Friday, April 20, 2012

Photo Album

In the end it may be that others
perceive us only as snapshots,

points in time stilled by the
blink of an eye, the frame of memory.

Even close friends and family are
vulnerable to singular interpretations,

no fault of their own; we reveal who we are
in the light by which we prefer to be seen.

The personality test (I wonder how I might
fail at it) insists I select from  

myriad adjectives to describe myself.
Gregarious, introverted, insecure, confident,

ambitious. There was no checkbox for
“all of the above at different times;

occasionally, all at once,” because we must be
absolute and definable to be swallowed.

It is possible I am simply advocating for nuance,
a relatively unspectacular proposition.

In Saint Lucia, the travel writer whose
            name I don’t recall, boarded the yellow bus

bound for the top of Soufriere. The sad and
            reticent volcano spews the stench of sulfur and

boiling springs. The stones around them ashen,
 white as prehistoric bones. One is forced to

ponder then when history began.            
We retreated to the dilapidated

row of shops where local women sold
colorful batik, then ditched the island’s PR

lieutenants to opt for bottomless plates of
conch and callaloo (made from the dense green leaf

called elephant ear), supplemented by thoughtful
doses of rum. Looking for a story, we might

write ourselves. Our glasses never emptied. 
I chased a shy lizard from her bed before

kissing her quietly and without need. We
smiled and I left her room. There is something

gratifying about loving a woman without desire,
as if we have momentarily conquered the

inevitable appetite of our species.
To carry a barracuda from boat to pot

you must pierce thumb and forefinger through
each eye socket. Natives of the island of

Ambergris Caye, Belize make a starchy soup from
vegetables, onions, herbs and the bony fish,

satisfying paired with a Beliken or Guinness.
Lazy, we paid $200 US to fish the shallow waters

inside the reef, where sea life boasts improbable colors.
In the nature of our world living things defy the

best intentions of artists and photographers.
Indigo bunting, queen angelfish, yellowtail damselfish,

tulips in spring; Monet came closest, perhaps, in
Water Lilies but was tormented by color, a sad tradeoff.

Snorkeling at night the water condenses the
diving light to a perfect cone. Underwater, the

speed of light is reduced to a fraction of itself.
In front of you is nothing but the dark sea.

Beside you, barracuda flash in silver-lit streaks
so close you can feel the current of their

passage. This is as close as I will ever be to the
lead goose in a V-formation. The water is silent

except for breath through this hollow tube.
Separated from the normal corridors of

human existence I am untethered and yet
profoundly centered, adrift but

self-propelled knowing only that
destiny must surely be contained in

darkness. It would be years before the
scent of coconut oil failed to remind me of

Lynn, a smell so erotic – the oil itself so sensual –
that my skin long remembered the buttery

contact with hers that followed weekend afternoons
at the pool and one particularly decadent

vacation in the Keys. Visiting her ex-boyfriend, we
smoked from a bail of pot he had discovered

floating off the beach; I learned how to clean
lobster and to keep to myself when personal

histories are relived. Fortunately such errors in
judgment are rarely fatal. I left her only weeks

after I had come home to find her sitting in the
kitchen dropping steak knives from

table height onto her foot in a sadistic game of
mumblety-peg. The fresh bottle of frozen Stoli’s was

two-thirds gone, her eyes cast in the glaze of
someone who is ultimately lost. There is no way

to count the population of people 
who are repulsed by their lovers.

Keep passing the open windows, she said,
the tragedy lost on me until she explained:

When you want to kill yourself you have to
keep passing the open windows. I left because I

like open windows, the attraction being not height but
distance and the cool breeze of foreign moments.

c. 2012, by Martin A. Bartels (working draft)
Part of my new collection, "Unlanguage."

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