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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Littoral

NPS photo, "A woman stands alone at
the edge of the wilderness breach," 2014

What had been full is empty,
the animal having gone away
somewhere, no trace except
for a scar where it clung tight
to the nacre. The emptiness
left gathers light: bowled over,
shining side up, half-buried in
sand at neap tide. As if it were
an offertory on an altar of wet
smooth shoreline; as if it was
a clue to where you’ve gone,
this cast-off abalone shell full
of nothing but wind and sky.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Impermanence

John Constable, "Brighton Beach," 1824, V&A

For B.

It may start with a blow, a deep bruise
that overwhelms the body’s ability to
repair itself and clear the damage. Not
rare: the sharply stubbed toe, a barked
shin. If the injury’s deep within muscle,
close to the bone, muscle can literally
ossify. If it’s far from the heart, leaving
tissue starved (crushed capillaries leak,
can no longer bear up), the bruise may
no longer be a bruise, though the dying,
dusky blue’s nearly a match in hue. You,
now your own memento mori as angry
red snakes crawl up a limb, hissing some-
thing worse: poison in the blood. Sepsis.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Demo

Nicholas Poussin, "The Finding of Moses," 1638

It’s one way to show how software works, but it’s
really about making stories, telling tales. Long ago,
a swaddled babe was found among the bulrushes.

Or, once upon a time, a little girl lived with three old
aunties in a cottage on the hill, and they sent her to
the dark forest to gather mushrooms.
There will be
dangers to face, monsters to outwit or transform,
the heroine must puzzle out a coded secret before
the moon rises—to save her own life, to save her
aunties who’ve been turned into birds, to win a gift
of understanding the crows’ language—or to restore
the lost data in three clicks, so neatly done it seems
like magic. Abstraction, concision, symbolic language
encoded, spells cast. What was Aaron's rod but a
demo, a snaking proof of concept for the Pharaoh?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Windfall

Mark Shirley, "The Old Apple Orchard,
Wisbech St. Mary
," 2008

The old apple tree had never been tended
to (or hadn’t been, for decades)—branches
clotted with suckers almost big as its trunk,
tangled water-sprouts crowned with nests,
all of it too tall, stretched and reaching for
more sun. It welcomed us with a thousand
apples, but before we could say hello the
weight of what it bore sheared off a lateral
limb, smashed a neighbor’s fence. Our first
week in the cottage: what a windfall there
was, the ground covered with apples, bees
and wasps drunk on golden pomace rotting
in the August heat. So this year, we made a
careful reduction. Arborists with chainsaws
took down height and bulk; it’ll take another
two years, more young sawyers in the tree,
more chainsaw and pruning work, until the
tree fits itself better. This year, it’s resting—
only four apples made a windfall, each soft,
fermented, sticky. But the fifth I plucked off
a high branch, more green than gold, and it
came away easy to the pole even if not quite
ripe. A blessing given free; a promise to keep.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Remembrance

Terracotta statuette of a girl playing ball, The Met

A reverse liquid, these bees, swirling
down into a moist leaf-duff bottleneck,
carrying nectar and letters for all our
dead. Our dead, having died before this
rainless desert summer, our dead whose
memory brings another recollection—
the smell of oiled leather. Tack-scent
clinging to my fingers as they clenched,
gripped the pommel tight (the saddle
slipping, rolling, cinch loose)—a sour
old horse trying to scrape me off on the
side of a farm truck. Glove-scent (such
happy magic) as I took it down from a
shelf, loosened the cord that bound it
up around a softball all winter, waiting
for the glove to be softened, reshaped,
until it could do nothing except snag
every errant infield bounce, its deep
pocket a perfect nest for every catch.

And now the sun’s set and the bees have
gone, pouring themselves into the earth.
I’m too parched to cry for my dead, so I
place this near where I saw the bees last,
this crumpled slip of paper; and my fingers
become the cord that binds memory up,
lacing it, becoming the seams, the round
sun burning my palms as we play catch.