A favorite professor of art and architecture would be sorely disappointed with me, if he knew I were not visiting the churches while here in Tallinn. I admit, I have been tempted.
Yesterday, I even went so far as to walk into the vestibule of the Holy Spirit Church after marveling at the painted clock embedded in its wall above my head. It’s difficult not to pause and gape when you think of all the people for whom the clock has kept time over the years, the endless cycling of its gears. History through the arms of a clock.
Hesitantly, I stepped through the church door, feeling the coolness in the dim light. Undecided, I peered through a wrought iron grille, closed off by plated glass, but instead of the expected interior, the eyes of a monk in robes locked with mine. He refused to relinquish the gaze and, I suppose, I refused just as stubbornly. A full minute, an uncomfortable minute, passed. Unsettled, I shook my head at him and turned away, walking from the church, into the certain joy of the sunlight. As I crossed a small courtyard, canopied by trees, I remained disturbed by the monk’s uncanny stare, and was wholly focused on interior thoughts, until I turned the corner and saw the boldly printed name of Henrik Visnapuu on the spine of a book on display in a window.
What a welcome name to see at that moment, like a friend in the crowd. I have lived with his name on a daily basis for nearly ten months, my unanticipated companion when I began to learn about Silvia. His photograph and books are on my desk at home and I’ve allowed the idea of him to take presence within me. Happy to see his name, I take a picture of the window and then step back, noticing the Siuru symbol on the plaque outside the door, and in immediate recognition I know where I am. The monk fades from my thoughts, altogether.
Months ago, I had seen a short film, SIURU tormid ja tungid Tallinnas on Youtube that featured this store, Siuru, REad. I had not understood much of what was said in the film, outside of the names, but I followed the visual tour of places important to the the Siuru group. This location, the bookstore where I stood, was sacred ground and without any hesitation at the door, I went in.
Bookstores and libraries are places where I have always felt completely at ease. Even when I cannot read the language, I understand their order and disorder and find comfort in words bound and printed, but this store is more than a respite. Images of Visnapuu hang on the wall above my head, as well as the other members of the group of Siuru writers. Marie Under holds a place of honor in a painting behind me.
I browse the shelves, noticing authors that Silvia read, looking for a section that may have more work by the Siuru poets. Not finding anything, I ask specifically for a biographical piece that was written about Visnapuu’s last years. Unfortunately, without my notes, I bungle the author, (it is Pedro Krusten), but the bookseller helped me muddle along and we began a conversation; the first discussion I have been able to have – in person – with someone who knows his life and work. And then Silvia joins the conversation. We talk about Silvia and Henrik in Tartu, separated by war to be rejoined, once again, in the DP camps and later New York. His last work…
Together, we walked through the small, intimate and sunlit store. The bookseller took me around the shelf-lined walls, pointing to the photographs and telling me the stories in English, stories I longed to hear. Outside, I was shown the window to the apartment where the Siuru group met and the line of trees outside that window. The trees that where shading the courtyard, were memorialized in a poem by Visnapuu.
I walked away from the bookstore far more spiritually enervated than from the church door. Talk of poetry can do that. The line of trees, now grown full, will see other generations. Like the clock, they mark time. I must return and take a leaf from those trees and one for Silvia.
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