Sunday, April 29, 2007

salt and light

H.C.Pipkin, Burning Bush 1947

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
-- Matthew 5:13

Is it right to raise one’s voice when other’s are being silenced? Yes…Another way of formulating the question is, Is it better to shout and thereby hasten the end, or to keep silent and thereby gain a slower death…And again the thought we already know: Human life occurs only once, and the reason we cannot determine which of our decisions is good and which is bad is that in a given situation, we can make only one decision…
--Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I viewed my grandfather from a remote corner of my soul. I don’t know at what point I recognized myself in him, but he never, as far as I know, recognized himself in me. I was the dark, saturnine child in a family of golden children, and perhaps my brother and sister served up the hope of our being a golden family. But I was evidence of the strange currents that coursed through our veins, always watching, missing nothing, remembering everything.

One of the facts about my grandfather that had always intrigued me was that at one point in his life he almost became a man of God, a preacher in the Baptist Church. This strikes me for several reasons, not least among which was that he never once, in my lifetime, attended church. My grandmother said that as a young man he preached powerfully on the Sermon on the Mount. But there was another young man within the church who also had his sights set on becoming The Man of God in the Baptist church, and the rivalry between them grew so bitter that my grandfather walked away one day and never again set foot in that edifice where he had experienced those deep yearnings.

Where did that all go? How can a man be consumed with passion for what is holy and then turn his back on that forever over an earthly quarrel? I know when I turned my back and why. It is a “humorous” family story that my mother used to tell to amuse her friends. By the time I was ten, we had become Episcopalians. I had decided that I wanted to give my life to the church, to the sick and the suffering and the poor. For Christmas, the only thing in the world I wanted was a communion set so I could begin administering to my flock as soon as possible. My mother said nothing, but she arranged an appointment with our priest. I don’t remember much of what was said in that meeting, but I remember the bitter heartbreak. It had been made clear to me during that meeting that God neither wanted nor needed me. I am still trying to forgive Him for it. But I patiently hold that fervent sense of Presence, of almost touching, and apprehend it all around, in cottonwood seed drifting down, in a dragonfly alighting on the water, in the reflections of light in the leaves of trees. I do this as if the world depends on it.

Salt prints were the earliest positive prints and were invented by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1840, as a direct development from his earlier photogenic drawing process. A salt print was made by soaking a sheet of paper in salt solution and then coating one side with silver nitrate. This produced light sensitive silver chloride in the paper. After drying, the paper was put directly beneath a negative, under a sheet of glass, and exposed to sunlight for up to two hours. Salt prints were made until about 1860 having been gradually replaced by the albumen print which gave a clearer image although the process was sometimes revised later.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


for y.o.

The village of Kibabwa is located about 7 km from town of Iringa. The land is elevated , looking down over the village. It takes 10 minutes to walk to the Ruaha school from the site of the school land. In the images the ladies are standing on the flattest area where it is suitable to build. You can see the big rocks of granite and the native trees. The land is 100 metres lengthways along the site. It slopes upward at about 25 degrees to the big rock, then it rises steeply at a 45 degrees angle. We get to own the little mountain, too. The steeply sloping land is ours as well. The owners just measured it out along the front, lengthways. It has been recorded in the local lands administrative offices in our name.

Sleeping beneath the snow-banked windows of the Ft. Green apartment, the girl with the magical shoes dreams of the lakehouse, where footprints crazed across the linoleum to the barely audible memory of Glenn Miller on the phonograph. The lake water laps somewhere far down on the rocks along the shore. The boat rocks in the water forever. Maybe each night she dreams the world into being.

"Your witness is but a rushing moment in my long lifetime. I've seen so much already, and will see so much more." Catching even a fragment of this is what a true story is made of. Believing (it doesn't require belief) that most of what is there is behind the visible.

Here time ceased, and it was only the rhythms of the earth by which she measured the turning of days—the cooing of the mourning dove, the insect songs of the midday heat, the rise of the wind in the evening and eventual hesitant glittering of eastern stars. So immersed was she in the mysteries of the walls, that she wasn't sure where the perimeter of her flesh ended and the house began, whether they breathed together or separately, if she was it's mistress or merely an organ within it. She felt that it permeated her being all the way to the cellular level--that she dissolved into its memories, or if she had ever even existed outside this house at all. Within it she was a vaporish transience. A cold feeling began to settle in her bones, and sometimes she would consider the lives of others outside this house, those who seemed to progress in search of presumably attainable rewards, where she, on the other hand, had all her life been hanging onto threads that she dared not let go of, afraid if she did she would just disappear with the ghosts, haunting her own flesh and the rooms of her mind, which always were, and forever would be, empty.

Why, or how, do two rather different individuals (you and me) arrive at such a similar obsession. For years now, I've held the notion that place is saturated with its own memory. I've held it like a personal secret. That the molecules retain a record, however faint, of what they have witnessed; that if we are sensitive, we can pick up the past's belated glow.

It is such fragile skin she lives in, so permeable, so penetrable--the past seeps into her flesh, percolating like groundwater. Somewhere in the shadows she is vaguely aware of a man, carved away from her by a separate truth, a separate continent, who walks the streets, aching to see with his whole body.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

a note on narrative

It occurs to me that she is writing me. I am narrating her, after all, not the other way around, but it occurs to me, as I said, that as I write her it might just be me that changes, just a bit, with every turn. Kundera said, The novel form is almost boundless freedom. Throughout its history, the novel hasn’t taken much advantage of that. It has missed out on that freedom. It has left unexplored many formal possibilities. But still this presupposes a freedom of the author (certainly not the freedom of the character) and supposes a form whereby there is fluid interchange between these norms.

I mentioned that I wrote and rewrote Redemption Shoes,

In the spring semester of my program at NYU, and kept re-writing all the way back to Austin and for many years after I had abandoned writing for philosophy. It never unfolded any further than the seven corners of Ft.Green--the blanket of snow that covered the streets below which had never before, as far as I know, been quiet--the girl with the magical shoes which she had procured on one of her many adventures through Greenwich Village, repeated herself perpetually, dreaming and being dreamed by the reclusive photographer, a century before, in Prague. The sky was always grey. She might notice, not a flock of birds, but a dim shadow of a flock of birds, just at the moment, repeated forever, that his shutter snapped in another fold of time’s cloth.

And then came the Great Misunderstanding. I wrote, maybe they changed just so slightly with each rendering? Perhaps if I had continued tirelessly to re-write them, with the passage of many, many years, they might have finally found their way to one another, resolved the minutiae of space-time mathematics through persistence, and finally resolved the cruel temporal dilemma that plagued them both.

What I have not realized (or have I?) is that all along she has been rewriting me. And what of the grandfather, of Sudek? Are we all then marching toward redemption? There is so much to redeem, so much to be redeemed. For now, it is my task to accept the wilderness that is her heart, that remarkable well of wonder and sensuality that she has shown me through her footsteps ringing out upon the air with hope and longing (can they ever be separate?) She was just a girl who one day stepped out upon stone, and then into air, flung into brightness, into light.

almost a girl

I am not sure what happened to the other half of this girl, or who she is. That she lives in my collection among the objects of my chaotic passion and desire requires significance of her self, of her dis-membered anonymity. In a way her absence touches me more profoundly than if she were whole, the mystery that surrounds her ultimate, unassailable unknowability. Perhaps she contested something about this betrayal of her, as almost a girl, while fiercely clutching what remained as the requisite feature of survival in the world, what she privileged as necessary in this life--not the head or the heart, but legs, to run away.

And it was almost a girl, and she came out of
that single blessedness of song and lyre,
and shone clear through her springtime-veil
and made herself a bed inside my hearing.

And slept within me. And her sleep was all:
the trees, each that I admired, those
perceptible distances, the meadows I felt,
and every wonder that concerned my self.

She slept the world. Singing god, how have you
so perfected her that she made no demand
to first be awake? See, she emerged and slept.

Where is her death? O, will you still discover
this theme, before your song consumes itself? –
Where is she falling to, from me?...a girl, almost...

--Rilke, from Sonnets to Orpheus

Monday, April 23, 2007

mercy street

House on Hughes Street, 1939.

In the winter of ’39 there was a terrible ice storm on Hughes Street. The erratic frames of the film snap and leap as I watch my grandmother, starkly beautiful at eighteen, leap across the snow to hurl a snowball at my grandfather. All of us lurked somewhere in the ether of that icy air--she was already dreaming us into being as she slept beneath the quilts as the snow fell heavily throughout the moonless night.

When they woke, the trees were encased in ice like vases of crystal. It was so quiet. They wandered the glittering, frozen streets beneath the smooth arcs of glassy branches of the giant American Elms. I watch, holding my breath, the rarefied beauty of a wintry dream. The film leaps and whirs. How much time had elapsed, maybe an afternoon, a day? The spell is broken. The trees stand dark and amputated against the dimming light. Piles of branches lie on the street, people wander among the ruins, the same ones who hours before had been leaping across snow mounds, awed into silence.

Fifty years later they were resplendent again, but my grandfather was already gone. He had nursed the trees back like infirm children. I remember him applying salves to their wounds, administering to their mute needs, at rare times carefully removing the cast off shell of one of the cicadas that sang us through the lazy summer heat. Tonight I walked beneath the mangled boughs of another American Elm neglected by its owners. It struck a melancholy chord that remains. I want to think that we could save anything through love, through the persistent application of mercy, all of us patiently tending the garden that is the world we inhabit.

...and the street is unfindable for an
entire lifetime
. --Anne Sexton, 45 Mercy Street

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Miss Boo, 1945

It is dangerous at thirty-five to cross over into the mythical. Not that you, yourself, are, but your thoughts, from the moment you woke at three in the morning with a migraine and discovered that you could see through your closed eyelids. And now you walk as if in a dream, with fragments of elegies slipping like silvery fish in and around you. As you walk beneath the cottonwoods, a burst of dove erupts in waves from within the leaves and you know that birds are the thoughts of trees. You wonder if there are angels and how will you ever shake this feeling of passing between the sheets of the living and the dead, and how suddenly it feels as though you are lugging sloshing buckets of the emotions of the world, and how you would like to unload this burden, dump it into a river or into a field of wheat, or hurl it up into the sky to rain down on every one so that the world could taste your tears. --from S. Halley, Gravity, 2000.

I have lost the story. Some stories are too painful to tell, and though I had written this one, when it emerged it frightened me. It had begun simple enough, a scene in a family kitchen where three generations of women are arguing over the fate of a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket that contained a history of photographs. I had an artistic concept for this story (something about which we should always be suspicious) of weaving throughout the text a history of the geology of the canyon into which the generations of my family had descended over the years, its red sandstone and whispering cottonwoods, the arrestingly cold water of the Little Red River.

Also interwoven in the story was a peculiarity that had intrigued me (perhaps repulsed me as well), a punctum as Barthes would say, of a series of photographs taken of my mother by my great grandfather. There was nothing but innocence and amusement throughout my childhood looking at these photos. But they emerged here in this story as something dark and threatening, evidence of a possibility that I had not considered but that erupted fully formed on the last page of this story I had entitled, “Lover of Stone.”

In the final scene of the story we see the youngest of the three generations, final victor over the bucket of photos, traveling down into the canyon where one by one she sets each of the images adrift on the water of the Little Red, watching the past float away in baptismal solemnity, unburdening herself of the knowledge she has inherited with the photos.

The photograph is literally the emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star. (Barthes, Camera Lucida)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


A record of a dream, evidence of something that happened (possibly) around my great Aunt, the playwright and composer mentioned in the last page of lens. Sometimes what we exhume in our lives and the lives of those we love is less a fragment of beauty than of atrocity.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


July 1943

What would I be looking for when I did not find what I wanted to find? At most I travel to Moravia to the region of Leos Janacek, his Hukvaldy--but here I am again, talking about music. In music you find everything… Music has to be inside you.
--Josef Sudek

When you bound the terrain of what you love by light and the angle of light, by a shadow cast and the time of exposure, you love in a desert of tentative gestures. Often Sudek was irritated with the young, with their casual dismissal of the magnitude of what stood to be lost. After losing his arm in the war, he struggled with the dark card life had dealt him. But he recovered, through light, through, at first, only the faintest apprehensions of the beauty that settled quietly all around. After the Nazis occupied Prague, a one-armed man lugging a large camera through the streets was too suspect--there was only then the windowsill. But still, it moved his heart to the point of breaking. Ah, youth! Why not love, deeply and powerfully? Why wait for it all to be taken away, all the while you wonder, is this enough? The window, with its changing light, its rain-streaked sorrow or light-soaked joy, was connected intrinsically to his heart, and he sought to communicate this message to that one person who would understand, even if he would never know when that magical moment happened. Who would understand his soul limned in the hesitant light from a small window?

In this window of time, I am listening to Bach and Sudek’s Janacek, thinking of my grandfather. Did he love? Surely he loved my mother. He expended a limitless amount of film on her. She was the only one after all, my grandmother having miscarried on the train ride to Chicago where my grandfather had been beckoned to become the Assistant District Attorney. What would have become of them, of us, if he had been allowed that? His father insisted he would stay, that his place was here, on the Plains. I think much of this was about my mother, so many hearts invested in her. Why had she become the gravitational force around which the solar system that was my family orbited? She was rare fruit. A prodigal daughter, the only one who would ever bear evidence that this family had existed, for what good are files filled with legal documents and negatives, if there is no one to wonder? In a way he suffered Sudek’s loss, an amputation of sorts, but the light dissolved the living before his eyes. The images were not gifts, but an empty, silent wilderness where he roamed.

And the girl? She loved because it was impossible-- in spite of and because of rain-streaked sorrow and light-soaked joy. She knew no other way. She had come into this world already aware that it had all happened, that it was gone, and love was already mourning. There was vigilance in her attention to the slightest impression in the grass, or the dampness on a pillow where a feverish child’s head had lain. She wandered through her life like a ghost, acutely aware of the layers of longing she passed through, and what she was looking for, she knew, she would never find. She had realized long ago that she would never be at home in the interpreted world, never be a home to anyone. Her exile was the space between what was longed for and what was gone.

Fling the emptiness out of your arms
into the spaces we breathe; perhaps the birds
will feel the expanded air with more passionate flying.

When we sing our hymns to the dead, do they hear?

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Rilke with Lou Andreas-Salomé (1897) On the balcony of the summer house of the family Andreas. (near München: left to right: Professor Andreas, August Endell, Rilke and Lou Andreas-Salomé.)

We had gone down to the water’s edge, the dog and I, where reflected light flecked and danced against the underside of leaves, heavy boughs leaning far over the surface of the water--every now and again watching a leaf drift in swirls along the current, or a fluff of cottonwood seed floating softy down to land, suspended like a breath on the tension of the surface. I was thinking of Rilke, and his inability to reconcile the beauty he beheld with the world of the living, meanwhile, the world of the living intruded into the lazy afternoon, the dog’s and mine, as irreverent voices rose over the whisper of leaves in the breeze, a boom box, dogs barking.

Like my grandfather and great grandfather, I had long ago learned to know and navigate the less-trod paths and hidden places, and it wasn’t long before we plunged deeper in the foliage along a shaded, narrow trail. Our asylum was tentative, for along the path there was evidence of others’ passage--cairns poised on a moss-covered boulder, oddly shaped rocks lodged precipitously on the tips of what remained of a trunk struck by lightning--little prayers flung out before us, mute witnesses of something far more vast than these frail human faculties could perceive or hold.

We found a ravine and followed it back to the water, and again took a spot on a smooth, flat rock. The voices were fainter now, even pleasant, humbled by the sound of a small waterfall. As my vision shifted between the surface and depths of the water, I thought of the girl. Is this what she becomes? A woman jealously guarding the sacred groves? I mused, watching a dragonfly hover on the tip of a spire of Indian grass--does she one day let go of her fascination with the spectres of the past, the ghosts that slip in and out of time whispering their secrets in her ear as she dreams? The desolate expanse of the landscapes of her childhood had carved out a core of silence inside of her, an empty vessel. She watched and watched the world and between the world, and wandered amid the lines of poetry even as she sought to intuit the footfalls of a dead poet's perambulations through Prospect Park. There was no separation between the simple word, “cup” and its physical correspondence and the mythical shattering vessel that released the divine light embedded and concealed within the world. Every utterance was ambiguous and vast, as impenetrable as it was unconscious. Perhaps we are here, the poet says, in order to say: house, bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher, fruit-tree, window--

Perhaps she comes to know the eminent power of the unsayable, and retrieves her stillness from the hammers our heart endures. Despite that, will she still be able to praise?
What good [God?] is poetry if it dissolves the ligaments between one another, if we build walls that sever sacred landscapes? She will always love Rilke, this much I know, and she will forgive, utterly, his excesses. But she will never quit the real work--the work of water coursing over rocks, and dragonflies hovering, and dogs barking--she will not quit the real work of love.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

the catalogue of glass

St. George children's room
New York Public Library Visual Materials > Photograph albums. (created ca. 191--ca.
Humanities and Social Sciences Library / New York Public Library Archives
gelatin silver, 4 x 6 in. or smaller

Many years ago I dreamed that I had died and was being guided from this world to the next by my dear friend, Sibyl, who has guided me in many ways in this life as well. In this dream, the world had been destroyed, and the place where I found myself was some type of floating bubble in space, a giant room with a dome of glass on to which were projected images of the most exceedingly beautiful things that whoever remained recalled about the lovely, precious earth--pods of whales swimming in the ocean, trees blowing in the wind, flocks of birds passing in great arcs overhead. Tears came to my eyes as I watched these images, and a pang of exquisite longing for the physicality of these images that would now forever be only that.

In the large room beneath the dome, a dozen or so people stood in white coats at high tables, on which were placed trays and trays of fragments, shards of what remained of the world that no longer existed. My guide informed me that this would be my work, to piece together from the fragments of the destroyed world, something beautiful.

Just now I was reading my friend Deborah’s post about a postcard sent from Venice by her great Aunt, Puppy, in 1906, and her beautiful musings about what that moment meant in Puppy’s life. I was touched, and it occurred to me that all along what we have needed is a memorial museum that enshrines one unutterably poignant, or utterly mundane, or tragically heroic moment from every life that has passed across this earth. It would be a magnificent catalogue of glass, and you or I could go there, open a drawer, and witness the exquisite fragile moment, a sight, a smell, a memory, of every life for all time. It would be a monolithic and burdensome undertaking, but would it serve to call to mind the fleeting exhalation that is each individual life? I see us all there, in little puddles weeping on the floor, immersed.

It reminds me in a way, of a story of a friend who had visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and as she passed through its halls she happened to hear the name of one of her relatives called out, a child, who had perished at Dachau. Out of the millions of moments and the millions of names perpetually repeated, she had been there just at the moment of that utterance, and it moved her to tears.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hugo, misunderstood

Mis-quoted in my notes on Hugo’s chapter, “This Will Destroy That,”
from Notre Dame de Paris:

“Art machines on with ardent strides.”

“History of knowledge transfers into a flock of birds.”

Monday, April 9, 2007

fragile, fleeting images

Some things to remember when looking for the grandfather: View the world around you as if filmed with a Zeiss Ikon-Zeitlupe Model 2 35 mm. movie camera. The erratic images will hop and skid, and there will be a whirring noise that evokes nights in the dark living room, gathered before the hovering ghosts of our disappeared selves. The film will break, and we will all sigh, and wait as the grandfather repairs the film with the patience of the criminal litigator trapping his prey in the net of legal linguistics.

Each moment of your life will be framed through a dim viewfinder, upside down, and you will suddenly see the reflected contents of your circumscribed world limned in the harsh lines of light and shadow. Through the viewfinder, some aspects of your life will gain startling prominence, others will fade into meaningless shapes of enveloping shadows. Don’t forget to meter the light. Always meter the light, for if you do not, you will be drawn into dark situations that cannot possibly appear later as indelibly as the eidetic impression of a firm kiss.

Sit in quiet apprehension before the rattling whir of the projector. Watch the edges of the film rasp against the frame--it makes you acutely aware that the film will doubtless break again; thus you will call forth the most exacting attention, perched as you are on the uncomfortable edge of the knowledge that all moments are fragile, fleeting, disappearing. There is only so much repair possible before these images are lost forever, before the emulsion rots into powdery flakes. Hold your breath, listen, and watch.

Friday, April 6, 2007

the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics

But in mathematics, work done purely in the pursuit of pushing boundaries turns out to be just the thing needed to help explain the world around us. That mysterious ability of mathematics to provide a means of quantifying and predicting natural phenomena is what physics Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner called “the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics.” --Daniel Rockmore

“In a world where time is a quality, events are recorded by the color of the sky. The tone of a boatman’s call on the Aare, the feeling of happiness or fear when a person comes into a room. The birth of a baby, the patent of an invention, the meeting of two people are not fixed points in time, held down by hours and minutes. Instead, events glide through the space of the imagination, materialized by a look, a desire.”
-Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

Gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. --Albert Einstein

Did she often think of herself in terms of a highly complex mathematical equation? Did she inscribe an arc down Broadway and envision its quadratic expression? There is so much I do not know about her. This is a fundamental problem in narration. She is always half-veiled, and though I feel her desires as strongly as my own, though I sense her deepest yearnings pressing through the fabric of years, I cannot hear her thoughts. I must infer them from her actions. It is far more difficult to say, “She was acutely aware of each moment as tragically perishable,” than “She heard voices from a far-off barge rising over the Hudson” for though I do know for a fact that she did hear the rising and falling of unfamiliar voices over the water, the bitter pang of nostalgia for the fleetingness of something she could not name is my feeling, not hers. Perhaps she celebrated how water had erased distance so that it was as if the voices were right next to her as she sat on a ledge near the Cloisters.

Thus I am left no choice but to mechanize her, leave her inner workings to the mystery as we do any wristwatch. With Sudek it is different. He is vastly more palpable. Window, rain, desolation. Apple blossoms, dust, euphoria. He is watching her as I am watching her, trying to ascertain the exact moment to arrest time. He has had so much practice with patient apprehension. He is not rushed for he knows somehow that she is delivered to him, over and over again, for all time. What is life after all, but the perpetual solving of one equation: the hope of fulfillment of desire with the exquisite unfulfillment of intense longing?

Wednesday, April 4, 2007


Callahans, Easter, c. 1950

The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of redemption. Knowledge has no light but that shed on the world by redemption: all else is reconstruction, mere technique. Perspectives must be fashioned that displace and estrange the world, reveal it to be with its rifts and crevices as indigent and distorted as it will appear one day in the messianic light. To gain such perspectives without velleity or violence, entirely from felt contact with its objects—this alone is the task of thought. It is the simplest of all things, because the situation calls imperatively for such knowledge, indeed because consummate negativity, once squarely faced, delineates the mirror image of its opposite. But it is also the utterly impossible thing, because it presupposes a standpoint removed, even though by a hair's breadth, from the scope of existence, whereas we well know that any possible knowledge must not only first be wrested from what is, if it shall hold good, but is also marked, for this very reason, by the same distortion and indigence which it seeks to escape. The more passionately thought denies its conditionality for the sake of the unconditional, the more unconsciously, and so calamitously, it is delivered up to the world. Even its own impossibility it must at last comprehend for the sake of the possible. But beside the demand thus placed on thought, the question of the reality or unreality of redemption itself hardly matters. --Theodor Adorno

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

archaeology III: excavating the self

Sudek, Shell and Eyeball Arrangement, 1956

The writing of this is even itself a collection of words insisting on inconsummate desire. A desire to communicate the vast reaches of unmanifest passion: the passion for the grandfather, the dual passion for poetry (of words and image), and for a man who offered a seed instead of a stone. (fragment excised from original manuscript)

“Our lives submit to archaeology.”--John Updike

I have been searching for a missing folder for months. In one of the many recent moves, it disappeared, although I can distinctly see myself placing it safely somewhere, thinking, here it will be safe. The worn out, ratty tab of the folder says “Poetry” in stained blue ballpoint, and it contains a handful of poems (which I always call Ten Poems, despite the fact that I have no idea how many there are) culled from what once were hundreds.

Occasionally I will come across a decent poem inscribed in one of my journals, the few also that remain out of hundreds. After years of performing a ritual excavation into the years that are past, I will suddenly be seized with the perverse idea that I could actually just let the past go like a balloon, and I hurl them all into the garbage. I insist on romanticizing the notion of a certain garbage collector who rescues them, buys a moderate wine, and sits down to a night of investigation into this woman who threw herself away. About halfway through he realizes that, like her grocery lists, which she insists on filling out in neat, tidy letters every week in the order the items appear as she carves her path through the store, it is exactly the same, day after day, year after year--not the minute details, but the sweeping existential themes. In writing Sudek, and the girl with the magical shoes, I am equally invested in this task of trying to piece together a sense of who this woman is who lives in this skin from the evidence that has been carelessly left behind.

I find the poetry folder, and am struck by two things: that the degree of passion (for lovers, for my children, for nature) is matched only by the degree of despair. One poem is entitled the Suicide Decalogues, which was intended as a catalogue of moments of utter despair over the course of ten years. I have made it through that ten years. I am still here, not broken, but haunted by the touching way we struggle (together, all of us) toward apprehension of the "terrible relentless beauty of the spring."

Dialect No. 1

from now on
this will be the only language
I speak:
in syllables of flesh,
a dialect of limbs

as a child I searched the vowels
seeking the familiar
sound of fingers on skin,
the rustling of feet in tall grass--
my family spoke only
stomach glass.

in class we carved the phrases
into arms and legs
dangling in air, dis-membered,
and in this way I have learned to cut away
the extraneous

to name it.

in the dialect of limbs
we speak of ourselves
as extremities
knowing (that at any moment)
we may be severed

but life goes on…
we break
we break
we mend.

(December 2005)