if you know me, you know i love flowers. i would keep a flower garden if i weren’t allergic to bees, but i am, so i don’t. the flowers in the photo were laid out for the taking (picture of) – well cultivated to line the center divider of a street near Atlanta’s symphony hall. the good thing about Sunday is there’s little traffic on this particular midtown street. i pulled into the left turning lane (opposite direction from my intended destination), put my car in PARK, turned on the hazard signal, jumped out of the car, and hovered over the bevy of flowers. of all the shots, this one is my favorite.
i am so happy for photography right now. these flowers remind me of my daughter, and interestingly, of being young and married. my wedding flowers were arm-held crimson tulips with stems so thick and long that the floral consultant insisted i practice holding them prior to walking down the aisle. i purchased red tulips for the house every week for that first year of marriage – never any other flower. only red tulips for the vase on the coffee table – both wedding gifts from a good friend.
for a long time after getting divorced, i refused to buy tulips. as though the marriage had leaked its ill fate into the cup-shaped flower. funny how that works. i’m a visual person. my heart takes its cues from what i see and, at times, my brain takes off sprinting down the path laid by nostalgia.
i think the world is an ounce better when i am loving tulips. and that makes me a little bit happiness (and maybe even an ounce better too).
I’ve been carrying around an old pair of my dad’s eyeglasses (my brother has the newer ones). Each time I reach into my satchel to retrieve a pen to scribble, my fingers tangle in the empty lens and arm of his half-broken glasses.
My father was legally blind. His eyeglasses were his lifeline. A few days ago I started taking photographs of those glasses after I mistakenly broke one of the lenses, deducing that in my clumsy hands I had better find a way to keep them whole (of sorts), even if only on film.
I didn’t touch my dad’s ashes to scatter them. I let my brothers and mom do it. I stood, at a distance, frozen, silent. I used my dad’s old carry-on to store my clothes for the flight home from Denver. Immediately, upon entering my house, I emptied the bag and tossed my clothes on the floor. I awoke in the middle of the night and the bag was there, slumping to one side, standing guard. It is now in the corner of my bedroom, still slumping, guarding.
I started taking photographs of his glasses everywhere: the kitchen counter, the butter dish in the fridge, next to my favorite pair of black loafers.
Then I wondered what the world have looked like from his perspective: blurred, unsure, unstable. And how he stumbled through life in search of and capturing small pulses of beauty. So I took a few snapshots through the front side of the bifocal lens. And another one. And another one. And the good news is, since I have no photographic skill at all, I have no apprehension and no expectation of perfection. No rule of threes. No consideration for light, shadow and texture. Just me, my funky little blackberry camera (that’s right, I’m not even unpacking the digital cam for the pleasure), and my dad’s bifocals.
Maybe, I will stumble upon beauty. Maybe, I will continue to disturb people by pulling out an old pair of broken eyeglasses and crouching in corners of the supermarket to get a blurred, fish-eyed shot of my Mahtza bread on a low shelf. Maybe I will just fill a room in my house with photographs – bad composition in unflattering light – that remind me of spring and love.
I like what I find. And I like what finds me.
I love this effect – the blur. I feel like this blur, fish-eyed and concave, half focused. The raw and gnawing pain that rips through me at times and makes me want to wail out is easier, it’s a formidable nemesis with which I can wrestle. But the blur, the way I feel this week, now, like walking around in a fishbowl knowing there’s a whole world spinning just on the other side of the glass, but I can’t quite make it out.
Can you believe I was sitting in the cafe working on an editing assignment, when over my shoulder appeared a guitarist restringing his guitar. See what I mean about stumbling and falling into beautiful things. The artist is Sonny Legaspi. He was so kind. I walked outside, after photographing and watching him for some time, and asked if I would photograph as he played. Once I told him about my father, he invited me to his table. Before long, he explained he too kept his father’s eyeglasses after his passing and shared with me the lovely song he wrote for his father.
A gentle spirit. Love.
The day before my dad died, I purchased this green hospice journal to organize my thoughts, to note everyone’s phone number and mainly to record my dad’s vital signs. His respiration had dropped to 64 when the gift shop attendant delivered the journal to the room. The next evening after his death I asked my brother Matthew to draw something in my journal. That’s his sketch above. Later he explained to me that was how he envisioned the body, waiting for death – an old machine. I think it’s beautiful. I love him for putting that in my book.
The same sketch as taken through the bifocal lens. My father didn’t have on his glasses those last three days. I wonder what he saw, I wonder if he was able to see. I wonder about every fucking thing about those last days leading to his death.
And this is me. Through the broken and stained lens of my father’s bifocals.
I miss you terribly. You died three weeks ago today as sun was spilling over the timberline of the Rocky Mountains. Since then I sit awake at night. Reading or watching bad television or simply staring at the spinning ceiling fan blades as it is spring here in Georgia (is there pollen where you are, and if so, do your sinuses still get aggravated?) and the dank warm air can use a good stirring, now and again. I sit awake waiting. Waiting for you to visit with me. For you tell me that three weeks ago today after 12 hours of not opening your eyes, or speaking or responding beyond a lank squeezing of the hand or twitch of the brow, that in last breath you lingered over us like canopy of radiant light smiling, if only for a sliver of a second, knowing we were with you and wanted nothing more than to keep you physically. Here. Surely, even death angels with all their orders and protocol are equipped with grace enough to have allowed you one last glance at your family asleep at your bedside – the four of us scattered about the hospice suite like ribbons of moonlight.
There is something I need to tell you, only that something eludes me and the faster I chase after those snatches of that something I need to tell you I discover another and then another something until my list of somethings fill a well the size of a black hole in the universe. And so maybe, had you have known, or even if those death angels sent to collect from your broken body a gentle soul had known, of the many somethings left over and feathering in the belly of a daughter needing to be told to a father, you might have been allowed to stay a little while longer. Here.
Daddy, did I mention, I miss you terribly. You died three weeks ago today as sun…
…When the words lie down/and soak into/recycled canopies/of jungles past,/they reflect what is/nearest to your heart/what frightens the blood/from you…/
You do not know Cambridge Jenkins, IV.