From ON UNIVERSAL BALANCE
...And, having returned home, Nikolay Ivanovich said this to his wife:
“Do not be afraid, Ekaterina Petrovna, and do not worry. Only there isn’t any equilibrium in this life. And the mistake is only off by some kilogram and half for the entire universe, but still, it’s amazing, Ekaterina Petrovna, it is simply remarkable!”
[September 18, 1934]
From Russian Absurd: Daniil Kharms, Selected Writings (Northwestern University Press, World Classics series; officially published on February 17, 2017)
First of all, my apologies for the delay in posting this: I must again excuse myself by repeating that, like so many of us, I've only just returned from DC and the AWP. And so, dear reader, please accept this, my belated Happy St. Valentines's Day wishes to us all: may each of us seek to daily find within ourselves those inner resources that enable us to feel and express our love. Yesterday, I was helped on this occasion, during a particularly difficult personal time and in this unsettling historical moment, by going to see a film with two people I care about very much. While Lion is far from a perfect picture, what else is there in this world that can better evoke in us those cathartic and complex feelings of pity and empathy more than the innocence of a child?
I also wish to say that I had all the relevant selections from the book ready to go before I got on the road, but, to quote E. M. Foster: "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" What I want to tell you about today is an experience of censorship I had with the Russian Absurd, Daniil Kharms Facebook page I had started, intended to promote the book with a series of selections, including the poem that follows here. The response I received to it was: "Your ad wasn't approved because it doesn't follow our Advertising Policies for adult products or services. We don’t allow images or videos that show nudity or cleavage, even if it’s portrayed for artistic or educational reasons." While I appealed the decision repeatedly, including finally to a live person, explaining that the post contained neither nudity, nor cleavage, nor certainly any videos, it got me exactly nowhere.
The situation became only more absurd, when Facebook's response to a prose piece in tomorrow's follow up post, "Daniil Kharms on Spirit," that I thought not only innocuous but genuinely elevated and uplifting was: "Your ad wasn't approved because it calls out to specific user attributes (ex: race, religion, age, sexual orientation, gender, disability or medical condition, financial status, membership in a trade union, criminal record, ethnicity, name). Such ads may offend users and lead to high negative sentiment." To make this already far too long introduction shorter: to put it mildly, Kharms, like so many of us today, had a "complicated relationship" with all of mankind, and even with God "himself". I hope you will read on for yourself, and I will only add here the following words from my introduction to the book:
"Humor and horror, Eros and Thanatos, degradation and sadomasochism jostle one another, side-by-side, in these stories and poems. Kafkaesque and Chekhovian situations and motifs from Pushkin and traditional Russian fairy tales are recognizable in Kharms’s sparse prose, yet they appear diseased, stripped down to their bare essentials, as if contorted by the terror of impending arrest and doom." And we might add, "by the terror of love gained and love lost". And now, most of the rest of this, I would like to be in Daniil Kharms's own words.
You can sew. But that’s all bunk.
I’m in love with your pudenda;
it’s moist and smells abundantly.
Another man would peek, let out
a squeak, and, sealing his nose, scram.
And wiping your fluids from his hands
would he return? Oh, what a question;
suddenly, there can be no other.
Your juices are to me sheer joy.
You think my words are an excrescence
but I’m prepared to lick your cunt
without break for breath and swallow
the delicious squim of your mallow
until I begin to burp and grunt.
(Daniil Kharms, 1931)
"Joseph Brodsky once quoted Anna Akhmatova, about an improbable Kharms sentence: 'Only with Kharms could that ever work. Never with anyone else.'" (From Ian Frazier's group review of all the books heretofore available in English translation in The New York Review of Books, which includes his own very personal experience discovering, translating, and failing in the attempt to communicate to Anglophone readers how and why Daniil Kharms's works are "funny".)
From “Thoughts about a Girl”
And when she passes by aflutter,
As if on air, not a word do you utter;
And when with a knowledgeable hand
She makes contact— you understand.
And when she lightly, as though dancing,
Sliding her lovely foot across the floor,
Proceeds to offer her perky breast for
You to kiss— then it is impossible not
To shout out loud and lovingly blow
From her firm breast a dust mote,
And recognize how touching your lips
To her youthful breast is pointless.
January 21, 1935
In every church bell there is spite
In every red ribbon there is fire
In every young woman shivering
In every young man his own steed.
March 20, 1938
Came to the window naked. In the house across the street someone must have taken an exception, the sailor’s widow, I think. A policeman came barging in, with the yard sweeper, and someone else in tow. They declared that I have been disturbing the neighbors across the street from me for over three years already. So I have hung some curtains. What is more appealing to the eye, an old woman wearing nothing but a chemise or a young man, buck-naked? And for whom is it less acceptable to show themselves au naturel?
This was my own "working" version of the book's cover. Being a very visual and concrete person, as I was developing and completing the book, being able to see both the "big picture" and the individual pages helped me in doing so. Here, I had "cut" and reversed what I believed to be a double "wedding portrait" of Daniil Yuvachev and Esther Rousakov. Kharms's first wife, she was the daughter of Jewish Russian-French “expats,” and part of the "reverse immigration" that had returned to Russia after the Revolution.
From the Notebooks. July 27. Who could advise me regarding what I should do? Esther brings with her misfortune. I am being destroyed along with her. What must I do, either divorce her or . . . carry my cross? I was given the choice to avoid this, but I remained dissatisfied, and asked to be united with Esther. I was told yet again, do not be married! But despite “having caught a scare,” I still insisted, I still tied my fate with Esther’s, till death do us part. I myself was to blame for this or, rather, I did it to myself. What has happened to the OBERIU? Everything vanished as soon as Esther became a part of me. Since that time, I have ceased to write as I ought to and have only brought misfortune upon myself from all directions. Is it that I can’t be dependent on women, no matter which one it is? Or is the nature of Esther’s character such that she brought an end to my work? I don’t know. If Esther is filled with sorrow, then how can I possibly let her go....
Kharms developed a highly personal and involved symbology, mostly involving an almost kabbalistic play with the letters of her name (his symbol for her as a whole person was the window). Esther Rusakov (née Ioselevich), was repressed, along with her entire family, in 1936.
Before I enter, I will knock on your window. You will see me in the window. Then I will walk through the door and you will see me in the doorway. Then I will walk into your house and you will recognize me. And I will enter you, and no one, except you, will see me and recognize me.
You will see me in the window.
The woman in the following picture is Alice Poiret, another of "Kharms's women;” both she and his first wife, Esther, have most often been literally cropped out of the few surviving photos of Kharms that have come down to us. Kharms had dedicated a number of poems to Alice, including the following:
[ January 7, 1933]
October 16, 1933
Talent grows, destroying, building.
The sign of stagnation is well-being.
Dear Klavdia Vasilyevna,
You are a remarkable and genuine person! As much as it grieves me not to be able to see you, I won’t be inviting you to the Children’s Theater or to come to my city. How heartwarming it is to know that there still exists one human being animated by dreams! I don’t know what word one can use to express that force which so delights me in you. I usually call it simply p u r i t y. I have been thinking about how wonderful it is, that which is primal...
… I’m genuinely delighted that you take your walks like so, in the Zoological Garden. Especially if you take walks there not just for the sake of walking, but also to observe the animals— I will fall in love with you even more tenderly.
October 20, 1933
I have studied women for a long time now and can definitively say that I know them with flying colors. First and foremost, a woman likes to be attended to. Let’s say she is standing right in front of you or is about to, and you make it seem as though you’re hearing and seeing nothing, and act like there’s no one else in the room; this inflames female curiosity. And a curious woman is capable of practically anything.
The next time I will intentionally stick my hand deep in my pocket with a quizzical appearance, and the woman will plant her eyes on me, like, what’s going on here? And I will slowly draw out of my pocket some sort of spark plug. Well and good; the trap has been sprung, and the fish is in my net!
One of the principal sources of divergence of human paths is the matter of preference for either skinny or plump women. I propose we reserve alleys in public gardens for quiet strolling, with two-seat benches distributed two meters away from each other; furthermore, thick bushes should be planted between the benches so that those sitting at one bench are not able to see what is happening at another. On these quiet pathways, the following rules must be enforced:
1. Entrance is forbidden to children, both alone and accompanied by a parent.
2. All noise and loud conversation are strictly prohibited.
3. Only one woman may take a seat next to a man, and only one man next to a woman.
4. If the person seated on a bench is resting their hand or some sort of other object on the free seat, you may not join them. Alleys should also be reserved for walking in solitude, with metal armchairs for single people. Between the armchairs, bushes. Entry is forbidden to children; noise and loud conversation are prohibited.
As a rule, pretty women do not stroll around in gardens.
September 28, 1935
One personage, wringing her hands in sorrow, was saying, “What I need is an interest toward life, and not at all money. I am seeking enhancement, not advancement. I need a husband, and not a rich man but a true talent, the director Meyerhold!”
The Sensual Woodsman
When in the distance flashed saws
And the axes had started ringing,
My girlfriends all became dearer.
I’m in love with them ever since.
Oh, girlfriends, my dear girlfriends,
So pleasant to sense you with my hands!
You’re all so smooth! All so solid!
One more wonderful than the next!
It’s so pleasant to touch your breasts,
Brush my lips the length of your legs.
Oh, help me people, dear people.
Oh, help me God, my dear God!
August 24, 1938
From An Obstacle (August 12, 1940) Previously published in Narrative Magazine (free registration required)
Pronin said, “You have very pretty stockings.”
Irina Mazer said, “So you like my stockings?”
Pronin said, “Oh, yes. Very much.” And he ran his hand down her leg....
From A Lecture (1940)
“A woman is the lathe of love.”
And he immediately got punched in the face....
From “The Power of...”
Faol continued: “Take, for example, love. It may be for better or for worse. On the one hand, it is written: you must love . . . but on the other hand, it is said: do not spoil . . . Perhaps it is better not to love after all? But it says: you must love. But if you do love, you will spoil. What to do? Perhaps go ahead and love but in some other way? But then why is it that in all languages, the same word is used to designate both this and the other love? So, this one artist loved his mother and this one plump young girl. And he loved them each differently. He handed over to the girl the larger part of his salary. The mother often starved while the girl ate and drank for three people. The artist’s mother slept in the hallway on the floor, and the girl had at her disposal two very adequate rooms. The girl had four coats and the mother just one. And so, the artist took from his mother her one coat and had it altered into a skirt for the girl. So that, in all respects, the artist spoiled the girl but his own mother he didn’t spoil, but loved her with a pure love. However, he did fear his mother’s death, but the death of the girlfriend he feared not, and when his mother died, the artist cried, and when the girlfriend fell out of a window and also died, the artist didn’t cry but found himself another girlfriend. And so it seems that a mother is prized as one of a kind, as though she were a rare stamp that cannot be replaced with another....”
September 29, 1940
You can read the rest of this powerful late "fiction" in the selection of seven prose pieces I had previously published in International Quarterly.
Daniil Kharms’s second wife, Marina Malich's (Durnovo) memoirs were recorded and published by the literary historian Vladimir Glotser in his book Moi Muzh Daniil Kharms (My Husband Daniil Kharms; available only in Russian).
From the Notebooks. May 26 
Marina stays in bed all day in a foul mood. I love her so very much, but how harrowing it is to be married.
I am tormented by my “sex.” For weeks, and sometimes months, I have not known a woman.
1. There is one purpose to every human life: immortality.
1a. There is one purpose to every human life: achieving immortality.
2. One pursues immortality by continuing his bloodline, another by accomplishing great mortal deeds in order to immortalize one’s name. And only the third leads a righteous and holy life in order to achieve immortality as life eternal.
3. A man has but two interests: the mundane— food, drink, warmth, women, and rest; and the celestial— immortality.
4. All that is earthly is a confirmation of death.
5. There is one straight line upon which all that is mortal lies. And only that which is not plotted on this axis may serve as confirmation of eternity.
6. And for this reason man seeks a deviation from this earthly road and considers it beautiful or brilliant.
And, last but not least:
From Symphony No. 2
...Well, to hell with him. I will tell you about Anna Ignatievna instead.
But to tell you about Anna Ignatievna isn’t so simple. First of all, I know practically nothing about her and, second of all, I just fell off the stool and forgot what I was about to say. Better I tell you about myself.
I am tall in height, not stupid, dress colorfully and with taste, don’t drink, don’t patronize the horses, but do like the ladies. And the ladies do not avoid me. In fact, they love it when I accompany them. Seraphima Izmailovna has invited me time and again over to her place, and Zinaida Yakovlevna also told me that she is always happy to see me. And with Marina Petrovna I had this amusing episode, which is the one I want to tell you about. The episode is really quite ordinary, but still very amusing, because Marina Petrovna turned, owing to me, entirely bald, like the palm of your hand. It happened this way: I came over to Marina Petrovna’s and she “boom!” and turned completely bald. That’s it.
June 9– 11, 1941