The Long Look

Window, lens, hand, soul.

You appeared on a certain corner every evening with your camera, to enact a ministry of light. Recalling childhood, you arrived in the circle’s fullness each time. Former strangers worked with you. You created each image together. This is how you said, I know you

Every moment was a breath of spirit. In this world of surface illusion, you reached your illuminating hand, your goal always, touch me, touching you. 

By devotion to the details of flesh and fracture, shadow and shade, the drape of traffic lights over wet pavement, each frame became a reminder: look at us here, in the same image. 

Those birds are one creature. Those ants are one creature. Gathered on the corner in the glow of wet streetlights, one creature. And you took it all in, and said, we are here to work out our fear of being.

***

Inspired by the work and spirit of Khalik Allah, as generously shared in an interview with J. P. Sniadecki in BOMB.

Grammar of Mystery

How much in shadow.

To resist the floodlight’s patrolling glare, its demands and agendas, its attendant megaphone, in favor of a posture of listening, a touch whispered enough to elicit shivers of recognition. This earned denial of easy access. The elegant strength, to hold a posture possessed of substance so rich that it will be perennially misunderstood in this landscape, resisting the impulse to break the pose of perfect opacity––to correct, as the saying goes, by shedding some light.

How else could you photograph sound?

Here is the wise light of the dark surface, opening,

in praise of the unknown, unnamed

here is a deft grammar of mystery.

How much to be,

how much to be imagined

in these shadows.

Look, do not look,

but see.

***

Inspired by the work of Roy DeCarava.

Moirai Over Man

At the harbor.

Over loose chords at sunrise, we watch him still watching the sea. We whisper Go and morning comes, full and fast with its heat. When morning comes, full and fast with its heat, he stays and seals bark over car horns. Planes tear the sky with him still below it.

Horns in his head, below the tearing sky, he always wanted. Understand? To dream himself a god to fall from the wounded sky like a childhood mango––

to fall again 

he wanted 

from the sky––

But there is no going back how you came in from a drop like that so he will not go back the way he came. But what womb will accept a return? None, but there is room in the belly of the whale.

Here in the belly of the whale shudder boardwalk carts at noon while we whisper, Go as his shadow curls and planes again. His voice still mute, we goad the creatures to pull him back. Birdsong swells toward night––and some relief.

Relieved of his clenched fist, his own song swells near memory while not far away a table is set. But with the beard at his throat, he will not call. With the years in his throat, he will not come. Plane arrows fell daylight as the evening sirens shriek. With evening sirens shrieking enough arrows to end his days, by night we whisper, Go, and we watch him still watching the sea.

Go, pilgrim

We try again. Then, Come, we call, from the sea. Who will wash you now?

***

Considering Time as a bearded man on a bench by the harbor, I imagined him being watched by his daughters, the Fates, at a distance. Known as the Moirai in Greek mythology, these sisters personify destiny.

Aquarian Drip

These dazzling portraits.

When the artist came to visit, we were moved by the shining colors in attendance.

We had questions. One was, how would you describe the world you are building?

There are all these characters, see? Part divine and part human, all in a state of transformation. During each metamorphosis, a being glows these wild colors. It’s magical.

Are these self-portraits?

A lot of them are, partly. Also, part fiction, part archetype.

Can you talk about your materials?

They are loaded. They appear to be surface-level decorations. And yet, the objects themselves emerge from grief. So many people were dying. I was thinking of memorials, how decorative they are. And then I had all these sequins, and was like, I know what to do with those! 

Because people are so much, you know? All these glittering layers, and then when they are gone, you have all this extra sometimes, this overflowing sense of all you see, all you wanted to say, all that they were beyond the simple obit. 

It wasn’t long after I started down this path that I was like, I am going to need a lot more sequins. 

***

Inspired by the work of Devan Shimoyama. The title of this post comes from one of Shimoyama’s paintings.

Only Keep Looking

For Santu Mofokeng.

In quiet devotion from within the crowd, you witness the sway of a collective in song, knowing this moment in transit a destination of its own, and call it Train Church. You seek out parallel moments, always from within. The stream crossing, the waiting line, the dancers, the cave. Outsiders wanted spectacle and you pushed back with ordinary life. The long looks of tired eyes over the horizon from the middle of a field, breaking from the labor of the day. The hanging clothes of late parents on a bare pole against a concrete wall. Shaded interior of a kitchen, ethereal light through pleated rayon curtains. The mist pushing against easy meaning, smoke against certainty, dust against the definition of forms. No, the magic won’t be captured, you insisted. Chasing shadows to witness, atmosphere to witness, sediments to witness––faces, in long attention, patient. Insisting, here is only the beginning of sight. Look again.

***

Inspired by the art and practice of Santu Mofokeng (1956-2020).

The Possibility of Shelter

In the days of wind.

Who among us could assume security? The answer sat before us like a lump of cold flesh to be paid when the collectors came. Naturally, we learned to speak around it. We shared our alarm about the weather instead. By its whims we could admit something. It had to do with extremity. ––Of certain conditions and of a common need. But what for? Maybe some chance at grace.

Over time, something loosened the ties we had to some familiar arrangements of words while cementing others. Come here, we said to one another. In the makeshift camp where we had surrendered what little we could carry to some common fate, still to be determined. Tarp walls blew in the winds and we listened. 

Sometimes we heard one another step outside to address something else. We all did this. One at a time, without ceremony, and alone. We were not ready to discuss these things. Not yet. But when the winds left, I could hear the others say to something just beyond the camp, Come here.

Untitled Chorus

Notes from the days of wind.

In a season when the atmospheric pressures seemed to be in more dramatic flux than any of us could remember, herds of winds would gallop across the ceiling, rattling the furniture. It was the babies I listened for. Everyone was going around shaking their heads. These kids, they said.

There was a painter I loved. He knew how to look when he was painting. When he stopped was where the trouble started. Amid the noisy striving and the sales pitches, the ideologues and the masses of our families clamoring to avoid being ditched with the rest of the wreckage of the hour, it seemed like the babies––so quiet, some worried, is anyone there? ––might be waiting for someone to finally get around to mentioning this other thing. The painter dared to depict it. He didn’t call it anything, and some called it dangerously close to Nothing, but anyone looking to see it could tell you that what it evoked was the opposite of nothing.

It was a verge, and he was pulling the center to the edge of where the babies would sit, unsure whether or how they will stand. He wouldn’t live to see them.

In the season of high winds, the babies cocooned themselves in blankets of ambient noise. Those who thought of silences as nothing more than the punctuation between events, and not the main event, did not know what to make of whatever those babies were doing inside those cocoons. 

They never seem to be listening, many remarked. But watch. Relax your eyes. It’s like one of those magic eye paintings where the apparent forms are only a pretext.  See the weight of noise that has been heaped on them since birth. It becomes hard not to suspect that they have found some other way to manage what is pulsing nearby, while appearing not to listen at all, like the artist who pretends to paint nothing.

Wait, someone said eventually, of these paintings. I see it. The painter didn’t make it in the end, but the works became chapels unto themselves. The works were gathered in a chapel. The babies would show up, alone and in pairs, looking. They would seem to care nothing for what they saw.

Many of these wouldn’t make it, either. But some would. And when they waited in the chapel long enough to hear something other than wind, they would notice a sound more sonorous than their most immersive dream. Eventually, they would know it knew them. That it had waited as they had, for this time. They would sing.

What are the Chances

Of seeing any.

Chance is a lot more patient than most people think. Take this one, for example. She waits by his bed where he complains he is often awake, worrying she’ll never come again. But every time she shows up, there he is, snoring. He wakes on occasion, to cry about his misfortune. She waits, listening. She’s not one to speak right away, and by the time she does, he’s unconscious again. He sleeps and she turns out the light before leaving. In the morning he’ll decide it’s too bad that he missed those chances from another time, crying about how they never visit anymore.

Aftermaths

Among the living.

The heart of the living beats hard, time out of mind when the hot nerve breaks. When nowhere was steady, we gathered in pairs and threes, hoping to hear a call or cry. Wanting to respond, in times like this, to anyone, drums like an ache. The tenderness of those faces was spectacular.

Then it was late, all eyelids and moons and vertebrae on the shore at our feet. Sniffing the tide, the split shells, the seaweed. Something sat near us, against the wet cliff. It did not speak. One of us whispered, I have been waiting. It is understood that he means his whole life. It is understood that he means, to be brought to something like belief. It is understood that this does not matter, now. We are still here.

Crosswalk

Witness, waiting.

The tracks uncross, uncoupling the stars in our eyes. It is late and the light won’t train toward the alley by the liquor store on Broadway. Saturday night leaks greasy blues against neon signs for lotto prizes and fast-food payday loans. The discount tire guy waves and falls, to be raised again, a blow-up Lazarus. Alive. 

The buzz of broken streetlights reminds that everyone is hanging as you are, by the thread to which we’ve tied some whispered prayer. Give us this day, our daily bread––no, never mind, take it back. Regrets fur like smoke at the crosswalk, teasing, Go. Not Yet. Hurry. You’ll miss it again.

My eyes hurt. Show me one thing blooming. Here they are, cellophane-wrapped with other plastic-plated symbols of significance, ready for purchase, bright tokens. Pang of grief, but you work with what you have. The hungry eye learns to make do. The gas station oasis lit to magnify the lines on the faces in line, we avert our eyes in respect for one another’s naked needs. 

If not this day again, give me something. I pay to spill back onto Broadway. Beneath the glow of a No Vacancy sign, I wait to cross, sated now, the stems in hand. There are others on foot, and we stand at the banks. Not yet, don’t go. You can feel something hold us by the words we still won’t speak, nudging toward the next chance to give it all away.