…not yet really
life; still only growing-time
that drags at the knees—, time of defenseless waiting…
— R.M.R., “Duration of Childhood” (trans. Stephen Mitchell)
Even through the small, streaked window of the slightly damaged photograph, you can see what a difficult epoch it was for children, and for young René (not yet Rainer) especially: so many layers of rigid clothing and buttons for larger hands to fuss with, such poor light, harsh textiles. At three, the shadows were already settling beneath his eyes; his mother’s house in Prague was the tightness of collars, the distance of ceilings, velvet chairs whose cushions wouldn’t give but prickled the skin of his calves; and wherever he went was the ghost of a sister, her shadow-life laid precisely on his own. Nevertheless the patterns of rugs entranced him (a Persian code of flowers pulsing wider, finer, wider, though it hurt his hands to trace), and under the dog’s wiry hairs there was pungent warmth and a strangeness, a volatile quickness that trembled just like him. Laid in his small bed, he had no words for the visions that flowed through him unimpeded, present and continuous as air. He closed his eyes to the dark and a brilliant violet trembled against it, trembled and fluttered, fluttered and pulsed.