by John Samuel Tieman
lonelier I thought
than a frozen ocean’s wharf
a young widow’s moan
Sometimes I love a good disaster story. The noble hero rescues the helpless. The survivor who, against all odds, comes away unscathed. The stoic victims remembered annually. Then sometimes it’s the Kursk.
Capt. Lieut. Dmitri Kolesnikov wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t particularly stoic. I’m not sure how many remember him. Yet there remains the home videos, the wife, the letter.
In his videos, his wife is funny, cute, obviously intelligent. They’re in love. It’s charming. Then he dies. He was aboard the submarine Kursk, which sank in 2000. Kolesnikov and 22 others survived for at least eight hours, if not for days in a cold, cramped and dark room. The submariner’s equivalent of being buried alive. On his body, a letter. “I am writing blindly. So I’ll write by feel.”
“I am writing blindly. So I’ll write by feel.” His words have haunted me for a dozen years. Some say we write in order to know what we think. I think we feel, then a kind of knowing follows. All the rest follows that. All the rest is sometimes writing. There were poems written in Auschwitz. There were messages sent from the Titanic. We feel, we think about what we feel, then all the rest follows and fades. Dmitri Kolesnikov’s letter is barely legible.
“I am writing blindly. So I’ll write by feel.” A dozen years later, and I am compelled to type his words, not because I must write them, not because I must hear them, not because I want to preserve them, but because, in the silence of my study, I must feel them with the tips of my fingers. I never knew Dmitri Kolesnikov. He had a nice smile. A nice wife. Likely a nice guy. But for all I know, he might have been brutish, sadistic, a martinet, a malingerer. What I do know is that once, in a tiny room, sad, afraid, he blindly wrote what he felt. Then he waited to die. Like all the rest of us.
I’ve ten thousand words
I’ll never put in prayer
the gods want the heart