“What is that you express in your eyes? It seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life.” ― Walt Whitman
The face does not speak of its pain or its sorrows, it tells no story, it attempts to recreate no other reality; it is its own book cover, designed by no one, to enthrall or to hook in; there is no title and no blurb but the author stands before me looking back with the features with which I’ve become so familiar – eyes, nose, mouth – seeming so much like me yet strange too, familiar but unfamiliar enough to arouse an ineffable wonder, the primitive man who sees his face reflected back at him in a still pond for the very first time, unconsciously bringing his hand to his cheek to test its uncanny presence before him. Are you me?
I say to myself, we are not adrift in these fragile ships, as it appears we must be, inside the only ships we know, these mortal frames of water and dust, these bodies, these ghosts. And the words ring true. They do more than ring, they chime, and build a melody of truth. I need only look. Not at the faces but beyond. Something else is shining through all those protective layers. What bone cannot contain. What skin cannot hide. How subtle is the art of texture and line that weaves the illusion of lineage, of time, of ephemeral boundaries – the seas and mountains that kept us apart, that contained us long enough to produce pockets of shapes and hues. But only that. Only the relevant surfaces once so crucial to the tribal brain. No longer. Denial will continue, but the soul cries out from behind its veil of flesh and it is heard. This world has awakened. It snoozes in the warm comfort of it long slumber, but it is up and no longer can it sleep. No longer can it believe the dream.
“I become any presence or truth of humanity here, And see myself in prison shaped like another man, And feel the dull unitermitted pain. “
– Walt Whitman
And now to the woman in the photograph. Who is she? Will a name help you to see her better? Will a story? Do you really need handles? There is a story here. Look closely and you’ll see it, if you haven’t already. You can see its beginning, and once this dawns upon you, you will also see its end. The thing is, it’s your story too. We are incarnated into containers that are stamped with expiration dates. We. A pronoun which denotes a collective identity, a self, apart from these containers, these gloves we wear, for a time. Where we came from before, and where we go after we leave is another story. But we know we are here briefly. We all agree on that. We know that any given day might be our last in the glove. For most us that day exists in some blurry and distant future, far enough away from Now so as to be easily dismissed. For others the day has a number. The finiteness of this life takes on a particular clarity. Our expiration dates become readable.
Pauletta. That’s all you need to know for now. Mother. Grandmother. Painter. Wife. Labels, labels, labels. But I suppose I have to give you labels, as if her face alone is not sufficient to humanize her. Empathy, it seems, requires plot-points so as to convince us of how alike we really are beneath our skin, despite the glaringly obvious similarities that are ubiquitous between us without ever having to speak or read a single word.
Look. Don’t just glance. Look. You know who that is? You know who that is. That’s you. I don’t mean that metaphorically. That IS you. If you think you can turn your head and look at something else, if you believe you can step away from this screen and, by virtue of what seems like a physical separation, convince yourself otherwise, then you are still dreaming. But there’s a part of you that knows the truth, even if you can’t articulate it. Even if all your senses are in a riotous conspiracy against it.
I no longer need convincing. I can see it beyond seeing. I see it in the trees and I see it in the faces. I see it in shadows and I see it in the sunshine. I see it in the motes of floating dust. No barrier exists that can convince me. No shape, no trick of physiology, no matter how alien or strange. But mostly it’s the faces. The landscapes of the spirit, where I can see us, fractured, in every eye and tooth. I can see it in the camera, in the photographs. I am not just collecting random bits of ephemera anymore. Decaying matter, the living earth, artifacts of intelligent life. Proof, proof, proof. Of what? Of death? Of the fragile finite frame we inhabit together?
It’s us. It’s you and me and them I’m trying to assemble. Like a little boy who smashed a vase into four billion pieces and is trying to put it back together before his mom comes home. Oh look, here’s a piece. I got one. They say you want to work out the edges first, the corners, then fill in the middle. But there are no edges, are there? No borders. No master frame. This isn’t some covered bridge I’m trying to recreate. Jesus help me. I’m trying to put back together the original Son of God with nothing but roll of tape.
o O o