We need better images.
—Werner Herzog in Werner Herzog Eats His Shoes
If the world is mysterious, the truthfulness of the image
consists in carrying within it a certain mystery as well.
Across from the bus stop at Myrtle and Franklin Aves,
a barbershop is framed by brick houses, one yellow,
one sun-faded red, both stained with rust.
On the shop roof, off-set to keep the composition askew,
a white chimney points like an apostle’s finger
toward sheet metal balconies where shirts dangle from the railings
in place of prayer flags. Wind works them, wringing
grace and wash-water on whomever waits below.
Black wires craze the sky. From their nest in the shop’s eave,
starlings poke out their heads, like people peeping out of windows
in an icon of Christ walking the Via Dolorosa.
See how he suffers? I ask the birds, but they are too busy
to notice, sitting on their little circle of eggs.
We’re all aware of each other’s eyes
on the city bus. Each face renders its character well.
Rublevs, Goyas, Freuds, a Titian-esque Diane.
Bacon’s Screaming Pope is seated at the wheel.
How to capture the spirit in a glance,
isn’t that the portrait maker’s dilemma?
beneath the skin, show the tell-tale skull.
At the same time, recover an expression
of the child.
The bus stops for a red light and I look out the window.
A young girl is standing with her back pressed against the wall
of a bodega, both hands splayed over the bricks.
Next to her, two men lean into the April sunshine drinking sodas.
She peeks around the corner then pulls back,
tensing, smiling. Curious, I sit forward and see
a toddler in a baseball cap waddling beside a fawn colored pug.
Then the bus pulls me away…
The botanic garden is crowded this spring morning.
It’s hard to move around. People float along the paths
as though their feet have been erased.
The gravel covering the ground is all that’s left
of those marks that were their legs.
A flaneur, I circle the Japanese pond.
Someone hidden behind a stand of yews
is reciting an old poem:
The thought frightens us
That this planet with all its darkening geese
Was created not for union but for separation.1
What do you think of that? I ask my shadow.
Where a poplar overhangs the path,
my shadow crouches beside the water.
We look together at one branch,
half-submerged, leaves and all, in the pond.
The leaves move slowly with a current,
and catch the sunlight, shimmering,
a sunken treasure. Without a splash,
my shadow slides in,
and I, alone now, watch
red-eared sliders swim like dislocated islands
through the pond. One who went ahead of them bathes
its out-stretched neck in the sun, clutching a rock.
A trail of ants leads uphill to a Shinto shrine.
There, the statue of a fox sits, waiting.
Its sculptor followed the wood-grain to shape the fur.
The ears are rain-worn. Ants have chewed into its paws.
Spirit, I say, teach me the right prayers.
Where I come from gods are indifferent,
and I don’t know the words. ∎