Postcard photos: Flaneur
Pink and green buildings of Prague coloring the others from Singapore,
slippage of the mind over stacks of postcards, a pile-up of monuments
from wide-ranging adjectives spilling in an inky scrawl:
—cubist, flanking, crumbling—
flipping from one to the next like rushing from place to place,
ruined and at cross-purposes: the dome of brick laid on the streets of Marrakech,
buttresses of Paris propping up Rome in painted colors
on the flip side pictures of tents in the midst of sentences
a jostle against strangers in the street, a blank encounter of eyes
a fragment of life in unsullied presentation
. . . bombarded by
inassimilable stimuli in the midst of the fugitive and infinite
bricks in cross-hatch, a rush to the plaza, gesticulating, homing,
a fountain, a flay of water and dislocation as threshold
“having come, along with the corner of
the rue du Saint-Esprit, to wait for us at the end of these unfamiliar streets,”
as if stepping off an uneven paving stone and for a moment hung in air
as vague as a sketch of bridges over the Vitava river and as specifically alluring.
In the same way, my days in Venice, which intellect had not been able to give back,
were dead for me until last year, when crossing a courtyard I came to a standstill among the
glittering uneven paving stones…. I felt the flutter of a past that I did not recognize…
Does staring into the black and white contours of a photo
enable a rapprochement with the unreality of one’s own life,
a way to see peculiarity as a back staircase in an old house in a city
so memorably far, dark but navigable, the stairs lacking undulation,
items strewn across a landscape, fixed and determined,
the borders of history and frame set and watching her feet going up & down,
counting the risers that are always 16 despite the deformations of dreams
and always scuffed and smelling of dust, the taste of a local architect
influenced by city regulations and his sense of propriety and then turning
the page to an image of the purported documents of an ordinary scene,
a few weeds wavering in the foreground and the jagged outlines against a sky,
a 7pm time of day, summer, a particular dry rush of air,
and a cutout of one’s own days called up, and the inability to get at
the unlocatable bereavement left on the stairs to be carried up when you go.
The actual world: 2 photos, 1 film
The actual world pushes a shrub of Ceanothus, drained of its purple, against
the picture plane as though someone missing all the cues moves in close,
breathes stale air, messy as the splay of branches, undignified by placement,
its insistence reduced by an irregular shadow & clouds.
Some child has put sticky fingers in your hair, is sitting on the edge of your coat,
is the child whose awkward stance is your own shoes
pointing pigeon-toed in a photograph you remember the awkward itch of.
Also called California lilac, the plant thrives on neglect, the imperfect conditions
of a hot wind sweeping across deserts in the movie of so much violence
the children live on it, designing the breakdown that’s already occurred,
staring like statues into the ruin they were trying hard to make &
dysfunctional as machines putting together home-made bombs.
In the distance a shapeless range of mountains almost indistinguishable,
a child whose face is fading into a past both negligible and hopelessly benign.
Martha Ronk is the author of a memoir, a collection of short fiction, Glass Grapes and Other Stories,and eight books of poetry, most recently, Vertigo, a National Poetry Series selection 2008. Her forthcoming, Partially Kept, will be published by Night Boat Books 2011.