“Strange people. The kind that leave the merest blur behind them, soon vanished. Hutte and I often used to talk about these traceless human beings. They spring up out of nothing one fine day and return there, having sparkled a little. Beauty queens. Giggles. Butterflies. Most of them, even when alive, had no more substance than steam which will never condense. Hutte, for instance, used to quote the case of a fellow he called ‘the beach man.’ This man had spent forty years of his life on beaches or by the sides of swimming pools, chatting pleasantly with summer visitors and rich idlers. He is to be seen, in his bathing costume, in the corners and backgrounds of thousands of holiday snaps, among groups of happy people, but no one knew his name and why we was there. And no one noticed when one day he vanished from the photographs. I did not dare tell Hutte, but I felt that ‘the beach man’ was myself. Though it would not have surprised him if I had confessed it.” —Patrick Modiano, from Missing Person
“They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away. Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of the abandoned sites, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.”—Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
AS FOR THAT PIECE OF SUNDOWN YOU’VE BEEN WANTING by Carl Phillips
Like little forges for which the heart too often gets mistaken, the dogs run ahead of me, just out of earshot, across what’s a field, and then a coast: some stones, some sand. Funny how sorrow more often arrives before honesty, than the other way around. To my left a blackness
like the past, but without the past’s precision; to my right, the ocean…Not so lost as I’d been thinking, then—or had once, admittedly, maybe even hoped for. Kingdom of what’s left, still to be angry at, or forgive. All of the bees flying out of me. We’re traveling north.
…If there were messages or signs,
I might hear now a voice tell me
to walk forever, to ask
the mold for pardon, and one
by one I would hear out my sins,
hear they are not important—that I am
part of this rain
drumming its long fingers, and
of the roadside stone refusing
to blink, and of the coyote
nailed to the fence with its
Lately, I’ve been thinking about looking as a means of reflection and understanding. In my writing blog, The Bronsk Commons, I recently posted about descriptions as a way of seeing. And I like how Thomas Struth‘s “Museum Photographs” memorably explore looking at looking on a somewhat larger scale. But I wonder what a more intimate approach, inspired a bit by street photography, would be like and what I’ll learn. Here’s the first set, then, in a new series.
“This is not to say that before the invention of the camera that men could see everything. But perspective organized the visual field as though that were indeed the ideal. Every drawing or painting that used perspective proposed to the spectator that he was the unique center of the world. The camera…demonstrated that there was no center.” —John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Don’t be ashamed that your parents
Didn’t happen to meet at an art exhibit
Or at a protest against a foreign policy
Based on fear of negotiation,
But in an aisle of a discount drugstore,
Near the antihistamine section,
Seeking relief from the common cold.
You ought to be proud that even there,
Amid coughs and sneezes,
They were able to peer beneath
The veil of pointless happenstance.
Here is someone, each thought,
Able to laugh at the indignities
That flesh is heir to. Here
Is a person one might care about.
Not love at first sight, but the will
To be ready to endorse the feeling
Should it arise. Had they waited
For settings more promising,
You wouldn’t be here,
Wishing things were different.
Why not delight at how young they were
When they made the most of their chances,
How young still, a little later,
When they bought a double plot
At the cemetery. Look at you,
Twice as old now as they were
When they made arrangements,
And still you’re thinking of moving on,
Of finding a town with a climate
Friendlier to your many talents.
Don’t be ashamed of the homely thought
That whatever you might do elsewhere,
In the time remaining, you might do here
If you can resolve, at last, to pay attention.