Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Coast Guard Beach

The crosshatched light has suffered 
all the way from Spain. Wind rattles
the flags at the coast guard station.
A few kites brave the gloom. Your footprints
impress little tide pools. Placing
my feet in them, I feel pebbles 
roll like eyeballs in whorls of sand.

A framework spiked from driftwood
huddles against the bluff. Carven
“LOCALS ONLY” warns away
the casual tourist. Charcoal
and a ring of fish-heads and shells
assert that varieties of hunger 
distinguish species from species. 

Despite the presence of your footprints
you’ve never walked this surly beach,
never committed yourself to solving
the presumptions of breaking surf.
Seven hundred miles offshore today
a tropical storm is rending charts
to detour shipping north and south.
If I followed your footprints 
far enough that storm would impale me. 

Framed by the driftwood structure I note
a shadow precisely like yours 
elongate against the grain of light 
and wonder that you’d impose yourself 
so boldly on such primal matter. 
You gain nothing but worship of stone,
weed and shell, an effort spent
to impress and comfort us both 
in some distant parallel plane.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spirit Faces

Touring graveyards in Chester,
Grafton, Westminster, I consider
the spirit faces engraved
by eighteenth-century carvers
probably inspired by Indian
petroglyphs at Bellows Falls.

The hot afternoon looks insipid,
cloud-hung but pale and na├»ve, 
the Great American Holiday
unfolding in thousands of cookouts.
Not a day to regard the dead—
their faces, round and dubious,
rising from the weathered slate
like soap bubbles blown by a child.

Their expressions embody doubts
not only about the afterlife
but about the aesthetics of death.
Even those rimmed with sun-like auras 
maintain at best a tentative gaze
back into the world they’ve left
and forward into the airiest
notion of something better.

Here’s one clearly dropping a tear,
the large but simplified eyes
blank with self-pity. And here
a married couple grimace
in their separate but paired orbits.
And here angel wings levitate
a surly and unwilling old soul. 

And last, in Middletown Graveyard
in Grafton, an inflated face
with pinched little features crowned
by carefully marcelled hairdo
and wearing a heart-brooch centered
under its chin attracts attention
from a pair of branch-bearing doves.
The heat dizzies. I slump on the grass
and note that the ranks of headstones
totter not like a mouthful
of unkempt teeth but like bundles
of illegible manuscript left
to fade in some further dimension
where no one has learned to read.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Photographing the Barns

The farm dogs greet and wriggle

like sausage in a pan. We’re friends.

I’ve come to photograph the barns

leaning into the view to the east,

where Fall Mountain bobs above trees

scruff and jagged as my beard.

The barns offer fistfuls of splinters,

rusty implements, buckets, sleds,

a Volkswagen in faded red

with a “Stop the Arms Race” sticker.

Bags of fertilizer and cement

huddle out of reach of weather.

Spiders decorative as doorknobs

waddle across elaborate webs.

The silo exclaims itself

in unpainted planks worn black

by tireless seasons. I point

and shoot and expect the results

to justify ignoring the dogs,

who regret every lost petting,

the chickens wriggling in dust baths,

the honeybees knee-deep in pollen.

The barns pose as formally

as possible. The sunlight inching

across the chipped and faded paint

feels tonic enough to salvage

the saddest of my varied lives,

The dogs, Spud and Jupiter,

nuzzle up. I pack the camera

into my tote bag and drop

to my knees to look more acutely

into their brown ceramic eyes.

Dog-thoughts blossom. The barns

sway in the solar wind. Chickens

ripple like living footballs.

Apple trees flutter, dropping petals,

and the early snow peas ripen.

The entire farm is a muscle

working itself to flatter

the simple demands of the land,

and the dogs and I tremble

as something below responds.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Broad Brook Garage

This little service station in Broad Brook, Connecticut, has long been one of my favorites.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Photographing a Junk Auto in the Woods

Burned and rusted to a turn,

the Studebaker has relaxed

into the forest. Birch saplings thread

through the punched-out windows.

Wasps have woven a nest in the springs

of the roasted upholstery.

The bakelite steering wheel has cracked

in an attractive snakeskin pattern.

The hood yawns with boredom. Beneath,

only the engine block remains,

an iron tombstone. Every part,

every wire, tube, or device,

carburetor, generator, vacuum,

fuel, and water pumps, long gone.

Posing you draped on this wreck

I revel in the contrast

and hope my photographs expose

the essence of both your wintry

post-Slavic grin and the grimace

of this fifty-year-old sedan.

You’re enjoying this notion

of art as devolution—

this vehicle having exhausted

its utility now embracing

the role of public sculpture.

But you too could achieve

the stasis of art, your dental work

perfected, your scruff of hair tinted

a lovely Halloween orange.

The light whispering through leaf-fall

and sudsing of the river flatter

your sleek, uncompromised figure;

and as you lean into the photo

you eclipse the morbid old car

and warp the space-time continuum,

rendering the past moot and the point

of light puckered in the camera

inexorable as a kiss.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

East Deerfield

End of March at the railroad yard.

Track branch off like broccoli,

the burnished rails bright enough

to critique unshielded eyes.

From the overpass I focus

on a string of diesel engines

parked near tall rusty silos.

A pair of sand towers suggests

salt and pepper shakers on stilts.

This Sunday the abandoned brick

signal tower looks like a tomb.

The ladderwork of yard tracks

hardly looks sturdy enough

to serve a viable commerce.

I’ve photographed this scene before,

but never caught such absolute

stasis, so much failed momentum.

The yard stands almost vacant,

no more than a dozen freight cars

looking useless in the glare. I kneel

and peer straight down at the tracks

passing under the bridge. Imagine

leaping to the roof of a boxcar

as the train passed. Surely I’d slip

and tumble between the cars

and many wheels would slice me

into portions modest enough

for the naked soil to digest.

But I won’t try it, not today

with no trains moving and the black

diesels gazing down their snouts

as if deep in contemplation.

I snap my photos and enjoy

the trill of sun on polished steel,

then rise from my artistic crouch

and stretch myself like a carnivore,

the rails complex as the rib cage

of my best and latest kill.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Crew Change

At Palmer a pair of freight

locomotives parks beside

a halted Amtrak passenger train.

One’s green and yellow, one sports

black and white zebra stripes blunted

with a bold red nose to contrast

with the blue and silver wash

of the Amtrak engine. Crew change,

of course. I snap a few photos,

bracing myself against a wind

strong enough for camera shake.

All of my photographs become

self-portraits featuring red

nosed locomotives, main lines

skewered toward the vanishing point,

passenger cars as graceful

as lengths of sewer pipe. I press

the shutter to assert myself

against the faded spring glare

that threatens to absorb me.

The locomotives grunt and groan

and the paired freight units creep

away around the curve to hide

in the New England Central yard.

As the Amtrak train bulls ahead

a bored passenger spots me

peering from the embankment and waves;

and I'm feeble enough to respond,

relieved that I’m still visible,

at least to a stranger’s gaze.