Monday, December 15, 2008

overburden ii

An arctic front assails Platt Rd today. I am awed by the farmer out cutting his hay in the freezing cold. The hawks are still mating and their screetching is audible through the thin glass when the wind is not howling. The sky is gray, and the fields yawn beneath the swollen bellies of low-flying jets.

What is is that so mesmerizes me about the lunar landscapes of the overburdens? Yesterday I stopped the car to take a few photos, knowing that I would have to be blessed with my grandfather's litigious patience or at least his flawless German equipment to capture anything as evocative as what catches my heart in my throat when I pass these awkward heaps of earth.

I think about what it would be like to live out here and document precisely, through the moments and days and years, the almost imperceptible alterations in soil and sky, animal and vegetable. Such thoughts bring me back to Annie Dillard, and I wonder if it is possible, any more, to craft a life out of fleeting perceptions of the natural world, and words.

"...the very root meaning of the word 'geography'" writes Trevor Barnes and James Duncan, "is literally 'earth writing' (from the Greek geo, meaning 'earth' and graphien, meaning, 'to write.'"

The conflicting urges of image and word--or action and contemplation--perplex me. Maybe this is what my grandfather felt, after all, that he belonged in a world of dry creek and sage, of twisted juniper branches and dark rooms filled with chemical smells where the eidetic imprints of his soul were wrought forth in emulsion and paper. When I leaf through his negatives I cannot know.

Would he have stopped here on this empty road to behold a heap of sand eroding as slowly as his life unraveled? Would he have found in this landscape or burdens the same ineffable beauty?

Thursday, November 27, 2008


A year or so ago they ploughed a toll road through the thick, waxy soil that is the farmland that rolls over the once-expansive plain of the Blackland Prairie. You can see the serpentine spine rise up to the east as you drive south out FM 973. Platt Road is just an afterthought, a sign that leaps up off the farm road and disappears off to the West beneath mountains of dirt, (called overburdens) heaped up by the gravel pit operations. Cottonwood and Rooselvelt weed lurch up out of the newly formed landscape. I have been watching these man-made heaps of burden, watching the kestrels and hawks swoop down into the trees erupting there, and as I hear news of the now-two-lane road being expanded into five, as I see the subdivisions gathering at the edge of this almost forsaken landscape like hostile troops, I begin to grieve the loss of this unlikely beauty. How do we unpack the complexity of intentions here? A pile of refuse soil that once was topsoil, a pile of topsoil (farmer's gold) considered a burden to the mining of aggregate as "cheap as dirt."

I don't know. Such thoughts as these weave through as I drive out the quiet road, considering the particular focus that has been my life these past couple of years, and the heaps of friendships abandoned (at least neglected) in the pursuit of what seems at this moment a truckload of gravel.

I hesitate to reach for a tidy metaphor--I do not hesitate to see the miner in myself, misguided oftentimes in priorities, but at heart immensely filled with gratitude for the people in my life who are to me (yes, still), the farmer's gold.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

where i have been

maybe there is no answer, and there are certainly no images. sometimes you cast yourself out on some fragile gust and there you go. i wish i could say i had gained something from this time, but i am afraid i have just lost a lot of blood.

i want to believe that there are some things worth looking at, worth really seeing, but right now i am not sure this is true. there is a place down on the creek, though, a tree that arcs out over the water and is rooted firmly, even though the creek crises and recedes, it remains, letting the soil wash its roots clean like plumbing, smooth and solid. nothing else matters but the holding on

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

but beautiful


It is dark here, but the wind is blowing.

Thank you, for the reminder that beauty is an ephemeral, simple, illusive thing--unless you are really paying attention, really seeing, it will slip through your fingers like dust...things are falling through my fingers as I write this, but that you are out there with your vigilant lens and lovely voice....

thank you for seeing, thank you.


Saturday, June 7, 2008


Monday, June 2, 2008

a hard wind

The wind started to blow in the morning, and by noon it was a dust storm. We laughed about running track in that dust, the grit between our teeth when we woke, and the fine silt that collected in mounds beneath the garage door. I couldn't help but look out over what seemed so desolate and dry, and see so much beauty, and wonder what it was in me that called to such a forlorn landscape.

I remember things, though, like driving behind trucks overfilled with giant sugar beets, new corn shooting up through the orange earth, and cotton spread out over the fields like snow. I used to believe there were still buffalo, though no one recalls any but the ragged pets they kept in a pen out near Palo Duro Canyon.

Her funeral was held in the church where I was baptized, and it looked exactly the same, the cross hanging there without Jesus, the fake wood paneling (something the Catholics would never allow). Afterwards we drove out to the cemetery where the hard wind howled and ladies in high heels picked there way over great clods of red earth. Summer wheat flanked the cemetery on all sides, and the cottonwoods spilt seed over the dry grass.

She told me a story once, about how her father, before the Depression, would buy crates of geese from Holland. When they arrived on the train, the whole town would gather to watch them released into the corn to eat the grasshoppers. Everyone that hears that story always asks, "Did they fly away? Did they come back?" And to me that seems to be missing the point, the point that I believe she was conveying to me when she told that story, in the magic of her translucent skin, the far-off shimmer of those pale, pale eyes: the magic of those big white birds, their massive, white wings erupting over the corn in a single clap of light.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

a poet with the spirit of the wind

“If I were a poet I would write a poem beginning, ‘I am the spirit of the wind,’ and in it I would sweep the globe. I would tell how silently I move over the lonesome and limitless prairies, such as those vast stretches around Childress, how I blow as gently upon the reptiles and creeping things in the grass of that great area, as I kiss the cheeks of the fairest maid in Southland as she sits with her lover behind the honeysuckle vines. I would sing of my stealthy and wayward march across the prairies and begin to sigh only when the cedars are reached in the breaks of the Edwards Plateau. How my sighing rises to a perfect plaint when I am among the stately pines of East Texas. I would exult and my song would rise to new heights as I swept off the land and took to the open sea, freeing myself soon of the stench of all the lands and sucking up the keen salt spray and leaping in joy of one wave-top to another. A great and glorious song would I sing of the open sea, and I would imagine more things in the depths below than Grecian mythology ever dreamed of. I would pass quickly over a thin line in northern France where the stench of human corpses would be very offensive to me, and where the roar of guns interrupts my quiet song among the trees, and I would hurry on to the wastes of Siberia, a section much to my liking, and so on and so on—I would wrap the brown earth in my glowing song—if I were a poet with the spirit of the wind.” [Bedichek to Dan Williams, 13 March, 1918]

The Letters of Roy Bedichek
, William Owens, ed.University of Texas Press, 1985.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

new applications of light

barton creek, early morning

In one of his letters, Bedichek mentions a book by Alfred Russell Wallace entitled The Wonderful Century. In the chapter on photography called “New Applications of Light” he writes,” The improvements of the mode of production of light for common use …are sufficiently new and remarkable to distinguish this century from all the ages that preceded it, but they sink into insignificance when compared with the discoveries that have been made regarding the nature of light itself.” So much is changing at the turn of the century, and time itself is being compacted like the soil beneath any of dozens of heavy pieces of machinery moving the earth about to follow the contours of man’s desires. Already, in 1951, Bedichek bemoans the passing of an era, the loss of the honey bee and man’s sense of wonder with the natural world. I am just a descendant in the lineage of the grieving.

"I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute Freedom and Wildness, as contrasted with a Freedom and Culture merely civil,—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. I wish to make an extreme statement, if so I may make a emphatic one, for there are enough champions of civilization; the minister, and the school-committee, and every one of you will take care of that." -Thoreau, "Walking"

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

what is etched in veins: wild with all regret

"In wildness is the preservation of the world." --Thoreau

"In the song of the Mockingbird, Walt Whitman hears love-sickness, wild with all regret, and he greets the bird as 'my darling demon.'" --Bedichek

"Every year the tempo of leaf-gumming accelerated furiously toward Tu bi-Shevat, the fifteenth of the month of Shevat: the New Year for the Trees...All we knew was that to create a Jewish forest was to go back to the beginning of our place in the world..." --Shama

"Trees have a curious relationship to the subject of the present moment. There are many created things in the universe that outlive us, that outlive the sun even, but I can’t think about them. I live with the trees. There are creatures that live under our feet, creatures that live over our heads, but trees live quite convincingly in the same filament of air we inhabit…they abide." --Annie Dillard

And so I walk away, tender with that same old ache of longing. What have we talked about: nothing of any importance. In my hand I hold a smattering of words, dry leaves rattling over the red earth, but I covet them, skeletons all, for the veins etched like a treasure map into what once was an open palm, what once was flesh.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


for y.
lately it has been all about images reflected, in eyes, in glass, in water. a tiny book inscribed with words that erupted like birds in the heart, a landscape reflected in an alternate, foreign landscape, a landscape carving its way into another landscape.

I would speak of this in terms of veins on arms that I love, or in pulsing leaves at dawn when the stars are already fading, or in the quiet breathing of a child. i am unsure, uncertain, hesitant, hungry.

i am mapping all this somewhere, in memory, or in topography--terrains unspoken, but possibly coded in a single resonant note on the guitar, or a trumpet in a cafe where I stood in the parking lot listening.

does no one love any more? does no one stop for the the trumpet or the shudder of grass, or the flashing, disembodied light on the surface of a graffitied subway train

when you wrote Milosz's words, our house is always open, I thought it was written:

our house is always open
there are no keys in the doors
and invisible forests come in and out

not guests, but forests, landscapes, moving in us, moving through us

Thursday, April 3, 2008

zeus under glass

Zeus was tended by gentle nymphs and was nursed by the fairy goat Amaltheia...

Years ago I would take the kids down to the creek behind the Elisabet Ney museum to search for treasure. Specifically, it was (and is) a severed, limestone hand, whose I don't now, akin perhaps to Camille Claudel's exquisite sculpted foot that first enamored Rodin.

I am not clear about my deep connection to this place, except for certain evocative fragments, beside the veined hand: that she kept her husband, a philosopher, in the turret, that she lived a life chiseled out of clean, hard passion (her own), and that once, or twice, I enticed someone to scale the walls and share a bottle of wine on the second-floor balcony (not an easy accomplishment, and not sure one I could accomplish again--who am I kidding, of course I could, and would)

In my twenties I was walking the deserted pre-dawn streets of Hyde Park and caught a glimpse of an elderly woman taking her tea in a wing-backed wicker chair-- How odd, I thought, to have dragged that chair to the West patio of the Ney before dawn to take tea.

One fall I took a figure sculpting class at the museum, and I clearly recall the exhilaration of feeling like God himself as my fingers slid over the smooth surface of the clay, crafting a woman not so unlike the one that held remarkably still for over an hour as we struggled to see her with our hands. By the end of the six weeks, I knew her contours better than my own. So different, though, I imagine the process of slowly chipping away the sinuous form from cold stone, trying to see through the inanimate mineral into flesh.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

tendon slides over bone

self portrait on tuesday

(for azn)

In the Greek narratives that precede Judaism, renewal tempers dissolution. Roses bloom when Persephone rejoins Demeter ever Summer. The lilt of Orpheus's lyre calls back Eurydice. But the Old Testament refuses Lot's wife the luxury of nostalgia. Obliterated for a backward glance, she is permitted neither reprieve nor the solace of sorrow. Like Ovid's tales, her story involves metamorphosis, but here there is nothing transformative. In lines of verse that stretch over every story the way tendon slides over bone, Ovid shapes the perversly half-human into beautiful form. Extinction translates into alchemy, as bones blur into water and the shine of blonde hair dapples in quaking Aspen leaves.

The destruction of Lot's wife, for obvious reasons, involves no such sensuality. Homesickness for a distempered place destroys her, and then God annihilates her memory.

--Michael Katz, "Soulful Modernism" Southwest Review 93 (1) 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

the spell

Today we are driving west, far beyond the edge of this frenetic town and into the wide, rolling hills of tallgrass and mesquite, to hang the memory of a kiss that never happened out to flap like laundry strung for miles on the rising wind. Times like these I long to be more landscape than flesh. The shudder and swell of earth, rent and split in heaves of granite, documents such urgent, immemorial longings--whereas mine, the longings of the “intricate spirited tissues” is fragile and ephemeral in comparison. A whisper.

I am adjusting to a different time here at the lake, a time measured in the progress of a swallowtail butterfly grazing its way over henbane toward my awaiting lens. Walking along the water’s edge, I cup in one hand Sophie’s expanding collection: an iridescent snail shell, a smooth piece of glass, the leg of a large grasshopper, two red and white bobbers. The bobbers tug at my heart. My sweetest childhood memories are saturated with the sounds of water lapping beneath the dock, the smells of thick cedar and the boat engine sputtering. I like to think they are all there now, the ghosts of my past, playing a scratchy Glen Miller recording on the turntable and a game of gin, my grandfather with his binoculars patiently, silently waiting, watching for hours out on the deck. This would be my heaven, the whole family gathering after life out at the lake unto eternity.

A pair of pelicans stretches into flight beneath layers of seagulls, buzzards, and hawks gliding on thermals. Our shadows are cast long out into the lake, into the depths of the water threaded with light, and I realize that no lens could capture all of this beauty at once. Is it possible that the depth of beauty is just a factor of depth of field, or is it that truly deep and breathtaking beauty, resides in the momentary, in the unrecordable? Maybe unrecordable on film, or in words, but somehow I am sure that every traveler passing this same way we have come to the edge of this water, where the wind stirs and the stars are just beginning to appear, lingers unwittingly a moment on the frayed edge of that unfulfilled kiss, still whipping in a spring gust, almost freed from the spell of a mesquite thorn.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Toilets outside Jo's Coffee on S. Congress for SXWX

A few weeks ago, I was walking through the golf course before yoga. It was cold, and my breath hovered before my face a few minutes before dissipating into the leaves. It made me acutely aware of our shared transpiration, me, the trees, all of us breathing in and out each other's biological gases. There is little separation, after all.

Last week I took the No. 3 into school, and suddenly this shared transpiration was repulsive--the exquisite weft of humanity that I had written about earlier was suddenly transformed before my eyes into a Fellini-esque scene. Every single living soul seemed to be scratching some part of his or herself, or snorting and swallowing mucus. I had to look away, put on my headphones. The woman with Downs Syndrome was there, and when a drunk homeless man sat next to her, she put both hands over her face and gave him a look of horror. Twice the boy in the seat behind me fell asleep and the bus driver got up to wake him, "You're going to miss your stop, man!" The boy's eyes rolled about disorientedly, then he fell back against the window in a slump. He could not be older than my 15-yr old son. Clearly he didn't care where he got off. Was he homeless? Abused? I suddenly felt the urge to take him home and care for him.

Approaching campus, I stood by the driver and asked about the kid, where he needed to get off, because he had fallen back to sleep. "I don't know--he just looks like a school kid. It's a long route. Eventually he'll get back to where he started. We can't take care of people, we're not even supposed to."

I knew this was true. The scratching, sniffling, stinking lot of us are on our own, in the end I guess. I stepped off into the bright cold light and walked toward campus, the bus driving off with its cargo of the damned toward wherever. I thought of the boy many times during the day. I think of him today, a week later, somewhere out there in the city.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Seedlings in Stone: Working Like Annie Dillard

Seedlings in Stone: Working Like Annie Dillard

a liturgy of extravagant gesture

…alas, but that is what we are. Does the infinite space
we dissolve into, taste of us then?
--Rainer Maria Rilke, The Second Elegy

" you prepare yourself, all alone, to enter an extraordinary state on an ordinary morning? How to set yourself spinning? Where is an edge— a dangerous edge— and where is the trail to the edge and the strength to climb it?"

Not sure exactly where this is going, I only reserve trust in the vague inkling that it leads somewhere out of the desolation of late. Encountering some phrases in Tinker Creek, not just phrases, but passages that tickle a far-off memory of an idea that had held me in its sway many years ago. I was writing a paper about a dramatic work by friend and utter-literary and musical genius, Jo Carol Pierce’s Bad Girls Upset by the Truth striving to place it within the context of an intuitive feminist theology. If you don’t know the play, many reviews reveal the basic plot, but its real power is in the language and Pierce’s hypnotic West Texas voice reciting such perplexingly provocative lines as emerge in the song Loose Diamonds (which is what he was singing in the play when I fell in love with his voice). I happened upon a book that served up the academic main course of the argument, Extravagant Affection: A Feminist Sacramental Theology, by Susan Ross, but the rest was fleshed out in numinous urges toward other work that had impressed me, perhaps none more pointedly than the film Breaking the Waves, for which it was hard to locate a willing viewing partner. I was completely in its thrall. That the protagonist had entered into some sort of self-annihilating bargain with the creator to save her husband is hauntingly portrayed.

I am against the rehearsed approach to [g]od. I am wholeheartedly for the fumbling, oblique, heart-wrenching one, or the irreverent, profane, and honest one. But perhaps more interesting than our hacking away at the body of evidence or lack of for or against a greater meaning, is the simple awe for the ultimate extravagant gesture, creation.

The point about being, as I know it here and see it, is that, as I think about it, it accumulates in my mind as an extravagance of minutiae….Van Gogh, as you remember, called the world a study that didn’t come off. Whether it “came off” is a difficult question. The chloroplasts do stream in the leaf as if propelled by a mighty, invisible breath; but on the other hand, a certain sorrow arises, welling up in Shadow Creek, and from those lonely banks it appears that all our intricate fringes, however beautiful, are really the striations of a universal and undeserved flaying. But, Van Gogh, a study it is not. This is the truth of the pervading intricacy of the world’s detail: the creation is not a study, a roughed-in sketch; it is supremely, meticulously created, abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine.
--Dillard, PaTC (134)

Monday, March 3, 2008

grief songs

for b.
Editing The Penetrable Air is not a painless affair. The oblique approach of speaking about the past in mythological terms does not deliver us from evil, nor displace the pain. I have severed some part of myself that localized the exquisite memories of that house and its horrors (I say “horrors” although on the spectrum they are subtle, subtle horrors) and yet continually try to find that place that I buried the severed thing, like the dream of the cat stowed away in the box, or the very real rubber alligator purloined form the TG&Y many, many years ago. Time has so contorted the events in my mind that I am no longer certain that I lived there in that old hotel. Today was my “father’s” birthday--ironically he has assisted graciously with the minutiae that I could not call forth on my own--the seasons of planting corn and winter wheat--the lineage of the hotel. And yet he is portrayed in a less than flattering light, as are my mother and grandmother, who I hope never will read what I’ve written. That through many iterations the novel was titled “Medea” gives some indication.

Interestingly, I realized that a strange counter-phenomenon was at work in both Redemption Shoes and Penetrable Air (God, I sound like Ayn Rand writing her own introduction to The Fountainhead!)--in Air, a work of fiction, I had named each female character and offered up lengthy backstory, whereas in Shoes, non-fiction, only the paternal ancestors were explored. It begged the question of whether the female stories could be conveyed in any but mythological terms (consider Housekeeping and Gilead, for instance). It also called to mind Susan Brind-Morrow and her mention of the desire to one day catalog the ephemeral grief songs of the women of the Red Sea, the unrecorded liturgies of sorrow--the grief songs.

Right now my life feels like a grief song. Inconsonant and out of tune with some barely audible scale--if you know the Crowded House song, Fall at Your Feet, Google the tabs and play the chords. These chords seem nowhere in the range of the melody--either brilliance or madness, or something is terribly out of whack. I rest my case. There are a lot of covers of this song on YouTube, but this one brought tears to my eyes--it's so fucking honest. (She's still playing different chords--just try it yourself...)

Saturday, March 1, 2008

self portrait on Thursday

Thursday I thought I was the luckiest person in the world. It was a cool morning and an hour before yoga and I had my camera. Roaming the alleyways of Hyde Park I marveled at what lengths homeowners have gone to in tidying up the alleys. There is some sadness in over-tidiness, and I mourn the lack of respect for the accretive histories of dust (recall Sebald's artist in the studio?). I guess I romanticize dust. God knows there is plenty of it at my house--the ancient leather of my grandfathers cameras decays and flakes away, becomes part of what we breathe, the heaviness of the air we swim through.

Yoga was particularly good, and we ended with Om-ing that always leaves my head humming in another space, and all that immensity of love just swells--I feel a drought of outlets for it. I spill it and slosh it everywhere, but the bucket is forever being refilled from some unending source, watering little.

Lying in the sun during sivasana, I watched the tiny particles of dust waft into the angle of light that split the shadows of the room. It was as if they only existed for that singular moment that they were caught the slant of light, burning with intense fiery existence, and then emptied out into the other side of nothingness. Burning is the metaphor this week, a searing intensity of emotion flaming through--I know that emptiness awaits on the other side where the shadow lingers, but the knowledge doesn't temper the heat.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

prayer trees

I want to think about trees. Trees have a curious relationship to the subject of the present moment. There are many created things in the universe that outlive us, that outlive the sun, even, but I can't think about them. I live with the trees. There are creatures under our feet, creatures that live over our heads, but trees live quite convincingly in the same filament of air we inhabit, and, in addition, they extend impressively in both directions, up and down, shearing rock and fanning air...They abide. --Annie Dillard

Thursday, February 21, 2008

tallgrass prairie

Today a pleasant breakfast with a friend. We are speaking of Andrew Wyeth and he asks me where I am from, and suddenly the entirity of that landscape fills me. I can hear and smell the wind, and want to be there badly, urgently. Life is dense here, and the mind grows heavy with so much complexity. Things are (have always been) so much simpler there, and crueler. Last time I visited my grandmother I stood out behind her house and looked out over the expanse of cottonfields. The wind whipped an anguished sound from a farmhouse a half a mile or so away. Probably a pig slaughter, though I couldn't be sure. The cruelties are dealt out in equal measure with the vast spaces, the way you cut cold butter into flour to make biscuits.

(excerpt from The Penetrable Air)
As she made her way along the furrows, big clods of dirt broke under the soles of her sneakers. Finally she reached the spot where a rusty old thresher lay beside an irrigation ditch that bubbled like a spring. There was a stock tank, and bull rushes grew all around it. Here she was shielded from view, hidden in the tall grass with the crickets and frogs and bull snakes. And she listened. She just sat still and listened to the wind, trying to identify the call of a kingbird, or meadowlark, or a prairie hawk. If she sat there long enough, the whistling breeze in her ears would begin to seem like syllables of the language of clouds, and the spaces between her own cells and the sun and the sky and the wind would disappear, until all that remained was an awareness of vast space stretching out in all directions, occasionally interrupted by a lizard or nuthatch, lighting upon her.

Sometimes she imagined that she heard her mother's voice singing songs in a language she couldn't quite understand, but she knew that the song was about how time wraps itself around and bores into things, around hearts and tongues, and children. And how, if you open your mouth you can trade your own voice for the wind, until your tongue dries out and sand fills your eyesockets and you are blind.

After a while of sitting in that wide field, singing into the wind until her voice was hoarse, the harmonic of their dual howling would begin to sound like a train tunneling through her chest, into her heart, cracking her open and splitting her wide like a watermelon. The whole sky would swoosh in and fill her, stretch her wider and wider like a balloon until her cells were diluted by air and she would rise on a current of her own sound, and the sky would become a little speck inside of her.

Hours would pass. The sun would travel across the sky, scorching her skin and the field and all creation beneath its mean heat. And the clouds would flap out in the high winds like laundry, then disappear like all the things she loved most. She thinks about her horse and the last time she had seen him being loaded up in a trailer headed for some unknown and probably tragic destination. It was her fault if he had been led in terror through the concrete canals of the slaughterhouse. And her mother and Billy, whose blood was also on her hands. Lizzie looked up at the wide sky. The geese will soon begin to gather into their ragged Vs and fly north. Would they even want her if she suddenly sprouted wings? Would anyone, ever?

The crickets started chirping then, just as the sun dipped into the mirage of water at the edge of the field. Lizzie gathered herself back into what she thought was a human presence, though she was becoming less and less sure that she was human at all. She walked slowly back toward Mama Whitlow’s house. There was a combine in the far field in a cloud of dust. Swallows were swirling in arcs around the insects it churned in its path. Lizzie could see Mama Whitlow out in the garden with a dishtowel slung over her shoulder, picking tomatoes. She walked toward this one image, of a woman she knew but did not love, involved in an activity both mindful and meaningless, and knowing that she was walking toward the one fragile understanding of what it meant to live among men. Everything Lizzie understood was in this field, or in a house miles away that had long been shut away in darkness like a dream.

As she recognized the absurdity of her life, how she belonged nowhere, she began to leap the furrows in clownish steps, trying not to step on the peaks, bounding across the lumpy, dry field. It seemed like she leaped higher and higher, as if she weighed nothing—like she was walking on the moon that had just begun to rise over the summer corn. She felt the strange sensation of blood exiting her body in little gasps, and imagined that if the red drops fell into the field, a tree might grow there, and she would guard the sapling growth from all tractors, all men, until it was tall enough for her to climb into the sky and fly away.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

invisible wor[l]ds in the glass

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

-from The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver

I came home early today. The achy augurs of a virus or the flu gave cause to take the afternoon and rest. I boarded the No. 3 west of campus and it was afire with its singular cross-section of humanity--every range of income and disability--including the older woman with Down’s syndrome whom I would really like to get to know some day--she seems so affable and reminds me of my great aunt. She scrunches her face and re-arranges her large glasses, and will lean far out in to the aisle to get a better look at someone. Today it was me, sitting in the very back of the bus, thinking of her, but not looking, and she contorted her small frame until she struck an almost impossible angle over the aisle to adjust and readjust at me, her eyes growing alternately huge and normal with each nudge of the frames.

Across from her sat an enormous African-American man in his mid-twenties, who I have often seen on the bus. He usually has headphones on and gesticulates wildly, I have assumed, to the music. Once I sat in a row in front and to the right of his seat where he flung his long arms with such force and vigor that my hair was repeatedly tossed in the wind of his motion. It was an odd tenderness of restraint. He could have knocked my head right off the shoulders with so much force, but he came just so close, and I relaxed and wondered at what whirled in his wild mind, and felt sad that I would never know.

Then there was the man in the wheel chair. He was a middle-aged Latino and every once in a while lifted his black-gloved hand with the fingers cut off to trace letters and invisible words on the glass and ghostlike geometric shapes. What wacky, private worlds we are all confined within. It would be in authentic to say I love humanity, because at times, maybe most times, I sorely resent it. But it would be dishonest to deny that sometimes my heart surges with inexpressible love for my certain fellow humans. Inexpressible is problematic--there is no reason why I could not express what I feel, or do something that would offer some solace or comfort. Rather, and I don’t know why, I hold them close, the way you would a fragile, powdery moth.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

salt and light ii

sunday february 16th, almost spring

Every story is, according to Michel de Certeau, a travel story, a spatial practice. Narrative structures, such as our li[ves] are spatial structures. Their network contains the vertiginous epoch of space: ‘we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed.’
--Exhibit Program, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered: Spatial Emotion in Contemporary Art and Architecture

After posting D.’s The Rapture the other day (and viewing her other images of that scene, some which even more eerily evoked a sense of just such a thing having happened) I felt strangely disconcerted all day. Perhaps it was intense prayer that shed some light--not prayer in the mantric way we are taught as children, but the mumbled urgent outpouring into the unknown, toward the unknown, perhaps impossibly bent ear, perhaps toward a gaping void. But that relief should visit us after such an outpouring--is that evidence enough of Existence? I don’t know.

I have often considered whether some unsuspecting web surfers might happen upon the title of this blog and immediately dismiss it as some conservative Christian diabtribe on hellfire and brimstone--redemption is such a powerful word, and carries such heavy baggage. For me it has always carried more literal luggage, that of the Latin redimere, to buy back, to ransom, to rescue, release, or set free. However, from the perspective of de Certeau, the word is always in movement, always a passage, as in Newton’s powerful explication of place-flight-border-beyond, “Text mimes travel; terrain awaits its inscription in cartography.”

The Rapture
(photo) made connections that were all the while being inscribed, but nevertheless had not registered consciously. That Redemption Shoes was a project about seeking the grandfather through light (and I avoid some obvious interpretations here) had always seemed a fully secular undertaking. But now I am being tugged by these deeper questions, and these brought more fulsomely to the fore through literature, especially Annie Dillard (lately) and Marilynne Robinson.

Margaret Lowen Reimer (1982) wrote in “The Dialectical Vision of Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” When Pilgrim at Tinker Creek appeared in 1974, reviewers agreed that it was a highly unusual treatise on nature. The work obviously exerted a peculiar power, for reviewers were either rhapsodic in their praise or passionate in their indigination. Neither side, however, was quite sure in what tradition or genre the book belonged…Why? Perhaps the book falls between several categories of disciplines--the scientists relegate the work to the religious; the religious view the book as an aberration of scientific investigation. Indeed, the subtitle, “A mystical excursion into the natural world,” hints at the paradox and incongruity which characterizes the book. [PaTC] appears to be a scientific study overlaid with spiritual contemplation, an examination of natural phenomena, which leads the author to an encounter with the Divine. This fervent observer is an unusual empiricist and a still more unusual mystic (182).

Which is to say what exactly? Salt and light. Looking at the last few blog headings of lines derived from Dillard, it occurs to me that looking for him (my grandfather) through light may well have been the central fugitive narrative for him as well, struggling with a life unbalanced on the tipping fulcrum between the sacred and the profane, seeking to strike a harmony between these essentially contradictory forces of mass and light on the graphic plane of the photographic image. The image as redemption.

The resolution of the urgently mumbled prayer was not, however, this realization, but the realization that my equally fervent, mumbled attempts to seek and carve out sacred, undefiled or quasi-undefiled nature in my own life were essential to me--that mystical excursions in to the natural world are required in this seeminlgy unnatural one, top heavy with the profane.

Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame…The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam. (35)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

thoughts on love

After all, it would have ended anyway. I've never seen a sunset or felt a wind that didn't. The levitating saints came down at last, and their two feet bore real weight. No, the point is that not only does time fly and do we die, but that in these reckless conditions we live at all, and are vouchsafed, for the duration of certain, inexplicable moments, to know it. --Annie Dillard (who else?)

A day gone backwards. It ended here, at this sign:

Lab ended and I rushed for the bus, and earlier in that day a child at Sophie's school had said, "You have a really skinny neck. Sophie does, too." And I realized I love my neck. It is hard to say that about many parts of one's body, so herewith, photo-ode to my neck:

and for the lovely light, filtering through the windows of the girl's bathroom in Sutton Hall...

and for my friend, Melissa, who is a brilliant anthropologist and wonderful mother of three gorgeous girls and one fiercely-blonde son, who has made me laugh till my sides ache and speaks incredibly beautiful, fluent Castellano...

and the delicious mung dahl filled with love purchased at a sidewalk vendor on the way to try to find "the dress of desire" for the ballet on Friday...

and for the wild, secret path behind the castle that we walk each morning on the way to school, and the sculptress that once lived there, carving her passion into stone. Our lives (my life) is shockingly abundant and filled with love, and that I still long, that I still wish to levitate like the saints, how can I but love that longing also?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Tinker Creek of the mind

It may be Annie Dillard week for months, for ever. Last night awake at three and sifting through the pages of an old paper (someone had requested it as a submission of student work) and suddenly our lives are upturned like an apple cart --we had cake for breakfast and the dinner table is an incomprehensible pile of books and leaves of paper, precious linguistic notions, surprising sometimes, scarily profound, trailing off no where, meaning nothing in particular.

Because I was awake half the night I bumped my head twice and felt peculiarly oppressed by a woman at work who has been reminding me, almost every day, that we are not all watching the trees for movement, or gasping in sudden apprehension of a momentary, pinkish cloud-streaked sky. That is head-banging of the worst kind, and probably the type of experience that kept Rilke flitting along the edges of productive society like an etiolated moth.

After half an hour, the last of the stragglers had vanished into the trees. I stood with difficulty, bashed by the unexpectedness of this beauty, and my spread lungs roared. My eyes pricked from the effort of trying to trace a feathered dot’s passage through a weft of limbs. Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now, through the gaps between my cells, touching nothing, but quickening my cells, fleet? (Dillard, PaTC, p. 40)

Friday, February 8, 2008

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

the nothingness between me and the light

Shading the glass with a hand, I can
see how shadow has pooled in the valley. It washes up the sandstone
cliffs on Tinker Mountain and obliterates them in a deluge: freshets of
shadow leak into the sky…The shadow’s the thing. Outside shadows are
blue, I read, because they are lighted by the blue sky and not the
yellow sun. Their blueness bespeaks infinitesimal particles scattered
down inestimable distance…They give the light distance; they put it in
its place. They inform my eyes of my location here, O Israel, here in
the world’s flawed sculpture, here in the flickering shade of
nothingness between me and the light.
--Annie Dillard
Yes, it is Annie Dillard week. Each night before going to bed, I fall
in rhythm with her solitary explorations of Tinker Creek. Last night
she was collecting mantis eggs, reporting on the mating ritual, and the
memory of a tragic mutation of a Polyphemous moth at the hands of an
ignorant but perhaps well-meaning teacher.

Today a juvenile possum was out at midday on the balcony of Battle
Hall. Campus Safety officers were poised with long nets in what seemed
a futile attempt to capture the wary creature. People gathered, took
pictures. In class minutes later, we realized that the balcony in
question was actually the bathroom at the end of the hall, and various
students gathered to watch the pathetic drama from a better vantage
point. I returned to class intensely sad. The ripples of laughter and
jokes about how ugly possums are made me feel even more disconnected
from my so-called cohort (we were discussing cohort-component analysis
today). Many times I contrasted in my mind Dillard's silent, solitary
walks with the unhinged and un-self-conscious laugher of being almost thirty. I can never go back. Some part of me already resides in semi-retirement, among waving
prairie grasses, fussily watching over lupine seeds and the ceaseless
manufacturing of spider webs.

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came
to die, to discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what
was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice
resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and
suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like
as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave
close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms,
and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine
meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were
sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true
account of it in my next excursion.

Walden or Life in the Woods
- Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862

Sunday, February 3, 2008

"the thing illuminated cannot be lighter than the illuminator"

The light is diffuse and hueless, like the light of paper inside a pewter bowl. The snow looks light and the sky dark, bu in fact the sky is lighter than the snow. Obviously the thing illuminated cannot be lighter than the illuminator...The dark is overhead and the light at my feet; I am walking upside-down in the sky
--Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Yesterday I went running with S., and we went farther than I am accustomed. During the night I awoke with aching muscles, drank a glass of wine and took some ibuprofen, then spent the next two hours plucking out a tune on the guitar. I can feel the tug of spring. It is music, and aching muscles, and sunburned skin--the delicious reminders of that delirious weight--of being earthly and mortal and poised for emergence into the next act of the drama.

This morning we did the grocery shopping then packed a small picnic to take down to the creek. It is still barren and grey, but this will change in a matter of weeks. I can already see the buds on the trees, tiny packages of new life waiting to burst open. It has changed so much in the twenty years since I first arrived here. There are more bicycles on the trails, and the old overgrown paths are now weary and denuded. It is seldom as quiet as it was years ago when you could sit perched on a rock and not see another soul for over an hour. This creek is the refuge for so many, and so much more fragile for that very reason.

I wonder what readers will think a generation from now, encountering Annie Dillard or Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey or Wendell Berry. Will it all seem like a dream--this once wild and untameable nature?

Friday, February 1, 2008

trusting delilah

Anthonis van Dyck (1599-1641)

To carve an elephant from a rock, you simply carve away anything that does not look like an elephant…

She was there in front of the mirror with scissors, and had hoped to carve from among the wisps, a self she might recognize. Every day a snip here, a snip there. But with each lock falling away onto the cold bathroom floor, she grew less familiar, less recognizable.

Finally she made the appointment. She had two options (maybe three): acupuncture, a mammogram, a haircut. She chose the haircut.

She taps on the thick glass of the salon door early in the morning. The hairdresser is there, in the quasi-dark, dressed as if for a date, and she swishes across the floor to the door and when the door is opened, she enters the calm, fragrant world of the eternally feminine.

She explains to the hairdresser the situation, the endless days of snipping, of seeking. The hairdresser nods understandingly, more understanding than a therapist or a doctor.

“You understand,” she confides, “this is a last resort.”

The hairdresser seats her in a thick-cushioned chair from the early 1900s, and massages her tense shoulders. Her hands are so warm, so reassuring, that all the hours of the last two years fall away to the pine floor. Then the scissors flash, and the wisps fall. Some of them are gray, already betraying the New Year’s Day henna.

The whole procedure takes only a few minutes. Much too soon she must pay and walk back out into the bright morning light, the bitter winter air. But the hairdresser confides one last thing. “For me,” she says, “it is this…” and she lifts her skirt slightly to mid-calf to reveal a blazing purple iris. “I’m getting rid of it.”

Walking to work she doesn’t try to capture a fleeting reflection in the glass; she doesn’t rush to the bathroom to apply make-up or put on earrings; she just walks, noticing the levity, thankful that she has freed herself from the tyranny of the scissors. She is no longer who she thought she was an hour ago, a month ago, a year ago, and she doesn’t yet know who she might have become, but she might not, she thinks hopefully, she might not even care.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008


we bundle ourselves into the car around 7am and drive through the rainy, cold fog to the high school and then back across town to daycare. After I dropped off s., I grab my rain gear and head out into the freezing rain to walk before yoga class. I meet up with d., and launch into my whole oft-rehearsed diatribe of late about what happens when the person you have always thought that you were starts to crack like an old photo, when you start to realize that who you thought was yourself was nothing more that an impeccably maintained (or so you thought) image in your mind, that is now disintegrating before your eyes.

Are you forty-two?
d. asks. That's when it begins. It'll get better.

And then we walk back to her house and I wave good-bye and march off in the direction to the window-filled stone building on top of the hill, nestled among the trees on the golf course (which lovely, unpopulated square mile of wild nature urges me to thank God for golfers every time I go there--development might have long ago consumed it otherwise!) where yoga class meets, and I am late, and tromp in with my bags of clothing and books and thermos of green tea.

i hate neck relaxation exercises anyway, and I'm glad I've missed most of it. I used to feel that way about pigeon pose, but have come to love that one so much that I don't want to get out of it and into the spinal twist. I am always surprised at how the chatter in my mind always seems to increase as a function of the quiet of the room.

Breathe, the teacher says, and he means it, his voice says it and fills the room with the involuntary impulse to yawn.

By 11:45 I am at Starbucks on campus. The mind chatter says, Why are you willing to stand in this infernally long line, it's like Starbucks is a religion, should I get a latte or an Americano, etc. The length of the line had kept me outside the glass doors, but once I have moved (and rapidly!--I am always sure they will miss or screw up my order with the volume of traffic, but they are so damnably efficient) I hear the the heartwrenchingly familiar guitar picking of James Taylor, sweetened with time and LIVE, and I am suddenly transported back to my twenties in New York. I see that young woman no less clearly than I see myself now and I am gripped by an aching yearning to go to her, to tell her to stop everything because she has no idea who she is or what she is capable of, or how long it will take to unravel all the knots she is hastily tying.

But the latte comes, and I can't stand in there forever, and the song changes to some young, hip songwriting chanteuse and am poured back out into the cold, into the present. The past evaporates like a mist. I count the days since I posted my letter to a. (although I know he will not write back), and wish that I could go back, far back, and find him before we became whoever we would, unknowingly, become.

Monday, January 21, 2008

the view from my bed

artifact--1821 (artefact) "anything made by human art," from It. artefatto, from L. arte "by skill" (ablative of ars "art;" see art (n.)) + factum "thing made," from facere "to make, do" (see factitious). Archaeological application dates from 1890.

There was a time when archaeology, as a discipline devoted to silent monuments, inert traces, objects without context, and things left by the past, aspired to the condition of the historical discourse; it might be said, to play on words a little, that in our time history aspires to the condition of archaeology, to the intrinsic description of the monument. --Michel Foucault

1. Last night I dreamed about A. We were in some sort of abandoned ghost town, possibly an old steamship. We were beholding the dust-covered relics. I hoped we could produce some sort of illumination from these artifacts, some narrative that would explain what had happened in this place, what had gone wrong. He was patient with my lack of understanding, for after all, how could things be any other than they were at that moment, every surface blanketed in fine haze of decay--there was nothing to find or discover, it simply did not exist in any other way. I saw the absurdity of my longing to reconstitute history.

I awake vaguely aware of the dream, that I dreamed about A. I slowly reconstitute the dream, write a brief letter to A. and do not mail it.

2. She was sitting in the seat next to me in the car. It was cold and her hands were dangerously numb. A vague light from the broken streetlight just cautiously illuminated her profile (she looked beautiful--I am not sure what specifically to attribute this to, but there was a resolved gracefulness in the lines of her face and the way her usually animated limbs fell together in an unfamiliar and quiet repose, as if the limbs and trunk and head suddenly felt comfortable together, and enjoyed one another’s company). She said, I was in the place and I knew no one and didn’t understand the language or the culture, and I just woke every day and prayed that God would guide me because I could depend on nothing else.

Maybe that it how it really always is, I said. And maybe it is. What she really missed, though, was hot water. There was never any hot water.

3. It rains and rains today. Standing in the shower I wonder why all this water does not just erode us little by little, why, if I stand beneath the hot water forever, does nothing ever get dissolved of the knots of thought and flesh.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

rendered unto ash

this image [was originally] a portrait of two friends, taken by colleen, and it has set me thinking lately about friendship, and redemption, which are not usually coterminous, although it seems they should be. the light on the day this photo was taken was sifting through the weight of the room--the curtains, our winter clothing, the red wine, the dust (although there seemed to be very little of that, how do we see the light in such streams withough particulate--is it dust and light after all that touches us so?) all seemed to pull the light down making it more visible, more palpable. My thought on this day and days afterward was, some things cannot be salvaged, or rather, some things will never be restored to their original state, and this is the way life is. I carry the fragments of these damaged vessels, but I am no longer sure what I hope to do with them--perhaps they are just touchstones for the past, mementos.

the world is and we are continuously created and fractured and recreated through the accretion of countless corpuscles of matter and light and laughter and sorrow, and we change and change and change like rivers which wander imperceptibly over a landscape and yet always look the same, seem the same. One cannot, as Heraclitus claimed, step in the same river twice.

but what about redemption. Are we ever redeemed by one another, or is this the sole provenance of God? there are those from whom I deeply long for forgiveness, and yet this longing itself becomes an accretion of sorts, a settlement of sorts. this is the dust we become.

He felt closer to the dust, he said, than to light, air or water. There was nothing he found so unbearable as a well-dusted house, and he never felt more at home than places where things remained undisturbed, muted under the grey, velvety sinter left when matter dissolved, little by little, into nothingness. --WG Sebald, The Emigrants

Sunday, January 13, 2008

poetry and theology

recently I was opining on what sort of person is Marilynne Robinson (author of Gilead), and here are two intervew questions (and responses) excerpted from a longer interview, which can be found here.

Q: John Ames, the Congregational minister in the book, is a very theological thinker, and you have mentioned your own interest in theology. If you had to explain it to someone, what is theology and what does it mean to think theologically?

A: It's a difficult thing to describe theology, what it means and how it disciplines thinking. Certainly, theology is the level at which the highest inquiry into meaning and ethics and beauty coincides with the largest-scale imagination of the nature of reality itself. Often, when I want to read something that is satisfying to me as theology, what I actually read is string theory, or something like that -- popularizations, inevitably, of scientific cosmologies -- because their description of the scale of things and the intrinsic, astonishing character of reality coincides very beautifully with the most ambitious theology. It is thinking at that scale, and it is thinking that is invested with meaning in a humanly evocative form. That's theology.

Q: Is there a connection to poetry, too? John Ames is also steeped in the religious poets, and he mentions John Donne and George Herbert throughout the novel.

A: I think the connection between poetry and theology, which is profound in Western tradition -- there is a great deal of wonderful religious poetry -- both poetry and theology push conventional definitions and explore perceptions that might be ignored or passed off as conventional, but when they are pressed yield much larger meanings, seem to be part of a much larger system of reality. The assumption behind any theology that I've ever been familiar with is that there is a profound beauty in being, simply in itself. Poetry, at least traditionally, has been an educing of the beauty of language, the beauty of experience, the beauty of the working of the mind, and so on. The pastor does, indeed, appreciate it. One of the things that is nice about these old pastors -- they were young at the time -- who went into the Middle West is that they were real humanists. They were often linguists, for example, and the schools that they established were then, as they are now, real liberal arts colleges where people studied the humanities in a very broad sense. I think that should be reflected in his mind; appropriately, it is.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

footnote to civilization

I know that civilization is simply something that seems important, something that lives in the mind along with infinite desires and stories that are no less sensible that the small stone between my fingers.

I am at first affrighted and confounded with that forelorn solitude in which I am placed with my philosophy, and fancy myself some strange uncouth monster who, not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been left...utterly abandoned and disconsolate. Fain would I run into the crowd for shelter and warmth; but I cannot prevail with myself to mix with such deformity. I call upon others to join me, in order to make a company apart; but no one will hearken to me.

Most fortunately it happens that, since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterates all these chimaeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse and am merry with my friends, and when after three or four hours'amusement I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained and ridiculous, that I cannot find it in my heart to enter into them any further. Here I find myself absolutely and necessarily determined to live, and act, and talk like other people in common affairs of life.
--David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature

Thursday, January 10, 2008

hiding behind the lens

I was reflecting on what I wrote about my grandfather in the lost ritual, that he used a camera and a highball as a foil. Lately I begin to understand this tendency in myself. I wear my glasses more often, not because I can see more clearly, but because they make the world around me more blurry. I seek refuge in the fact that everything beyond reading distance is an indistinct fuzzy mass, which further corroborates my possible misguided notion that reality is no more than a fog anyway, until you kick the tire, that is (an old philosophical riff). But the ghost, the voyeur, the observer--this was Benjamin, and Rilke, and even (I have heard) Marilynne Robinson--a veil of words is no less a lens to hide behind than a Zeiss Ikonoflex, after all.

I recall many years ago when I was living with my mother on a reservation in Eastern Montana. The day we arrived she fell ill with a sever kidney infection, and I was left alone to fend for myself among the town of Lodge Grass. I went to the store, to the gas station, wandered at will. What I noticed most pointedly was that no one spoke--or rather, spoke very little. It was uncommon to shoot the breeze. Communication was brief and purposeful. This took much getting used to. I was a philosophy major then and monologues and dialogues flowed through my brain like the rivers that cut through and flooded the very verdant valley of the Crow. One old man did saunter out to me one day, at the gas station, and nodded toward my Guatemalan wallet perched on top the gas pump. “That your medicine bag?” he asked.

But I had brought a camera. I began wandering afresh, looking at the landscape and the junk cars and old refrigerators piled up with teepee poles in overgrown meadows. The kids began to follow me, and I took many pictures of them. The words were tamed, I guess, by the images, and the camera gave me an identity among the townspeople that I had previously lacked. I became “the photographer.” I took so many pictures back then I almost thought I was one. Most gratifyingly, though, was the feeling that I ceased to exist behind the camera, that I could go almost anywhere without being noticed--the ultimate refuge behind the lens.

I imagine my grandfather seeking this same refuge. Fuzzy world beyond the glasses, vague, amorphous world beyond the bottle of bourbon, but a clear, quiet world behind the viewfinder. People rarely bother a man behind a camera.

Monday, January 7, 2008


In every important way we are such secrets from each other, and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us, also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence. Every single one of us is a little civilization built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations, but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable…We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likenesses, because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs, trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less, the same notions of decency and sanity. But all that really just allows us to coexist with the inviolable, untraversable, utterly vast spaces between us.
-- Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

And so the magic of winter slowly fades. The time away from work and school has allowed me to wander far from the steady stream of comings and goings of human life, the urgent and not-so-urgent errands and routines which drive the species to and fro in little inscribed paths on the surface of the city. I have slowed down to an almost imperceptible breath. I could be dead, for all I know, or a ghost. But the house is populated by two children and two animals who seem to respond to my presence. I must still be among the living.

Today on the creek we are alone, and the dry leaves are flicking like sharp, tiny tongues across the surface of the whitening rocks. There is a strong smell of dead fish. I find a stone and remember a friend who used to place a pebble in his mouth to stave off thirst on long hikes, but I can’t remember who it is anymore, who among the parade of ghosts who vigorously people my memories and dreams--and I am not putting this pebble in my mouth. It has absorbed the smell of dead fish, so I rub it between my fingers as we walk, like a worry bead.

We come across a smooth, deep rivulet, from whence arises the odor of dead fish. It is cut deep into the chalky surface, and as we peer down we see hundreds of small silver fish gasping for air among the carcasses of the already dead. I look up at the sky. It is cloudy, but rain seems unlikely. I consider the farfetched idea of buckets of water hauled down from up top.

As we walk back home I pray for rain. Several times during the day I do, weighing the likelihood of an answered prayer for dying fish against the grave, urgent prayers mouthed by the suffering the world over. But in this place that I am, this remote, unpeopled quiet of the winter holidays, I know that civilization is simply something that seems important, something that lives in the mind along with infinite desires and stories that are no less sensible that the small stone between my fingers.(1)

The clouds dissipate at dusk. My prayers fell on fallow soil, or I didn’t pray sincerely enough, or there is nothing such as an answered prayer. I let all the possible worlds of this play in my mind as the first stars appear, knowing that what is sanity, what to me, is civilization, is that smooth cleft in the earth where the tragedy plays out without tears or prayers. Tomorrow I will immerse myself once again in the river of humanity, and I wonder if I will even remember that fragile, passing world.

p.s. Hours after writing this, I awoke around midnight to a light but persistent rain...

Thursday, January 3, 2008


the fragments that began “redemption shoes” were perhaps never to become more than a chaotic collection of thought objects--in any case, I doubt the collection will ever be reconciled into a meaningful whole, the way a story or a novel would, which in many ways was my intention--to experiment with a formless collection of ideas. But the idea of a codex devoid of a telos runs counter to my fundamental grain. I think I have always believed that if we looked far enough and deep enough, one day the mystery would be resolved. The mystery of what? Of self, of human nature? I cannot know, but remain resolved in my belief in a unified theory of everything, an Answer. I think this is why we tell stories at all: we craft the inklings of our vestigial knowledge into sensical or quasi-sensical forms, if only to communicate to ourselves what we already know. It was that spirit that fired the passion of Schliemann, whether one believes or not that his discoveries were nothing more than a hoax, the principal remains to intrigue us with its beauty and simplicity--that all we need to know, all we can ever know, is perpetually recorded in the cryptology of story. I will not quit searching, although the fragments of the grandfather have faded.