PHOTOGRAPHY

“Trying to explain photography and its art may be more difficult than explaining particle physics.” That was his opinion, and one he deeply held and shared freely to all who would listen or could not escape him. “After all,” he said, “you can draw pictures to illustrate particle physics, and far too many have done so, but the art of photography involves a mental process and only psychiatrists believe they can draw pictures to probe that. And,” he concluded, “one thing is certain, there is no art in the least in any Rorschach Blots I have ever been shown, and I have been shown many.”

TRIPTYCH

A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory. Admission is by invitation only.

The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare. The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver. My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.” I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space. She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul. She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.” I ask questions. I need to know more about the giver of names. She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.

In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting. She is a striking blond. I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is. I deny that I am fifty. As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over. “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather. She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see. “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.” Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both. I snap the picture. I am not captured on the film. Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue. She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.” The light changes.

There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture is removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun. Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks. She is a footnote in my father’s obituary. She is cast off by family, an unmentionable. She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.

I am repeatedly drawn into this room. It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced. I need to visit, to assure myself of — what? Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.

First appeared in Pitkin in Progress, Vol. 3, No. 1 (2002)

PATIENCE

Even a cat knows when the screen is on Zoom, you sit and wait. Or stick your head in the picture so all can acknowledge your presence. Either works, and you know patience is not a virtue, but at times a necessity. You are a cat, after all. Patience is for dogs, poor beasts, having to be walked regularly. There is no freedom being a dog, and when they call you bad, that day is shot for you and you slink off. But cats must sometimes be patient when they are on Zoom, but it gives you time to plot your revenge, which the humans will never expect, but always soon enough forgive.

PARENTAL MOMENTS

My adoptive parents died
six years apart, I received
two announcement texts
from the son they had together.

We negotiated her obituary,
and I am waiting for her funeral,
but after seven years, I have
given up hope of that happening.

I did visit my birth mother’s
grave, placed a small  stone 
on hers, watered the ground
with tears of sadness and joy

at having a mother at last,
and I have a picture 
of my birth father’s headstone
so at last I can mourn my parents.

PARENTHOOD

Two headstones
Name, rank, branch
of service, dates.

One New Jersey, one
Virginia, both Bittle
neither certain.

An email from
another Bittle, never
knew my father

but his was
William, and in
that moment,

James Owen became
a father yet again
and I complete.

And later still
a single picture
he in the back

row and the mirror
agrees that we
are truly family.

WHAT’S IN A WORD

It is said that
a picture is worth a thousand words,
a pictograph usually
five or fewer, and
a word, but a single one
by definition, while
a word, with two exceptions,
has at least two letters,
and with the same
two exceptions, a letter
is always wordless
but can be symbolic.
The Hawaiian language
has only fourteen letters
which may explain why
native Hawaiians are
rarely wordy, but
fails utterly to account
for their deep love
of symbols.

TOUCH

I would reach out
in touch you
but as it is
my fingers
barely
reach the keyboard.
I would take
your picture
the next time
I see you, but
it would appear
instantly, no waiting
for someone to tell me
as you were merely
a blurred image
appearing days later
pulled from an envelope.
Perhaps I’ll leave
a posting on your
digital wall
and simply hope
you are still alive
somewhere just
out of reach.

A PEELING

She says if you could only
peel back the photograph, you could
read the entire story that lies beneath.
Is deeper than the image below which
it lies trapped, and the wider, imbued with a meeting
the image could not capture, just as,
she says frowning, there are no words
for parts of the picture, a symbiosis
that we of unitary senses cannot unite.
This one, pointing to a crucifix, shows him
where he ought to be, the pain, his pain
apparent, but so much deeper than
any image or sculptors hand can fashion.
Undeserved pain, not by sacrileges, by rebellion
but he would understand it, he would
revel in it, for he was the greatest rebel
and he would easily peel back the picture
in step wholly into the story beneath.

TREACHERY

René Magritte was born and died
in Belgium, neither happened
on this day, but he painted
a most realistic picture of a pipe,
which he captioned “Ceci N’est Pas
Une Pipe,” which of course it was not
since it was only a picture of a pipe
and he entitled the work
The Treachery of Images.
This brings to mind a question:
if I say, Ceci est une poeme,
is that true, or am I engaging
in a mere treachery of words?
Draw me a picture of your answer,
if you would be so kind.