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.
The bright light of recent days allowed me to take this self-portrait—of sorts. The idea of crossed paths comes from Polish poet Adam Zagajewski‘s brilliant poem “Self-Portrait,” which I’ve shared below. Needless to say, there are numerous other ways to evoke the sense of crossed paths, but this is the one that made sense to me when I took this—and now, too.
Between the computer, a pencil, and a typewriter
half my day passes. One day it will be half a century.
I live in strange cities and sometimes talk
with strangers about matters strange to me.
I listen to music a lot: Bach, Mahler, Chopin, Shostakovich.
I see three elements in music: weakness, power, and pain.
The fourth has no name.
I read poets, living and dead, who teach me
tenacity, faith, and pride. I try to understand
the great philosophers–but usually catch just
scraps of their precious thoughts.
I like to take long walks on Paris streets
and watch my fellow creatures, quickened by envy,
anger, desire; to trace a silver coin
passing from hand to hand as it slowly
loses its round shape (the emperor’s profile is erased).
Beside me trees expressing nothing
but a green, indifferent perfection.
Black birds pace the fields,
waiting patiently like Spanish widows.
I’m no longer young, but someone else is always older.
I like deep sleep, when I cease to exist,
and fast bike rides on country roads when poplars and houses
dissolve like cumuli on sunny days.
Sometimes in museums the paintings speak to me
and irony suddenly vanishes.
I love gazing at my wife’s face.
Every Sunday I call my father.
Every other week I meet with friends,
thus proving my fidelity.
My country freed itself from one evil. I wish
another liberation would follow.
Could I help in this? I don’t know.
I’m truly not a child of the ocean,
as Antonio Machado wrote about himself,
but a child of air, mint and cello
and not all the ways of the high world
cross paths with the life that–so far–
belongs to me.