Saturday, August 8, 2015

The View From Here Part 4 "Local Cluster"

The View From Here Part 4

"Local Cluster"

"The View from Here”will be posted as a series. This post may contain material dealing with sensitive topics. Rate it "R", Please be advised.

Exploring these images with words is new, more like the touch tour I once had of a Picasso sculpture, feeling the very metal, and splayed substance of its cold bulk, exploring its subtle aspects.

The snapshots are the same, with many facets, casting hues diffracting, radiating, mirrored, constructed, disnantled. I've put them here, out of the trash can of obscurity, safe for awhile. Just a few.
Local Cluster

Its palm sized, a luminous, richly hued Instamatic square, a particularly luminous one, one that seems to have an elusive tempature, one thats typical, but fixes my thin gaze tenaciosuly... frozen window, frozen sun about to set.

A girl of thirteen stands at the center, halfway down a hill. My sister Stacy, sunstruck, faces us, striding uphill in a field of low, yellow grass driven into a carpet of rounded dimples - like little haystacks.

The photographer is further uphill than Stacy, so we see an expansive sloping landscape. The light is warm orange-hued, the way it turns near the horizon before finally signing off, and at that angle where all it touches casts a very long shadow.

Her thin arms are clasped as though warming herself, her head is tilted a little regarding the photographer, just a vauge, curious smile, she squnits against the glare, her weak "Lazy Eye" not apparent, I think. Her flared blue jeans make me smile. It's 1972. Each leg is a different variation of blue, navy and pale blue.

I know this field well, but here, its fresh again suffused in gentle peace,  suffused in drama too. Each round tuft casts a long shadow. Many hundreds of graphic dimples are seen getting blurrier and snmaller downhill with distance. Whoever took this image likely didin't gave much, if any, thought to this quaility. Seemingly unimportant, this dimpled grass folds me into it's steep slope.

Some dimples merge with her endless shadow stretching far downhill to the left, stretched into a fun- house parody of a human shape, with tiny head and enormous legs.

Further downhill is a row of bare trees whose thin branches are cut off at the top. Even further behind is a tall dark pine. These nearer trunks and splayed yellow grass throw a subtle shadow along a low wall of boulders, running across the picture behind her shoulders, all made fuzzy by the no- frills optics of a plastic lens.

She'd bring a camera along on her journeys around my parent's suburban home, more than I ever did. Not only a person is here, but a place too, half wild, but close to home. I don't know, but it makes me think of the first warmth of spring, her bare arms and leafless trees. and indecisive color cues - cold ,warm, verging between the two, misty, near and far.

A portion of a deeply shadowed old mansion is at the right edge, one corner still basking in the honey -tan colored light, obscured by bare Ivy vines and knots of slender trees. The old mansion is lower, and even further away, its lowest level hidden by the sun raked field. Far beyond the mansion's edge, an atmospheric gradation of pale blue color fades downhill to the clay banks of the Hudson River, but here these are lost to the haze.

There were a handful of big Civil war era mansions still scattered here and there then, all similar, with immense gabled, bell shaped roofs, showy, and dripping faded details, tall windows and shutters. Perched on scenic hills, and surrounded by the growing sprawl of modern homes, some were abandoned and ripe for the bulldozers.

But others, like this, were kept up, warm lights glowed and shadowy occupants busied themselves at their morning, as I passed the mansion before sunrise in the winter, walking to school. You might remember the "Addams Family" mansion in its gabeled eerieness.

Some years before that picture was taken, but in that same field, then thick with tall summer grass. I walked uphill one afternoon, and came across two young men lying very close together on the ground. Hidden from sight under the high grass and Queen Ann's lace, facing east, their eyes closed, they weren't asleep, just patient. I'd intruded somehow. But stared lingering, fascinated, before resuming, my destination forgotten now.

Lets walk downhill and climb over that stone wall and jump a gully of caked leaves. A road is there, It beckoned left and right.Well a sort of road, more like a long paved driveway. Very few cars pass. Walking through its muffling green tunnel in the density of summer, it all buzzed with flying, scurrying life. The soil was dark, fertile and full of stones. Caterpillars, I was told, hung by threads.

The sloping field and all the land around, and further along the road belonged to a Catholic retreat and shrine, not unlike a sprawling, manicured campus. At the far end, beyond a chain link fnece, beyond the athletic fields, was the public High School that was my destination for four years.

Lets turn right on that small road beyond the field's rock wall. In my memory of that field, I m unaware of vision problems during the day, and don't need any arm to guide me, but run ahead quickly, and jump over the fallen branches at the stone wall's bottom. Some loose stones slide round climbimg -its not high- waist high- nettles and vines loop and claw at the rocks.

Not far up that road is a gravel parking lot, closed off by a long chain during the winter when the grounds were deserted. Nearby is a low, 1960s style, open- walled Church. When the chill of fall grew intense, and the sun's light weakened, the workmen would carry away the long pews and lock them in storage until the visitors, clutching their guides, returned again.

But for many months, snow banked over the concrete floor inside, and scuttling leaves blew, scrapping round and round, until they found rest in a pile. Hurrying, I'd peer into the interior gloom there. A few red Votive candles flickered, still defiant against the gusts. The winter dawns kept me moving quickly, reddining my coat's back, bypassing the long frigid shadows of pines.

Sean was a friend at school. I smile remembering, how, on our first day in the new and immnese public school, he grabbed my arm in the cafeteria and imsistenly pulled me to a table, dreading having to eat lunch alone.

I enjoyed him, he was quiet, but nervous, with badly bitten fingernails. Sean lived not far off that long road. We'd walk back home together usually. I asked Sean if he'd like to see "The Boys in the Band" with me. He said he wasn't allowed.

Further down that paved driveway was a a grove of pines. I'd sit within its cave, in the cool shade there on a carpet of pine needles, sometimes with Sean, watching the play of the elements of the Earth on the spalshing jets of a fountain's bright sprays. Laying there, sucking on a pine needle, I remember Sean's fine ,dark hair blowing wildly, cascading, covering his Irish forehead, then pushed back, or whipped side to side. Now and then the spray tickled our faces as the wind off the hill took the cool mists. And rainbows rose, then seemed to cling, shimmering to the immense folds of the sculpted robe gathered about a towering bronze sculpture of the Virgin Mary, her demure eyes shyly downcast, as though a bit embarrassed  at her collossul height and metallic manifestation.

More pathways wound through high trees. I'd walk beneath a bronze ribbon held very high by two androgenous, winged figures, each atop the very tall pillars of a ceramonial gate. Looking up, I'd catch an unchanging bronze greeting, and from a wonderful low perspective too.

Clustered scenically about this route were many statues of white marble, depicting important moments in Catholic religion, the mysteries and passions enacted by anatomically accurate - if not engrossing -mirrors of Biblical stories up on plinths, strewn with dead leaves and offerings of plastic flowers. Once in awhile I'd find a snowball's circular impact on one of the faces that mimicked, in some insistent way - watching.

The buses returned with pilgrims in the spring.. I'd find groups of visitors stretching stiffly, meandering around the parking lot, pilgrims intent and often happy, eager to walk after the bus trip; filing from the church, to the bookstore, or snacktand, where the lady had a little TV set always on, and "The Newlywed Game"s couple's chit -chat mingled with all the sounds of the place.

Finally, more quietly, they'd wander under the trees along those paths, to examine the sculpted groups.

I'd walk around in the warm months, the coiffiures of many old women blending - eyeglasses, purses and sometimes side- by- side, imprecise, graspng arms. I'd gaze into their devoted faces and wonder about some, her own journey thats brought her here, to file along, laughing with her friends with guide book and rosary around the gravel paths of this place, for her, more holy than others, for me, one point, one moment.

Later Stacy'd bring her lover Jody there, and her musician friends from the city, to show them a bit of the country. Punk rockers in bright spandex and leather jackets and priests, eyed each other from across the flower -beds. We tried to evade them, mumbling heresies, they'd usually have an agenda. "God is sky, man...God is .. " she'd jump, turning her head skyward,  half a performance, half a trance...singing louder now..."Everywhere !" She danced around clutching a cigarette, her friends -admiring, all half  -conflating the sanctuary with C.B.G.B.

Once I shot a roll of color infrared film joining them, blue faces amid the violet trees, where once we made Indian typees. She was a good photographer indeed. Lending her my camera, she took a few shots. One infrared shifted picture is hers, of me, blue -faced, before the squat statues encircling a pool basin into which coins were thrown. We remembered how as kids, we'd walk its edges deftly and dare each other to jump in and grab a handfull. In the fall we'd find a faded blue tub to climb in, and scrape away the leafs, hunting for leftovers.

Infrared itself had no real meaning or intent in any of that roll, other than giving strange colors to ordinary pictures, Its all I have though of our punk visit.

I returned there a decade ago, one overcast March afternoon and brought my camera, knowing all is impermanent.
And here are some photos from a series clicked off then, my cousin's ten year old son, Sam, tagging along. The cheap Instamtic is gone and I can afford a crisper lens, so details abound.

Heres a vertical shot containing a grey, dull scene. Its mainly a muddy gravel path. Islands of wet ice still linger along the sides, fringing a blanket of last years leaves. Thin and cold looking trees, branch up, scratching out the leaden sky. Many yards away the path bends to the left. Theres an indistinct, white figurative sculpture where the path bends and disappears into the general thickness of the trees. These far, white shapes rest atop a plinth, also of the same white.

One winter day many years ago, I cut school and spent the hours alone there. I'd retreated to the shelter of an empty boathouse nearby. It stood squat and cold, down a narrow path that led to a small clearing by a pond. Moving kept me warm,

Basketball. I guess those basketball drills must have been the excuse. We were obligated to participate. Having pretty severe tunnel vision made those passing drills a nightmare, enduring the screams of incredulous disgust when I couldn't find the ball, the net, or others on my team, left me weary and anxious. So much so that, even now, if I hear sneaker-squeak on a court, my stomach lurches in panic, Pavlovian- fierce-,undiminished. 

 Being gay didn't help in matters of self confidence either. Even then, that was certain. But not seeing what was in front of me, walking into walls... that was just bewildering, and beyond my understanding. One kind teacher helped me to pick up the pieces of my shattered eyeglasses after I'd smacked hard into a wall, tsk tsk- ing, and softly empathizing, but still I got that"Whats wrong with him?" look I know so well. Convincing others that I wasn't stupid, drunk, on drugs or a space shot, left me with no explanations.

I wondered what Ken was doing, whom he was with. Ken has remained as a kind of tender imprint, my first love, whose name is spoken with reverence, the very sounds stop me, pulling away fog.

Shuffling in the cold, I remembered his reflection behind cold raindrops in the mirror of a parked car, when he stood among the others there under the warm lights by the busy doors, buttoning his coat, readying for the rain. Then that long ago winter chill vanished into an internal intimate warmth.

It floors me really, but just Iast week, yet again, I  dreamed of him.  Although he was still a presence, palapale  and nuanced as ever, he stayed just out of reach.  

Shy and wholesome, he, like me, wasn't dating girls. For years, that kept hope alive. I understood very well I was in love with him, but at 13, to say so would have led to devastation for me. Like so many others like myself, silence and understanding sufficed  there. Years before, we had been friends. and made absurd plans to stow away on an ocean liner to the south seas. Our paths never crossed in that large school, and when I'd catch sight of him we didn't talk, though my heart raced and I longed to  know him , to listen talk.

So I froze and jumped around there, listening to the bells far away signaling the changing of classes.

The sculptures up the paths drew me with their masculine physicality. Though stone, they fascinated me. I got very close, inate instinctual, gloveless. Rehearsing, enjoying the shapes perched up there - twisted, extended or huddled.

If this marble man's stone hair didn't glisten like Ken's, his forehead and eyebrows of chiseled sweetness, mimicked his own proportions in ways that satisfied and thrilled me with sensuous new terrain.

There was the freezing forearm and the wide, elegant, articulated hands of men. The smooth calve cut from some hard hill. Jon, the football hero came to mind there. Standing behind me on line once, he insistently, thoroughly pressed and rocked discreetly against me, not tackling, sweet -breathed, fulsome and tenderly, unobserved...scoreless, and essential. Jonathan was our collective pride, paraded around as the epitome of all -American normalcy and masculinity. Things were more complex than the ordinary understanding and identity so many need. I'd cut out his grainy black and white pictures from the local newspaper, to stuff away in my hidden cache of beauties, to nestle with the photos of Italian soccer players I'd ripped from my grandparent's discarded stacks of "Il Progresso"s in their basement.

If you felt the surprising walls of stone under the robes where no eye could see, there was another dimension right there, that only your hand could find, like a secret, a detour of logic. The natural expected space in the hollows stopped, when the sculptor grew tired and stopped chiseling. Touching made the artiface apparent.

There was delight in it too, finding these recesses revealed an incompleteness that satisifed only a casual visual investagation.

Ken is married now. Darius, my friend, asked me "Can you imagine if society allowed us the same permissions to tell Ken about your feelings back then, what would your life have been lik?" I cant. Jt just wasnt like that. Some years ago I saw him and his wife at the supermarket one afternoon. I think. He recognized me with lowered eyes...the fortunate floor. The same sweet gentleness. Ken's wife looks like me. I mean, in a general way. I think

Another snapshot from that same day in March quickly recordeing another familiar area I felt I'd like to latch onto. Fifteen years had gone by since I'd gone down to the boathouse, so I wasn't sure what I'd find at the end of the stony path,. We wanderd around, trudgeing and sniffling, I peered from landmark to tree - it wasn't quite the same place.

The boathouse was demolished, but some of its stones, having once been pulled from the earth to build the walls, were thrown down again, strewn around the clearing by the pond's edge, and jutted up here and there, entwined with rusted metal. Chunks protruded from the rozen mud and snow. Mortar clung in patchy circles, disetnegrating around stones laid low.

Silvery thing, this snapshot - even in color. Someone has left a long branch in the middle of the ice.

Sean and I would stop by the frozen pond sometimes before we went home and generally kick snow wildly, in our first year there anyway. Hockey players kept the surface swept smooth, and the cold, late afternoons found us skidding on its uncertin, quaking ice in our shoes.

puzzled him, suddenly kneeling, absorbed in the trapped water below our feet. I'd look into its frozen clearity, beyond paused bubbles and ensnared grasses, to view a cracked and windless, entombed universe.

We built a fire in the stone fireplace of the empty boathouse.
He broke branches up, and we fed the fire. Sturdy Sean and his blue eyes in the damp, dark corner, while the fire grew. and melted snow that clung to our wide bell bottoms. I couldn't figure out if I was attracted to him, he let me look at him at length, meeting my eyes with calmness and warmth. Now and then I'd imagine more of him.

Sean became playful suddenly."Lets go home and we can take our clothes off to dry .” he said jovially. I weighed things. I wanted to. He was sweet, and there was this... how can I say? desperate quality to him, which made my own desperation seem tame. "Come on! Please?You're wet, you can put your clothes on the heater in my bedroom."

"Lets go! its just a pile of rocks. "Sam said, huffing nearby. He wanted to run on the track beyond the fence. "Why do you want to take a picture of that anyway?" he asked.

The rubble and the entire pond itself were obliterated in the housing madness that choked the rural fields with yet more homes and made birds scarce. Soon after I made that picture, the entire pond was filled in, its springs plugged tight, and McMansions stand where it's green waters sheltered the birds and sunfish my Dad brough my sister and I to try to catch.

A scarcely perceptible sliver pauses me before I move on. In the distance beyond the flat pond and field of snow, is a sliver of violet dappled road. Seeing that, seeing that nearly unoticable thinning of brown among the trees, reminds me that further along to the left, was the High School's parking lot. Its out of the frame. Driving lessons started out there. Our driving teacher, Mr. Collins, thought it was time for me to head out for the open road. Veering uncertainly out of the parking lot's safety, I thought it was going well, until I heard Mr. Collins scream. Very loudly. I did see his panicked face. But not the parked car I sideswiped. I do remember the aghast student drivers glaring at me from the rear view mirror. No one was hurt, it wasn't too bad. I just had this reputation. In the few years I drove, I never really ran anybody over. Just things. I'm fairly sure.

Copyright © Steven Erra 2015. All rights reserved.

Some names and details may have been changed.

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