Monday, April 26, 2010

Ways of Seeing #2: Ugolino & his sons

Ugolino & his sons
Originally uploaded by Theorris


Grades for #1:

Cordelia: A

Kendra: B

Everyone else: F

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ways of Seeing #1: The Land of Cockayne

Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  The Land of Cockayne.  1567.  Oil and tempera on panel, 20 1/2 x 30 3/4".  Pinakothek, Munich.

"Seeing comes before words.  The Child looks and recognizes before it can speak.... But there is also another sense in which seeing comes before words.  It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.  The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled."  (John Berger, Ways of Seeing,  7)


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Unknown spring

Unknown spring
Originally uploaded by Theorris

Today is the kind of day that demands we go outside. "Get out of the damn house!" the grass and trees and birds and sun all shout in unison. There is only the mildest of breeze, and even the concrete sidewalks have warmed to the idea.

So I decided to go for a long walk.

I have not really explored my new neighborhood on foot. I've really only looked at it from on high via our friend the satellite. I knew, therefore, what, generally, to expect, so I headed north from my house on an unknown street, with no particular intent in mind, other than the thought that my friendly household machines were doing my laundry and I needed lemon juice.

So I walked north past many interesting houses: a sprawling McMansion squeezed into its lot like a forty-year old man into his twenty-year old suit; a radical self-sufficient cabin completely out of place with its green, primitive-cut clapboards; and house after house of duplexes. I mused that the only reason for both the far-ranging architectural style and the prevalence of duplexes in my neighborhood is that I live in a corner of Salt Lake City that was not brought into the city until it had been well-established as a radical and unordinanced outlier.

At the end of this street, as I knew from our friends the satellites, there was a park area, abutting the back end of the local elementary school. To my surprise, however, most of the lot was fenced and a new imposing school building was set in the far corner. What will soon be open playing fields are now barren, sculpted by the latest in earth-moving machinery.

I stopped a moment on top of the hill to appraise the situation, and noted the many steps (some made of sandstone) that descended to the fenced-off hard hat zone. This is one of those secret public areas that you can find if you look hard enough in neighborhoods. I was happy that they decided to leave the big trees in place that stood watch over the once secluded space.

I started to notice the trees then. While some are more recently planted, there are many that are old--very old. Gnarled fruit trees throw their blossoms up to the sun, and giant pines have sprouted new growth for the spring.

Like the trees, the houses vary in age--from the odd Victorian to the single-level ranch house. I've gathered from the time here that my neighborhood is just as old as any in the city. I can only imagine the farms that once stood here--most likely orchards because of the hills and the hardscrabble, alluvial soil.

Moving down the hill, I begin to encounter people. At first I was a bit shocked that no one else had heard the command of the birds, the trees, the grass, or the sun, and felt compelled to be outside. While the moonscape of the construction was not very inviting, I began to notice people making their way out: A woman with her children in tow on a bike; some teenagers intending to play frisbee on the elementary school's greening playing filed; and the guy deciding today was as good as any to wash his '57 Chevy.

So I made my way down the hill, and passed by a duplex with a couple of hungover twenty-somethings sitting on the front stoop.

"Hey man!" the one with long hair and goatee said. I knew he didn't recognize me, but was just feeling the spring.

"How's it going?" I said not breaking my gate.


I am not sure why, but this was the start of my seeing several hungover twenty-somethings. Several were in the grocery store where I picked up the lemon juice I needed and some biodegradable trash bags. One of them was asking for a job.

I started to muse, as I'd mused about houses earlier, that spring had got the best of these kids, and a proper Bacchanal was instituted.

Even in our seclusion of single-family housing the call of spring cannot be ignored, although I'm still surprised not to see anyone out on the street from my vantage point cozy in my own house over looking it all. Perhaps they are all inside, as am I, contemplating the spring.

Perhaps, however, the Dish Network truck that just pulled up in front of a neighbor's house is a more telling sign.

After leaving the store with my lemon juice and biodegradable trash bags in hand, I climbed the hill back to my house on my familiar, everyday route. I noticed a disturbing amount of water flowing down the gutter. After imagining several pipe burst scenarios, I recalled the man with his 57 Chevy. The engineer in me wanted to capture that water or at least break up the hard cement and let it absorb into the thirsty soil. The environmentalist wanted to shake my head in disgust. I did neither, because as I came around the slight bend in the street, my eye and nose were taken in by a flowering plum, standing gnarled and crooked by the roadside. I can see it now from where I sit here in my house.

I stopped and admired the tree and thought of Basho's haiku on a plum tree:

Unknown spring --
Plum blossom
Behind the mirror.

I returned, then, to my house, and my friendly household machines had completed part of my laundry without me. While moving my wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, I was struck by the flowering plum. I grabbed the box top off some detergent and wrote the following:

Along the roadside
Stands a solitary plum
Calling us to her.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


While I was awake at my normal 5:30 am this morning, by the time I left the house, I felt I was running late, given that I had to go back inside the house three times to collect all the various items I feel that I need to accomplish the day.  Oh no, I can't forget my phone.  No.  Oh no, I can't forget that letter I have to mail.  No.  Oh no, I absolutely cannot forget my bus pass, or I shall have to pay my way to and from work.

Oh no.

So by the time I actually managed to lock my door, and head out across the slush, I knew that I would miss my connection, and, therefore, be 15 minutes late.

Oh no.

So I made my way as quickly as I could in my dress shoes (it was an important meeting day, after all) across slushy sidewalks, and strove not to slip.  The snow that fell last night seemed to be testing my mettle, and by the time I reached the intersection at the bottom of the hill, I was 4 minutes behind schedule.

Oh no.

Now 4 minutes may not seem like much, but when you are a committed pedestrian and mass transit user, 4 minutes translates into being much later than is appropriate.

As I stepped into the crosswalk, however, a black and white police car sped past, and turned west.  I stopped to watch him, and the approaching SUVs on my side of the road.  None of the drivers of the three SUVs seemed to notice me, a six foot three inch man in an unmissable big black coat, however, so I had to stand there as they passed.

I thought of how in the past I used to shout at such miscreants.  Once a pedestrian is in the crosswalk, you see, motor vehicles are required to stop. 

Not these drivers.  Oh no. Perhaps they were late too.

Oh no.

These days I just shake my head in disgust at them, particularly the ones who make the guilty "oops" face at me.  If you can make that face, you can stop, friend.

So they passed, and I crossed the road and made it to my bus stop with a minute to spare.  

And I waited.

And waited.

I've never been a complainer about the bus being late as some bus riders are wont to be.  I figure there must be a pretty damn unfortunate reason for that lateness, and my bitching about it isn't going to do any good, but raise my blood pressure or foment misplaced anger in fellow passengers. 

So, oh well.  

By the time the slacker high school teens in their usual inappropriate garb of shorts and tee shirts came out to stand at the stop with me, I knew that my lateness was a foregone conclusion.

Oh well.

The bus came, as buses always do, and I boarded and commenced my usual morning reading.

All was normal until we approached the Catholic Church on the route, and then all on the bus craned to look at the collection of a dozen or so police cruisers blocking the street.  The driver turned the corner and took an odd route.  Half-way down the block of the normal route, a white tarp covered a body.

I learned later that a man was struck down in the street by a light blue SUV.  The driver of the SUV fled the scene.

Now as I sit and think of the man whose life was ended because he dropped his back pack, I write the following:

You in your steel tombs
We, the living, plead that you
Wake from your slumber.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

From an Incarcerated Artist

From an Incarcerated Artist
Originally uploaded by Theorris

She killed her husband
That's admitted

She killed her husband
And dug a grave
Behind their double-wide

She killed her husband
And he deserved it
The drunk son-of-a-bitch

She killed her husband
But before she picked
Up the gun

She stitched away
Her suffering
Into dragons

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Thursday, April 01, 2010

April Fool

When I was a kid, a favorite joke of my older brother was to wake us all up on April first with the exclamation "It is snowing!"  Now growing up in Utah, the possibility of snow on April first was entirely possible, but usually spring had taken root in the land: the lawn was greening, trees were cracking blossoms and birds were assured that winter was pretty much behind.  Of course we kids always fell for the joke, and sprang out of bed to see the miracle of one last welcome blanket of purity over the land, only to see the green lawn and the budding trees accompanied by the laughter of my brother.  There were only a couple of times that he was wrong, and today would have been one of those days.   April first snows make fools of us all, and it has been snowing hard here most of the day.

All in all, it has been a particularly cold winter.  March is usually a transitional month where spring begins to stir in the land.  Trees begin to bud.  Birds find some comfort in the hope of of regeneration.  I went away on a trip for a week with the hope that spring would take hold and the world would explode with flowers and birds.

When I returned, I came back to the same winter-overed, silent land.  Empty branches greeted me.

Even still, I put away my sidewalk salt.

But no.

The peach tree  in my backyard was fooled, it seems, and has nearly budded.  Its buds are iced-over now, and nearly open. The forsythia in the neighbor's yard was fooled and came out in full bloom weeks late and on an April Fool's snow day at that.

All have been fooled, you see, as I've brought out my sidewalk salt again and cast it widely on my steps, even though I know the snow will most likely all melt tomorrow.


And so, as I sit here contemplating the long, strange winter, I look out on the darkness of the street below and write the following:

The promise of fruit
Is all you have to offer
Snow-covered peach tree