Issue 155, Summer 2000
Chekhov in the Clinic
The author of "Ward No. 6" has been
moved from Ward No. 16 to Ward 14.
—letter to Suvorin, March, 1897
The Seagull was a failure, the burlesque crowd began to shout
"Intellectual rot!" And then, before dinner at the
With the crew and Suvorin, Chekhov hemorrhaged, the
from his trimmed beard into his lap. But the worst was
Tolstoy, who visited the clinic just as he wrote: four hours
on love and death and "principle" —some formless sense
To which we all, apparently, belong. "Such immortality
I don't need," the playwright wrote to Suvorin. Four hours!
And the doctor had been unequivocal: No talking.
But Chekhov had to talk. Even when alone, packing books
again on doctor's orders, to read Voltaire
Along the boulevard—speech was what made him move,
here-to-there; something drawn, umbilical,
A tether to the vision.
He was hunting with the painter Levitan,
the unsuccessful suicide. A woodcock had been wounded,
And Levitan could not finish, so Chekhov had.
there was blood on their boots, blood and feathers on
Viscera sparkling in the grass. But then, beside
itself, the same bird stood alone. And what a bird!
Smart bow tie, pince-nez askew, and starched . ..
No. I am not you, said Chekhov.
No. But then the doctor handed over
The playwright's lungs, his wings, an open book.
"Tolstoy, Tolstoy, Tolstoy."
The older man gazed upwards, surprised
To be so interrupted. "Hm?"
"I am tired. Leave me to my bed."