Monday, May 6, 2013

what can be seen

It's overcast this morning, or rather it was overcast this morning; the cloud cover is breaking up now.  The houses outside my window that only an hour ago were flat and shadowless are now reflecting enough sunlight through my window to make me consider twirling the wand on my mini-blinds to block some of that light.  I am still waking up.  These sentences are coming slowly.  I pause between my thoughts, look out the window, notice the shadows on the ground, consider the objects throwing those shadows, attempt a rough guess about the position of the sun.  I consider making a diagram of the grounds, an architectural plan centered around this window beside which I write, a plan upon which I note the position of the neighbor's garden hose and the one, sad, yellow and red tulip alongside their porch.  It seems, around here, everyone has one sad tulip.  Observations are one thing, but having something to say is something else entirely.  What can be said about a sad tulip?  How interesting can a shadow be?    

On a pleasant afternoon about a week ago, I told a friend that a sage seedling was the most interesting thing in my life at the moment.  Last summer, after my sage plants flowered and went to seed, I cut their seed tops, bundled them up with polyethylene twine, and hung them upside down from the beams of my porch so that they could blow and twirl in the wind and cast interesting shadows on the porch floor.  Most of the seeds probably dropped onto the porch and skittered to a place where they could not germinate, but some of the seeds  got tossed into the garden, and after sitting beneath the snow all winter half a dozen of them had managed to sprout. I spotted one, said holy shit, got onto my hands and knees, turned my eyes into combs, and combed the rest of the garden where I might possibly find more seedlings.  It is a private thing to crawl around in your garden, hunting for something that is less that an eighth of an inch tall.  I suppose it's a hopeful thing, too, like an ultrasound is hopeful.  To spot new life as soon as it is possible to do so seems so human to me, to look for it intently because you suspect it's there and wish for it to be there.  Or perhaps you are terrified and need to confirm your terror.  Whatever the case, we know where to look for the signs; and if we cannot see them with our naked eyes, we'll make better eyes.

What can be seen is not a question of vision; it's a question of attention.  I have been watching The Wire on the internet, and in one episode Bunk tells Kima that she needs to use soft eyes, that she won't be able to learn much about the corpse on the ground without them.  I hadn't heard the expression before, and I didn't understand it at the time, but I suppose soft eyes are the kind of eyes that allow you to see the full picture.  If you obsess over one or two details, you will miss the rest of them.  If you throw something into sharp focus, that which surrounds it will be hazy.  This is both optical and metaphorical truth, and I think that buried in this truth there is some lesson about relaxing and taking a thing for what it really is, which is to say that nothing exists in isolation.  Looking closely at a thing is a way to enter a bubble, and bubbles are sometimes very comforting places to be, but where there is comfort there is also the risk of losing oneself in a detail.  I think what I'm trying to say is step back and breathe.  Breathe.  The breath is real.  Rub a sage leaf and smell it deliberately.  There is nothing else.  The future does not really exist, won't ever actually exist, but don't act as if this were true.  You will soon wake up and find you have no coffee.                          

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