Towards the Sound
of a Heron Stepping on Ice
February mist, morning thaw just begun,
and the heron that is the same
color of slate as the park pond on which
today is nowhere in sight.
Two days ago, my wife & I watched her
near the drainage pipe
and heard at first nothing at each supple
Then, just as her foot
touched, a vague, muffled creak of something
giving way, her body's weight
pressing at ice. We lost track of how long
this lasted: patternless,
a few steps of audible silence, surface
giving nothing back, and then -
cleanly, sporadically - a tap of pressure
on the ice's crust.
God knows what, moving on a pond frozen
entirely through - slowly, determined,
then lingering, affixed on something we
A heron hunting
one leg back, lifts its neck &, with a sudden
stab through air, allows
its body to unfold. This one, though, I've
never seen do anything
except take these tentative steps,
in, wait implausibly, then begin
What happened took place weeks after
Isadora Duncan's children drowned and isn't
much of a story at all.
This was after
driver turned the stalled car's crank and
lurched & tumbled down the embankment, broke
the river's surface
and was gone.
Somewhere on a beach in Corfu, Duncan imagines
the Seine's ribboned gray - its surge,
its gradual calm - and pictures
the hooks & dragging lines, an anchor latched
to a sun-glazed wheel.
Then, although she's promised there will
be nothing more,
she watches her arm move.
froth, sand fleas, stem of beach grass scruff.
Her hand lowered, raised. It seemed,
she later wrote, like the first gesture
I had made.
bends her wrist gradually back & makes what
the body does
willed: for a moment, almost, mending,
evanescence, the body both
forgotten & salve to itself,
to a way of saying that somehow seems
years a man born in Croatia is satisfied
documenting his walks. It is, he
claims, the most telling art, the
someone once claimed his town by plunging
a sword blade deep
into the earth
when water pooled at the soil around it,
told the crowd,
Scoop it up, giving the town its
name. It's a story
the man sometimes considers
while drifting through streets & hills,
snapping endless pictures of himself
doing ordinary things, stark naked in each
at a barbwire fence, waiting for a passing
mule. Shuffling past a pastry shop,
scattering a handful of pigeons. Arms outstretched,
leaping from a rock.
Sipping walnut brandy in the shade.
friend once tried to explain this to me,
defining it in terms of dailiness, ritual,
framework of the mundane. Think of Duchamp's
urinal, I was told.
Or Rauschenberg's Erased de Kooning,
piece in which absence, held
in a gold leaf frame, becomes an end in
itself. In which absence takes the form
of a yellow sheet of paper
clumped with remnants of ink & crayon.
It's not the same, is it, as that story
of Pollock - most likely far from true?
How he once bought a Picasso in order to
erase it, to learn
how the line should work,
the body's dialect finds voice.
Lead on cream paper, c.1908. Four Studies
of the Human Hand.
How his task filled hours - each fingertip,
knuckle, each wrist.
a photo taken
somewhere in Russia, a boy leans from a
train carriage window, offering
papers to a crowd. A sea of hands reaches
up, eager for what he holds,
hardly caring it's mostly lies.
now here is the reason we look at it,
why it is preserved: in the window next
to the boy - there must have been
an order, or simply his body's fact - someone
has been painted out.
Airbrushing, cropping, faces ink-smudged
or excised with a razor-
it was all common, I know. Except here the
work is so ineptly done
it seems deliberate - how the black of the
window barely blends
with the space where his body should be,
how all of his contours are clear.
At his torso, at the oval construct of his
so thick & obvious, patterned in thumbprint
whorls, they resemble
even proportion lines from some amateur
How To Draw book.
Symmetries, ratios, augmented angles, methods
to ensure each of the parts
is in harmony with the whole.
as if whoever removed him from this scene
was only beginning to understand
just how the body works - its axes,
the traversing lines of his gently narrowing
shoulders. That single mark
from his scalp to his ribs.
knew the beautiful comes about
little by little, through many numbers,
and perhaps with our rules
for rendering ourselves
mimesis is nothing but
math. Perhaps, too,
someone botched this work
in order that we might notice, might begin
That this man who stared down half-asleep
from the train
was the same man
who seared his brother's eyes with a rust-flecked
awl & walked
from his home without a word. Whose father
hacked a branch from the yard
& raked his son's footprints from the road.
who, one night, was made to kneel
in the woods before they slit his throat
near a cluster of pines.
in one take,
forty seconds long, the first film ever
made - Lunch Hour at the Lumière Factory-
shows only a crowd walking into sunlight,
hurrying into a blazing lane.
A rush of wool dresses, carnations fastened
in hats, wicker baskets,
knotted scarves. A shrug, a flinch, a hand
into a pocket,
a mastiff's fevered joy.
Behind & above, back in the factory's rafters,
the pure geometry of light & wood.
the film's climax,
a side door opens, a girl fiddles with a
button, a black horse trots nimbly by
harnessed to a cart covered in canvas that
gives back as it passes
the thin shadowed branches of an oak.
now, it's December, 1895.
In a cramped Paris basement salon, a crowd
watches the image
of a crowd projected on a pinned white
sheet. A machine whirs
& rattles along with the same effort of
its name -
from the Greek, meaning writing the movement.
soundless blacksmiths striking at steel,
the lift & curve of waves,
and then, suddenly, a passenger train
into the station
-its tapered boiler, pistons & valves, steel
plates & advancing wheels -
that seems to them like artifice
only a single breath more.
Muybridge, I'm told, invented moving pictures
by making a horse circle a track.
First, it galloped & broke
laced carefully across its path
that, in turn, tripped the cameras' shutters
& told us how it moved -
how its body curved, lagged, compressed,
how there were moments,
indiscernible, when not a hoof touched the
earth. A few years after
he hunted down his wife's lover playing
cribbage at a Calistoga mine
and shot him point-blank in the chest,
naked dancers & gymnasts move against a
grid of white lines.
Here is A Man Walking and Turning, A
Man Heaving a Boulder.
Carrying a Rifle. Digging with a Spade.
A Woman Drying Her Feet.
Listen: there is no better time to finish
one story I began to tell you before.
It's about the artist who roamed Zagreb's
hills & I'm not even sure it's true.
What I heard is when war began
man arranged to end his walks
& put his camera away.
Instead, he began to choose.
which of the dead he would allow them to
bury, which Rottweiler,
woman, which ear. He chose to make them
move barefoot towards the truck
and chose bedsprings & truncheons & stones.
He chose where in the earth
to dig & to take his time. But listen:
in one series of Muybridge photographs
a woman approaches a chair. She is naked,
in profile, and beginning to move
closer to its curved pine back. She is the
same woman who pours
a single glass of water, who stands after
sitting on the floor.
she takes a few steps, kneels at a chair,
pauses, then rises again.
She has either a look of solemnity or a
half-smile latched to her face -
because she knows what she is about to
do. By the fifth frame
we can see it, almost in entirety, and she
touches it with her knuckle.
This is A Woman Kneeling at a Chair and
somewhere within or near
the eighth frame - since this is all she
intends - gesture & desire
coalesce. She lowers her body
& clasps her hands, in one motion bowing
her head, and even if this lasts for only
this fractured second she seems
to be honestly in prayer. As if not kneeling
at but to a chair. Adamant,
resolved. As if there were nothing else
to kneel to.
As if knowing
in a moment she will be finished & begin
to rise but for now it is still not yet.
Fly swats and muddied cloaks,
and greyhound tongues.
so from behind the grasses they watched
on bark paper strips and henequen cloth
all of what they saw.
Torn linen bandaging a thigh.
And their black beards,
their anchored ships, the wooden crates
this is what he had asked.
Buckles, cups made of Florentine
stitched into carafes of wine.
while some carried
baked fish and plums,
images were rushed back, inland, to him
Crossbows, the cannons' inlaid
brass, tattered pennants,
each length of pearls.
that he too might see these men and the
all they had brought.
Their crimson caps, muskets,
tassels, scabbards and blades.
thing seemed just as it should:
particular was beautifully faithful to itself,
details were lavish, precise,
Half-greaves and back plates
catching mid-day sun,
ash-colored horse tethered to a palm -
their uses still unimaginable.
The Scabbard of
Limbs Means Flesh
this version of the story, the work
is almost the same - at least in how
begins. The task of it, the means.
The shine of skin skinned back.
this one omits the muses,
the meager sweetness of the flute
when what happens finally ends
the river's dark water, thick with its silt,
Someone has hand-colored the shot -
visible branches, the field behind,
the crowd's neckties, smirks. It is postmarked
Antonio, 1906, and in the photo
a girl clutches a darkened swatch of cloth
torn loose as a souvenir. In the center,
in the foreground, two men
been kneeling for at least an hour,
or now close to a hundred years.
tips his bowler, puffs a hand-carved pipe,
while the other mops sweat from his neck.
his mallet, his nails, & a kind
of nimble grace, he is careful not to split
barrel's sapling bands, to methodically
space each one. The crowd waits - rapt,
and does not look at the woman
at the postcard's edge, naked & strapped
a hackberry trunk by a belt & loop
of rope. No one, that is, except
cowlicked boy who grins & whispers
at her ear, who at any moment,
imagines, will exhaust things
to say & will only watch in silence
the nails pierce the cask & the uses
of the ordinary change.
order to describe the unspeakable
beauty of immaculate light,
calls upon Apollo: Come into
my breast and breathe there,
when thou drewest Marsyas
from the scabbard of his limbs.
is to say Marsyas was skinned alive.
Apollo leaned in, attuned to his work,
hours, even after he was asked,
Why do you tear me from myself?
this is what he chose to do.
Which is to say in San Antonio
is what they wanted, too. At least
when they began. They began
her feet with a pocketknife
but either grew bored or perhaps
they weren't quite the same
as the gods. Yet there was time.
is time and they turn to other things,
and since we have only ourselves,
flesh, our metaphors for skin,
the myth is nearly useless by now.
happened was this: they finished
tapping in the nails & sealed the barrel
the woman inside, who remained
for a while alive. And several times
what must have been laborious work
a group of them watched or helped
roll it back
from the river to the hill.
Forget the gods & the body as one wound.