Friday, December 29, 2006

Eight Dwellings


A small, red shack on the edge of a stubblefield; bare trees towering over it, branches streaming into a blank sky. This is an icon of the most rudimentary shelter: a roof, four walls, a floor. The crops have been taken in. Snow gathers in the north. You can feel the weight of its approach. What cry can counterbalance these cold depths ?

Increase the saturation of the red,
desaturate the aberrant blue
that flickers along the yardarms of the trees.
St. Elmo, corposant, they tarred you and set you aflame;
they windlassed your guts from you, alive.

Illuminate this war-darkened world.


Brown, flecked with dull gold, a flowerhead rests between the rainsoaked leaves of an uprooted leek.


Sexless, legged torsos,
a whole field of them,
after a windy winter.


Dignity, I thought, as I crouched and photographed a pathside rush That's what these dying weeds have. Dignity: stiff, sere, upright -- an anthropomorphized dignity, to be sure, but also an etymological dignity. As in worth. They are worthy. Worthy of what ? Attention. Is that a tautology ? If a rush grows by the pathside and no one sees it is it still dignified ? Attention is a gaze that, as much as possible, nullifies itself. Humbles itself. Eye and weed, weed and eye, parts of the same whole. And from there, from that humus, springs thanksgiving.

Vere dignum et justum est, aequem et saltuare, nos tibi semper, et ubique gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus

"It is truly meet and just, right and profitable, for us, at all times, and in all places to give thanks to Thee, O Lord, the holy One, the Father almighty, the everlasting God."


Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Or, according to Meister Eckhart,

The eye with which I see God is the same with which God sees me. My eye and God's eye is one eye, and one sight, and one knowledge, and one love.


Someone had blazed a narrow, winding path into the reeds of the swamp. I followed it in; the criss-crossed, fallen stalks crackled underfoot. The path was barely shoulder-wide. I walked carefully, watching the ground for signs of water. This was a swamp, after all. I remembered the time when, photographing a skunk-cabbage, I'd sunk a knee and a gloved hand into February mud. The reeds with their flame-shaped seedheads towered over me. The path was sinuous. How far in did it go ? What minotaur (or, as in Simone Weil, what God) lurked around the bend at the heart of the maze ? Oddly anxious, I stopped and took a deep breath. As I exhaled, the wind rose: a modified sibilance, a hiss broadened to a hush. I'd never heard such a sound. I was immersed in it, swallowed by it. My camera hung, useless, around my neck.

Baptized, I thought, not by water, but by the Spirit.


There was nothing natural about it. It was an amputation. The work was clean as a guillotine's. True, one free edge had been nibbled, but the other, face down in the grass, was a perfect O. It was chalice-shaped, calyceal, ephemeral. A week hence, if the unseasonable weather held, it would be slime, then swallowed up. To be reborn in spring as grassblade and path rush.

Credo in carnis resurrectionem.


"Take my picture," she said. "Take a nice one. For the newspaper, for my obituary." It was her perennial request. She sipped her wine and continued. "Since my stroke my face is crooked. " She pushed up the right side of her face. "See ?" She put down her wine, and composed herself for the picture. When she smiled at the camera the subtle droop disappeared.

I snapped. She smiled again, showing her teeth this time. I snapped again. And once again.

"I look in the mirror now," continued my 90 year old Auntie, "and I don't recognize myself." I'd begun to notice this about mirrors, too. But I couldn't say this to her.

When my Auntie was seven years younger than I am now and I was thirteen, I once ventured to speak to her about death. She interrupted me. "Death ? You're talking to me about death ?" Her voice dripped scorn. "Wait until you're my age. Then talk to me about death."

Later, I reviewed the images. I chose the one with the straightest smile and opened it in photoshop. My Auntie's face was beautiful. I was sure she'd approve. There was, however, a small skin fold, a bit of wattle, draped over the top of her black turtleneck. I fingered my own neck as I stared at my Auntie's wattle. I pondered and hesitated -- then Photoshopped it out. And, for good measure, clicked on the healing brush and removed the mole from her chin.


Saprophytes. Low, fleshy creatures that live on rot and relish putrefaction, they are scorned by their chlorotic cousins who subsist on water and light and air.

I have looked into the heart of the mushroom. It burns with a clean, blue, purifying flame.

I have looked into the depths of the chloroplast and found a sugar shack.

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