Friday, March 11, 2005

After Image Picking

I have a little over a year's worth of photo albums lined up on the floor of my study, chronologically, their spines labeled with season and year. There are 25 of them and they take up a goodly extent of floor space. There are 5 or six albums for each season, except for winter, of which there are eight, plus six envelopes of unfiled winter snapshots and a still a week -- a week of vacation no less -- left of photographic winter.

It's little wonder that I am thinking of Frost's "After Apple-Picking," his great poem of surfeit, weariness and resignation.

For I have had too much
of apple-picking:I am overtired
of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch
cherish in hand, let down and not let fall.

Last night as I drifted off to sleep a thought -- a phrase, really -- occured to me, that seemed to so aptly describe my recent frame of mind that I got up and wrote it down on the margin of a random piece of junk mail on my desk.

...standing on the shore of oneself...

As with many night thoughts, it shows its true face in the morning light: banal, a little muddled, not quite coherent. But the sense of it feels true -- I am standing on a shore facing ocean, horizon, sky, everything else -- the myriad things, the thousand photos of the myriad things, the hundred poems about the myriad things -- behind me. A radical simplification, post-deciduous to the extreme. Even the "myself" standing there is more a part of what's behind than the vista up front. The little flickering observer is like a candle stuck in the sand. About to be blown out at any moment, then over, then swept off into the abyss as casually as a hand sweeps crumbs off a table.

I'm not surprised that the starkest season is heavily overrepresented in my array of photo albums. There's a thematically relevant word: Albumblatt. Album leaf. Something to do with collections of piano music. Pages blowing in the wind. Torn out and blown away by the wind.

No eye, no ear, no nose, no tongue, no body and no mind.

Earlier last night I'd attended the Jazz Composers Alliance sax and brass ensemble chamber concert. I watched and listened to the brilliant players improvising, astonished, as usual, by the beauty and complexity of musical genesis. Thich Nhat Hanh's concept of interbeing seemed to apply. He describes how, for example, bread contains sunshine, soil nutrients, rainwater, the labor of farmers and bakers, and the experience of the one who eats the bread -- it's a web, a multifarious happening, not simply a discrete loaf.

The music seemed to be a similar nexus comprised of the body/mind and training and practice of the players, the musical notation of the composers, similarly determined by their body/mind and training and the whole musical tradition (and, collectively, the JCA's is an amazingly varied one -- from blues, bebop, avant-garde, third stream and classical, to Indian music, afro-pop, klezmer and even throat singing). All of this comes to fruition in the act of improvising, including, of course, each player's listening and instantaneous response to the other players.

I, the listener, whose hearing is similarly determined by my own body/mind and musical/extra-musical experience, felt as if I were in the midst of a miraculous blooming field. That the whole lovely little parish hall with its dark, vaulting rafters and carvings and comfortable old-church feel was a garden or meadow, a complex ecology of sound and hearing.

That humans, anatomically, have a front and a back determined my night thought. Just as millenia of intersecting forces selected the propitious front-and-back model human out of any number of other, less favorable designs. It also contains an implicit metaphor for time. Time before and time after, as Eliot said. Time in back, time in front. I perch on an infinitesimal strand between two eternities. I am always amused by the Cloud of Unknowing author's rather exasperated, slightly sarcastic passage on the folly of regarding Heaven as being "up." Language embodies. It's a matter of gravity. The attracton between bodies. Interbody. Up, down.

It's a playground.

Look, there I am, in the small inlet under the trestle bridge, ice crunching under my boots as I peer through my viewfinder into quiet, rust colored water, watching the fronds of a feather undulate slowly in a tiny current.

Look -- there I am again -- peering deep into a mass of bamboo pulled down by snow, entranced by the elegant, shadowy green dowels of the prostrating stems.

And, again, crouched next to my desk, trying to capture a felicitous constellation of morning light, rooftop, moon, chimney and sharp shadow that caught my eye.

And finally, me again, eagerly reviewing the images that return in thick envelopes from the photo lab, slipping them into the glassine sheaths of the photo album, calling them up in their other, airier incarnation -- inlucidation ? -- on the bright phosphors of the computer screen, darkening and rotating one image a bit (won't I ever learn to hold the camera straight ?), cropping, sharpening, cropping again.

Cherish in hand, lift down and not let fall.

What better way to rest the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind than to turn seaward on a windless, tideless, waveless, moonless, night ?

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