Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Some Tethers & An Heroic Couplet

I decided to go to Rock Meadow, a piece of conservation land in the neighboring town. I was drawn to the simplicity of the name. Rock. Meadow. Nothing more. No sponsor, no in memoriam. It's elemental, barely human, amenable to being rendered as glyph, as spare and essential as winter itself. Nothing flowery about it.

The day was cold, bright and windy. I picked my way along the rutted, icy path, flinching against the wind. Halfway up a frigid slope -- hard snow with sharp, mown grass knifing through -- I rethought my course. Behind me, sheltered in a small hollow, was the community garden, a shantytown patchwork of little fenced-off plots through which ran a gridwork of paths. I would go in there.

A beautiful lavender gate welcomed me. I had to recalibrate. This was a human habitat, albeit deserted. Human spoor was everywhere: pails, wire, stakes, overturned wheebarrows, chairs. Some of the plots were completely overgrown with weeds; others were littered with untidy strands of what had been grown there; still others had been neatly groomed and put to winter bed. A flag fluttered over one; a furled, striped umbrella stood at the edge of the woods, improbably blue and summery.

I squatted and refocused. I was camerawoman, after all, here to take pictures of weeds, my favorite, perhaps my only subject. I searched until I found another gate, a rusty one, guarded by a frayed nylon rope and a denuded nightshade twig. I ducked under it and looked around.

Follow me, said the snake.

Almost there, said the vetch.

Do not fall, said the urn.

Hold on tight, said the hands.

Hook right up, said the stem.

Rest it here, said the head.

On the rust, said her friend.

Bag of skin, sighed the fruit, you've arrived --

look right there --

precious chair !

I laughed. Precious chair, French for flesh, and elaborate tethers that cost far more than what they bind. Human spoor indeed, significant spoor, spoor more complex than rock and meadow, spoor that cries Mine ! Me !

I wound my way through the narrow paths between the plots. I knew about tethers. The act of taking pictures, of looking, even, was fraught with them.

I love this. But what if my camera breaks ? What if I go blind, or if my legs fail ? What will I do then ?

The thought brings me back to the here and now of eye and weed, eye and viewfinder. This is what is. This is rock, this is meadow. These are the knees that can still squat, the neck that, with a small creak, can still crank around to better frame a tiny, tufted seed.

There is nothing outside this moment, outside this cultivated hollow.

Wind, wolves, hip-and-lens fracturing ice, death itself -- no more (or less) than elusive eidolons fluttering though the improbable complex of photographer-and-garden.

Surrounded by rust and rot, I breathe; my blood's iron oxidizes. Cells switch on and off amidst ratcheting actin and mysosin, flickering synapses, gushing follicles. Secret conspiracies underway everywhere.

There is cold; there is interest; there is pleasure. There is the avid eye. There is anxiety, need, regret, longing, planning, cheek-stinging wind, birdsong, and the smell of decay. Hungry now. Maybe some lunch ?

Yes, that would be nice. Some oatmeal, maybe. With raisins. A cup of coffee. And a final couplet to latch behind me like a garden gate:

O heart, propel your iron through this prayer,

and bell until you rust clear through to air !

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