Welcome! This infinitesimal corner of the web is a place where my fairy tales, poems, and images collect and remind me of where I've been. Enjoy and feel free to comment on your parallel existence! Peter Ellis
There is a poem by Walt Whitman from Leaves of Grass that has resonated for me ever since I read it as a teenager. It’s about the struggle of existence with the transitory nature we have found ourselves in. The turbulent foam we move in. Perhaps even the quantum foam of spacetime itself as John Wheeler hypothesized.
This poem shows the empathy we have for others struggling as Whitman had for this swimmer. I knew such a courageous swimmer of life who died in a tragic accident roughly a year ago. He too was in his middle age. Never did I think when I read this decades ago that it would eventually embody a dear friend I thought would outlive me.
I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the
eddies of the sea,
His brown hair lies close and even to his head....he strikes out
with courageous arms...he urges himself with his legs.
I see his white body....I see his undaunted eyes;
I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him headforemost
on the rocks,
What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves?
Will you kill the courageous giant? Will you kill him in the prime
of his middle age?
Steady and long he struggles;
He is baffled and banged and bruised....he holds out while his
strength holds out,
The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood....they bear him
away....they roll him and swing him and turn him;
His beautiful body is borne in this circling eddies....it is continually
bruised on rocks,
Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.
And through his empathy, Whitman sees himself as the swimmer and through poetry becomes the swimmer as much as the witness. All of us in the foam. All of us swimming through randomness. Bound by our common struggle. Illuminated by our undaunted courage. Holding out against forces beyond our control.
Once there was a deranged warrior who swung his mace across his own land since there were no more wars to fight in other lands. Drunk on his power, he asked anyone who crossed his path if they saw what he saw and if they could not say what was exactly on his mind he would swing his mace and smash their heads clean off. He asked anyone young or old, small or big, and dispatched thousands of them in this way. The thing that was on his mind was always the same exact thing: if I am not you and you are not me then how are we us?
The warrior had already smashed a few heads one day when a little girl stood before him with a rigid posture that bothered him. She looked so fragile but that rigidity scared him to think that anything powerful could be in such a little thing. He had already raised his mace so that its shadow covered her face when he asked her his question but the little girl said exactly what was on his mind and then answered his question: “silly fool, do you not see that a triangle must have three points to be a triangle at all? You are trying to make three points into one and it’s impossible. So shame on you for killing all those people for your stupid riddle.” Clearly the warrior did not understand what she had just told him and he begged her to explain it to him so he could understand it.
The girl took a triangular cracker out of her pocket. She said she would explain it more clearly if he dropped the mace and got on his knees and ate this cracker out of her hand. So he got down to her level and put the cracker in his mouth. But it was hard as a stone and cracked a tooth. He spit it out but she told him that he had to eat it if he wanted to understand. He tried to swallow it but its triangular shape stuck in his throat and his face went red. As he choked on the cracker, the little girl told him in the most rigid voice he had ever heard, “you are not you anymore but I am still I and we are still us without you and that is the cracker of truth you couldn’t swallow.”
I rediscovered sepia this weekend. I like how sepia suggests that this image is of the past. A past moment suspended in the now. A ’54 Chevy suspended on this page. Lately, I’ve had this recurring thought that wherever I go, the moment has passed by already. And time appears to me like a shadow-line moving over what was in the light and I’m standing at that line mesmerized at the movement itself. Paralyzed by thoughts about the experience of time.
Then the illusion is blown by a row of city bikes in the background. The 1954 feel / time bleeding out of the main object betrayed. I remember the point Roland Barthes made so well about a photograph being more akin to a hallucination than any kind of memory (actually a counter-memory that blocks memory). His quote from Camera Lucida about what a photograph is has always struck me as closest in my experience, “The photograph becomes a bizarre medium a new form of hallucination. False on the level of perception True on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest, shared hallucination (on the one hand “it is not there,” on the other “but it has indeed been”): a mad image, chafed by reality.”
Photographs. Our dear sweet little false memories. As yummy as apple pie with a little hot pepper in it. I’ve always felt this push-pull from photographs. And I feel it when I photograph. Something maddeningly ordinary but also hints of something gone awry. The maddest image tries to tell you that it’s as normal as a car parked on the street. Even objects and places tell us how they want to be seen.
The more experimental or expressive the photograph, actually the less mad it appears to me! Closer to its medium as an image-maker rather than a truth-teller. The utterly mundane being most mad of all. But who doesn’t love madness in art? And that might be why some artists like me tend to be most mundane of all. Blending in. Hiding to better witness the mesmerizing shadow-line of time.
As memories sink into the subconscious, light bends the appearance of a log on its return to the soft wet earth. Into the waters of time, the slow slide of experience is transformed into the rich material from which myths arise. The still pond dreams of craggy ramparts overrun by a verdant army.
Once there were two lovers who met at a cascading waterfall with three pools. It was love at first sight at the top pool which was crystal clear. The sandy bed cushioned their feet and the surface sparkled in their eyes. The waterfall made the pool full of bubbles tickling their bodies as they swam in bliss.
Eventually they wandered down to the middle pool where the waterfall flowed with less power than at the top. It was warm and pleasant. This emerald green pool mirrored the canopy of the trees. It was so serene that the lovers knew their lives could be spent there. It seemed as if each were a part of the other. Their bodies swam together in perfect synchronicity.
Then they wandered down to the bottom pool, or really more a black pond where the waterfall came to a trickle. It was so dark there under the heavy canopy that it could’ve been a cave.
The lovers accidentally fell into the black pond. It became thick and sticky. The lovers argued about what to do and who got them in this situation as the water became a sludge. Transfixed, they could see faint traces of skeletons intertwined at the center.
When they escaped the black pond and made it back to the middle pool, it appeared differently to them. Not as serene as before. The emerald green pool lost its luster. The canopy was dull and sagging. It was as if the black pond had oozed upstream.
The lovers ran desperately to the top pool. Somehow the top pool had changed but it had become even richer. The effervescence broke on their skin. And as they swam in that most blissful of pools, their bodies transformed into caustics of light.