Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Maundy Thursday

Years ago I gave a book of Ansel Adams photography to my parents, for Christmas – they had been on holiday in Yosemite. There is surely no better photographer to capture the immense beauty of these ‘scapes’ of land and sky. If I could take photographs like his, I would be happy. I guess I’ll just have to stick to phone boxes. My dad described the naming of ‘half-dome’ as typical American pragmatism. I owe him this poem!

At the exhibition in the City Art Gallery, I came to realise that photography is meaningless without a viewer; as music is without a listener, or poetry is unread. Seeing his statement – which I quote at the head of this poem – I felt drawn in by his work, the way one is drawn by a warm person, a close friend or even, a lover. But with all art, or for that matter, psychology or (especially) journalism, nothing is quite what it seems.

Maundy Thursday
for my Saintly One
“There are always two people in every picture:
the photographer and the viewer”
Ansel Adams

I stood downscent of you in the dimlit gallery.
The diminutive frames could barely contain
the monochrome truth of this colossal rock.
American pragmatism names it ‘Half Dome.’
But I saw half a Monolith, a broken world,
a shattered heart, sheer; a barefaced scar.

Elsewhere, nomenclature boasted Californian Grandeur:
El Capitan thrust the clouds that should have capped its tower;
the stark twin spires of Cathedral Peak
poked the shattered skies, dwarfed the trees reflected in the lake.
Yet beyond the power of Yosemite or Yellowstone’s omniscience
I felt a darker hour approach, deeper than Creation’s omnipresence.

In steely light, a single lake – Mono – aptly named
lay like a flattened wall. A white, knuckled hand
with branches gnarled and twisted sinews
weighed a balance of sky and blackened waters
pocked with clouds, poised to scratch upon the

Tears streamed down a fissured face, cascading
like a Bridal Veil (a blatant sobriquet):
yet another fall. And there, in the Nevada spume
you saw the covenanted spectrum arched across the foam
in multiple shades of grey.
I saw a temple curtain, rent hopelessly in twain.

Drawn to each other, lured, I sensed a rising surge:
Hernandez Moon hovered in a sky of jet.
Beneath the slow dissolve of wispy light
You picked out a village, trees; a cemetery;
the blades of grass among the crosses etched in white.

Then, an oak tree, in stark symmetry
against a sunset silhouette.
I saw another moon, a single silver piece, a set
Of friends betrayed, deceived, rejected;
Bare branches stripped, punished through neglect.

Finally, as if to mark the end of Lent.
the moon and sun converged, aligned in black and white
(or was it that I should meet this punishment
because I saw darkness rather than light?)
Not everything can be described as such:
Assuming it was a lunar eclipse
I longed (again?) for strong lips
pursed to pipe a song about a lamb.

How wrong a poet can
be. It was in fact the sun
polarised by over-exposure,
like one who tried to dance
with the devil on his back:
the brightest part of the picture
turned to black.
Oh my love.

Exhausted and bleak I caught the bus to Leith
(a choice of two little ducks or the Number 1
- whichever route, I knew I was alone).
Later that night, the friends I had neglected
sang then slept,
while in another cathedral - not the rocky crop depicted -
my Saintly One wept.

No comments:

Post a Comment