Pictures of ?

“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” – Antonio Porchia (1886-1968

A strange item among my mother’s remains:
A manila envelope labeled, in a bold print scrawl,
“Pictures of ?” askew on its container,
starting roughly at a level where an address might be
and heading upwards toward where a stamp belonged.
Neither an address nor a stamp are here,
just the scrawl begging for some resolution
not found during her life, except when she acquired it—
the pictures—contained within,
secured with a metal clasp common to these envelopes
(is there a company that makes these pliant fingers
meant to bend, while the other digits grasp the sallow weave
in a death grip, protecting both mysteries and the irrelevant
with the same reverence, a clutching finger and thumb
expecting to be pinched away and hoping all the same to remain
in place?).

Bent away, the clasps don’t break, they yield and reveal
pieces of cardboard holding tight to a well-shot black-and-white
of “?,” a young man in a well-tailored double-breasted suit,
right hand in pants pocket, left hand dangling, fingers curled in
towards the thigh, photographer’s imprimatur low in the right-hand corner:
“Rice,” then “Montreal,” an artist’s signature and culture
cut into the print in a practiced, stylish statement
of artistry, ownership, pride,
enhanced on the reverse by “Rice Studio Limited—For Duplicates No.”—
and then the number “73356-7” on a stamped line, followed by “Montreal, Can.,”
all in an oval, except for the penciled numbers,
graphite as durable as the ink upon which they sit,
a good seventy or eighty years since they were placed there with care
by James Rice, or an assistant (who knows?),
but in the hopes that “?” would call now and then and order
one or two, maybe more, for his family, friends, the people who knew him,
knew he was not a question mark on a manila vault,
but a young guy in a new suit, looking a distance past the querying lens,
past whatever immediate future he faced into a time when everyone he knew
would welcome him back into their homes, into their rituals
of waking, working, eating, sleeping, speaking of life and its hardships,
partnering with the people he cared for,
living an anonymous life in the presence of everyone else.

And here he is again, sitting (this time), in the same studio,
but in a uniform of some type, a left shoulder patch with the word
“American” embroidered into a rectangle, an ellipsis into other,
unknown words, fading off into a past of service to some endeavor.
The young man smiles deep into the lens this sitting,
peering past the convex glass clenched in its mount,
his face, shoulders, arms, and chest contracted into a pinpoint of light,
then inverting, blossoming, and arriving at the emulsion
for sufficient time that the chemicals capture a part of his soul
within whatever device the photographer wielded,
into whatever film was selected for that man, that day,
for another fine portrait of an unknown fellow—
a fresh enlistee? on leave? duty fulfilled?—
smiling with confidence that good things were yet to come
or had already treated him with the kindness he deserved.
Like so many young men before and after these “Pictures of ?,”
this one has gone into the pantheons of memories
held by other people who, in their turn, have disappeared
among all of those hundreds, thousands, millions, and billions
who were everything they hoped they could be
or nothing they ever expected to become
or most usually, I suspect, something in between,
when a photo or two was planned and stored, perhaps forever,
perhaps for those who knew them,
perhaps for those who would wonder someday
who they could have possibly been,
and will we all fade, not like an indelible photograph,
but like a memory held precious by those near
and forgotten, like our own births and deaths, by the rest of the world.

 

Create

Natty

Uniform

Distant

It is a remote possibility that someone will see this and know who this is. I did an image search using several image search engines and came back empty. The photographer (I believe the same photographer took both) was James Rice who is well-known in Canada and in Montreal for many portraits of hockey players (or so I discovered in my searching). I have no reason to believe that this guy was a hockey player, but aside from a suspicion that he served in the “American… (maybe Red Cross?),” I haven’t been able to find an identical shoulder patch that confirms this. Anyway, dear readers, puzzle away. If you know something, please share your knowledge below. I hope the fellow and a long and happy life.

Imprints

I bear the imprints…

I bear the imprints,
deep and broad,
of the strap he wielded
with his words.
Sliced into the dura mater,
dribbles, runnels, rivulets,
channels course and creep
through each thought,
trenching a path for patterns
in actions and deeds,
written and spoken
verbiage like locusts
cutting through wheat,
leaving grain and chaff
alike fluttering in dust.

Like most elders,
he lunged at shadows,
wraiths imagined,
yet real to him,
he fought reflections,
crisp, bright fragments of light,
the blood he drew,
at times thick, dark,
often a spiraling vapor,
figments flecking amber,
in motion and frozen,
always a mystery—
to him and me—
their intent or effect
never known, not to know.

Each time he spoke,
it was a choice
between speaking at all
and regretting the attempt,
carefully selecting each word
from his enormous intellect,
then stumbling forward,
reflexively placing his hands
before his face
so his nose and brow
would go unscarred.
His discussions about
the burdens he shouldered
during an accomplished life
an example to us all
of feet poorly placed
on a gravel fundament
shifting in dry sand
on a dim and windy day.

Gray

Pattern

Featured image by James.mcd.nz

Space/Time

In a place without time
there is no story to tell

In a place without time
there is no story to tell,
all persons, places,
firm and free,
transfixed and stubborn
in the silent still.

That which would move
does not flinch a fiber,
those who would try
cannot move a muscle,
particles that spin and bounce
do neither in their torpor,
rusted through the core,
the rust can creep no more.

Motion needs time
to step through its dance.
Time needs motion
until the clock stops.
Think of one,
you’ve set them both
racing towards
a distant goal.


This thing popped into being while I was reading the sixth “brief lesson” in Carlo Rovelli’s Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. That sixth lesson is titled “Probability, Time, and the Heat of Black Holes.” The tiny thing I’ve presented above addresses the unimaginable and, thus, is a paradox.

Timely
Continue reading “Space/Time”

I’ve misplaced my spectacles!

To lose or not to lose, that is the question….

I’ve misplaced my spectacles, where have they gone?
I’ve looked on two tables flanking my chair,
I’ve checked on my desk where I place all the mail,
I’ve scanned the floor where they might have escaped,
gotten down on my knees to see if they lay
masked by a book that fell when I slept,
I’ve picked up the chair to see if they crawled
away when they fell off my nose when I napped,
I grabbed up an article I forgot that I’d read
and threw it away, but the lenses weren’t there,
I peered in a box that once held a mouse,
not one with fur and whiskers and feet,
but one with buttons and lasers and wheels,
I searched in the kitchen, on the stove, in the fridge,
I considered the cabinets—why would they hide there?
But they weren’t where they should be,
they could be anywhere!

I went to the bathroom and glanced at the sink,
the toilet tank cover didn’t hold them at all,
I gazed at the tub, but I don’t wear them to bathe,
I viewed where the ointments sit in a row,
I ogled the t.p., stored in its stack,
the rolls stayed silent, the glasses weren’t there.
I went to the car and checked over the visor,
I scoured the floor, even under the seats,
I got out a ladder and went up to the roof,
the gutters were filled with debris, not eyewear,
the whole roof was bare of spectacles too.
I called nine-one-one and they laughed in my ear,
I tried four-one-one and they hadn’t a clue.
I asked my neighbors if they’d seen them around,
they seemed quite concerned, a bit alarmed,
but had not spotted the glasses at all that day.
I finally gave up and went back inside.
They were where I had left them, where they belong.

Gone

On The Day

On the day…

On the day the whole sky was filled with rainbow light,
someone said “I don’t like the color red,”
another said “I don’t like the color green,”
another said “I don’t like all these colors lighting up the sky,”
and another said “I wish rainbows came in more natural colors,”
but most people just stayed quiet and smiled
at the beautiful sky full of rainbows
and wished for another day
as beautiful as this.

On the day it rained honey in glimmering drops while the sky shone,
someone said “this is sticky! I need a bath!”
another said “this is too sweet! It should be in a jar for later!”
another said “if this stuff is so good, why do bees let us have it?”
and another said “I like my sugar in tiny parcels I can open as I need them,”
but most people opened wide and
let the golden dew fall into their hearts,
course through their blood, infusing them with
the essence of flowers and sunlight.

On the day the air smelled of jasmine and roses in all its parts,
someone said “what happened to the smoke from burning forests?”
another said “I liked the air better when it reeked of oil,”
another said “I want that stench of cattle farms back!”
and another said “nothing smells better than that new car smell,”
but most people just filled their lungs and let it out,
and did it again and again, relishing the way their chests,
filled up with all the invisibility of delicate scents,
then emptied to prepare for another gulp of what the day had in store.

On the day the earth had mountains and valleys and rivers and oceans,
someone said “what are these lumps? They are too high to climb!”
another said “if I walk into this valley, I have to walk back out!”
another said “the water in this river is cold and the fish bite!”
and another said “the ocean is not a good color and the waves are too large!”
but most people saw the beauty around them
and were astonished that they found themselves alive in such a place
with eyes to accept light and mouths that could gape in wonder
and a brain that kept impressions and memories when the wonders weren’t there.

Fortune 
Enthusiasm 
Calm 

Featured image: Sam Valadi Rainbow uploaded to Flick April 2, 2015

Distant Freedom

She was just a girl,…

She was just a girl,
just like any other
but in the second class
of the day—English—
we sat at the back wall
in a room like many others,
desks pulled together,
whispering with the
whole class hearing
what we said or
how we said
whatever it was
we deemed so central
to our learning.

“We can hear everything,
young man” said our teacher,
and that stopped us
for the second it took
to realize our volume
needed adjustment
but our focus was just
where it belonged,
learning from each other
what it meant to be young
and yearning to be free
in a world that would not
allow it to be.

Waiting

Featured Image: Empty Classroom (Max Klingensmith, 2008, some rights reserved)

Solitary Minds

A crisp automatic fire…

A crisp automatic fire,
the quick wick smell of metals stressed by heat,
click on, click off,
the persistent smell of
lighter fluid, fuel oil, natural gas, silver polish,
some meant to burn, some meant to gleam.

Nocturnal breathing, stifled breath,
stopping at each scent,
lingering quotes on a random night
dreaming for sleep and silent dreams.

Light paper leaves turned in tinctured fingers,
a lighter flashed alive, solvent smell,
acrid smoke, twitching noses,
withered smoke, a choking cough.

Sweat-stained khaki gloves, knitted fingers spread,
a tam o’ shanter, brown, lopsided, a bulging crown,
too new to throw away, too old to save,
the chain-link leash, a tooth-marked leather loop,
past and future teeth begging the mistress
to come out for a walk and again for another.

A deep oak sea of grain,
whorls still and shifting,
captured in an oval dining room,
four chairs, four arms, four cushions,
two young, two old, too strained, too trapped,
amber would capture the motion in this room,
sticky, hot, frozen, lucent,
cracks and clotted spots obscuring the view.

Two polished silver trivets, one with a missing screw,
one with a blemish that will not polish out,
one with a bowl of rice,
one with a gravy boat, the brown drowning
in the boat, pulling it to the bottom of the night.

A cat curled in muslin sleep,
mocha light shines from her calico back.
Earlier, she crept toward conflict, bristling danger,
a bird perched outside didn’t know the death coil
fixing it from the window sill, a serpent’s slitted eyes.

Eyes do not exist now, fur lies still, flies not;
windows watch when the light pours through
and change the shapes as night comes,
the cat moves through, a dark soundless slink
to check for mice and other scuttling sounds.

White light, afternoon sun killing shadows on the run,
mote lines contrasting with the shaded shapes
an oak cupboard, sideboard, chest.
A Spanish queen portrayed, stiffened in canvas,
cracks cluttering her face, once a beauty,
now another lost note to a history no one knows.

A large copper boiling pot with a handle
ready for the fireplace from a distant time,
once stocked with turnips and broth,
carrots and thyme, cabbages and cloves,
no contents now but a crust not cleaned,
a cauldron for a manor house.
No longer. Never again.

An oval control where circles cannot go,
a circle confines where lines are all that holds,
the oak is oval, breaking twice at the gate-leg,
leaves in place, falling to rest in gravity’s embrace.
The brown table, centered, bright and old
in light and dark, supplies a place where spirits
draw near, each to each, an oval coaxing pulses
to pump as one, a space with four distinct fates,
four hearts alive until they pump no more.

Subdued