of pieces.

So it seems in youth. These coins of faith, kept locked away and precious in a box, not unlike the wafer in a monstrance, both delimited and disclosed, guarded and granted, sacred and shared. For such a box we fashion well-forged keys. Imagine that there, by the isolated bench among the bed of chestnut leaves, you find one lying. Where is the box for this key, and where are the letters of devotion for this box, coin of the realm, alms of love and faith spilled forward?

The bench wants a sitter. The key is rusty. In spring came childlike faith, bounding, trusting. In autumn comes a cry: which way?

In autumn come the leaves, a cry in hues of red, yellow and red. Their dance is a dance of death; they little fog dispel.

The beauty of autumn leaves is the once and future spring of a nation’s dying, renascent hope.