September Notebook II

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At noon I shift  to my right at the table. I should settle in the chair now directly across from me, to the west, which offers more shade below the umbrella, but there’s a wasp boring a hole in one of the teak rungs, and anyway I’m too lazy to move. I work this way whenever the weather permits. Which means, most of the summer and much of the fall I am working out on the back deck, lollygagging, and making my way counterclockwise around the table, with my laptop, under the umbrella, so as not to get burned by the sun. By one o’clock I should be on the northern side, but I won’t sit there as my back would be to the street, and I’d have to twist my whole self to see what’s going on in the neighborhood, whilst the whole neighborhood can see me sitting in my chair doing nothing.

Today, the air is cooler and there’s a soft, easterly breeze, which is most pleasant after this summer’s stifling heat and humidity. I’ve had my two coffees, my big bowl of flax and blueberries soaked in coconut milk, and I am full and satisfied, except for the fact that I haven’t yet written one word of my lecture. I am thinking about how I am going to tell my advisor, Susan Cheever, that I still haven’t written one word of my lecture. (Hopefully, I’ll write at least one word by the end of September.)

I am thinking about how to begin. How to begin? What is it I want to say (never mind thinking about the actual saying, the utterance of the words I will write, before an audience—of super-learned people—which is terrifying in and of itself)? This is always the hardest part. What to say! At least I have settled on a topic: Photography. Which is an odd topic for a lecture about literature, but what I’m talking about is photography and literature—the photograph as framed memory, vision and language, history and narrative—key elements of story: setting, time, imagery, tension, perspective, climax, resolution.

While the process differs, photography and writing both capture and represent the human condition—its beauty and horrors, community, isolation, destruction, rebirth—beginning to end, birth to death, dust to dust. Of course, I need to become somewhat of an expert on the subject to do this, and an expert (or scholar) I am not. I have stacks of books to read. There’s a plethora of essays on photography—Barthes, Benjamin, Berger, Derrida, Sontag, Strand. Some I’ve read, like Barthes—who saw death as the eidos of every photograph—others I wonder if I’ll ever get to. Oh, what to tell Susan! That, this month, thus far I’ve set up an online photo gallery of my work, and I’m in the throws of an intense sunflower series, and I wander, wander, WANDER? All the time? And tomorrow I want to take the train to New York just so I can have sex with my peripatetic husband? (Look, teens in the house and traveling are obstacles.) Well, I also want to go to a few art galleries to examine photos by Dorothea Lange and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and, you know, maybe lollygag a bit more… Dear god I feel a panic attack coming on. What to tell Susan!

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September Notebook

Image 7

From the Field.

She sees them.

They stand next to one another, tucked in a narrow channel, in the opposite field. They are tall and strapping, and she doesn’t remember them ever looking so well-cultivated.

They talk to one another. Ask questions like, “Which way’s the wind blowing?” Even though it’s evident, by the way in which their heads bow, and the angle at which the grass streaks across the pasture, that the wind rushes westward, waves goodbye, teases their earthbound bodies. But perhaps they are confused, because many of them no longer look directly at the rising sun. It is late summer, and the time has passed.

The manner in which they all gesture under the sun, their bodies arching to the left, to the right, make them look as if they are the parenthetical acknowledging themselves. The youngest—a statuesque fellow—is in a quiet moment of contemplation, We’re here for the duration, he thinks. It is not a terrible thing to know one’s destiny. The youngest one has never pedaled a bike or steered a tractor or, even, been to school (though he’s been schooled in nature and his nature has been schooled) but he is blessed with the color of summer. And he is as wise as the old one hunching over at the end.

Clouds shaped like sharks swim across the sky, pressing a shade over the field, and cooling the evening air, causing the young one to shiver. He shakes the dried pollen from his locks. “Well look up at that, Pops,” he says to the old one. “Just a second ago that sun was as yellow as an egg yolk, but now it looks like we’re in for a soaker.”

“What do ya say now?” pipes the old one. “You say I’m some kind of sucker?”

The young one chuckles; his youthful countenance betrays what he knows: the golden rays that frame their faces will soon start to fade and crimp, and the rains and wind will scatter the seeds of their soul. When this happens they will kiss the soil in praise. Another season’s work done—not merely incidental. Now, they have set down tracks, and the others, the ones who follow, will inherit the land. Only, he doesn’t think of this in that exact order or with those words. It is just a sense, a sense of knowing and accepting.

“No Pops, no. I’m saying it’s going to rain. Rain’s coming. Soon, soon.”

A breeze runs through the channel and their heads mop lightly against each other as they nod in agreement.

She turns to her car as the sky darkens, and tucks the camera in her black bag. Every time she stops by she hears their voices, silent as they are, there in the tall grasses of the field, blowing, blowing in the wind.