after Imogen Cunningham
She had studied the art of the tea ceremony
in Nagasaki before the war
and said that, although technically perfect,
she lacked something—
the translator struggled for a bit
then settled on sad sentience,
but it was more—the beauty
of imperfection, the absence
of desire, a hint of perishability.
Something I search for
here on Geary Street all dusted up
in midmorning light—jamming, shattering
glorious in the broken windows of an abandoned shop.
When I first started taking pictures I was terrified
of missing things, I struggled to capture
the haze that collects over a morning
spent making love, tried to keep
the thumbprint shadow under the nub
of his collarbone. Now I consider the light
its shifting syntax, the way the glass adds
a playful grammar, before I swing
my camera off my shoulder. Now he is just
a ghost I draw through dripping fingers,
flashes of white on the negative
bring choked love-calls to my throat.
If I get the angle right,
this photo will have three layers of glass
and my reflection nested in architectural lines:
the machinery of my hands
the ruin of my face.
The quality the woman spoke of is elusive
and must contain that which is dying
and that which is exuberantly alive.
She said she never achieved it.
She stopped practicing
after the bomb killed her family.
Watching the film she brought I wondered
what could I give her
for her story
for her sorrow.
Why use a machine to make a bomb
into a brilliant moon that resolves
silently in majestic clouds?
All around me
I stand here
in this back alley
finding not perfection
not tranquility surrounding emptiness,
but the memory of his face
turning from the dark hallway
into the bedroom where a window
illuminates his cheekbone
darkens his eyes.
The light twists into an improbable arc
slicing the frame—I let it pass.
—from Rattle #27, Summer 2007