The Witness

I wander across the headlands. Rolling hills above the ocean waves. I can hear them to the west; the percussive rhythm of the one big heart. Winding trails, the tendrils of earth’s memory, from the passing of coyote, deer, men. It wasn’t until now that I remember I am a tracker. This is not a dream. It is vestigial, a chromosomal hit. What I follow I cannot name, and the subtle clues that guide me are often invisible. It is a feeling. It is a sense. The body is a compass coursing with an iron load. How could we not know North? I had to abandon my eyes not so long ago to discover I am no longer blind. There are forces at work here that even the greatest minds cannot fathom. There are Higgs Bosons. There is light. I follow the light with my primitive eyespots and wend my way through gashes in the crust of an improbable orb. I climb steep grades and skid in loose scree. It’s as if each strained step I take helps turn the globe, like some Gobi Desert rodent running the wheel. But I am not killing time, I am creating it. I am not trapped in time, I am time.

There is, in these hills overlooking the Pacific, a network of concrete bunkers built to fend off invaders from the East. They peer out from the cliff-sides with horizontal eye slits, a dead cyclops army, unmanned but not empty. I have visited them before and I return every few months to see the wild, travelling art shows contained within their darkened vaults. The taggers come here to proclaim themselves, to wield their brands and names. And sometimes what they leave behind is spectacular. Often I am the sole visitor in these remote galleries, where young men come to vent, to express, to create. I assume it’s mostly men. The art exudes a masculine swagger, an adolescent bravado; the energy of stunted, forgotten boys. And I among them. Nameless, yearning, trying to find a shape, an image, a form to fit into. Affirming an identity through squiggles of colored pigment spewed from a nozzle the diameter of a pinhole, held under pressure, compressed in an aluminum can that is, not ironically, about the size of a Colt ’45 tall-boy.

In Florence I have stood before the David. In Amsterdam I stood before Van Goghs. And I tell you there is no less of a miracle here in these killing-tombs, converted to museums. They are all minds turned inside-out. Sometimes I squat in the rubble and weep for the boys who go nameless, whose art will never be featured in a book, whose hands are stained with ochre and cobalt, who skulk through the night, their backpacks rattling with Krylon cannisters, to the smell of cigarettes and wild sage with the ocean pulsing like a drum, and I envy them their anonymity, and I envy them their urges and release, and I envy them their acceptance of impermanence, their Navajo sand-paintings that will, within the month, be erased, and I envy them their doppelganger handles and their underground renowned.

My job is to record it, preserve it, show it to you. I am their servant and yours. My camera is a witness. I am a witness, a rogue and travelling witness to all that is ineffable and miraculous in the story of the known world.

o O o

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