September 25, 2009


When a photographer uses a filter, a transparent or translucent disc, on his lens, he alters the light. If a flock of geese appeared on a clear day—cumulus clouds, horizontal white streaks on blue—and the photographer placed a lens on his camera’s eye, for a black and white photo—as if that term, black-and-white, accurately defines a photo without color—the lens turns the clouds gray as on a dark day, and the bird’s wings white, their undersides, shadows of their shapes. How we see: Through a scrim.

On August 25 my parent’s anniversary, I wrote when I began to tell—like a child “telling”—and so I repeat here, childishly repeat: They were married fifty-four years. Can you believe it?

“I need to live alone,” he said. Oh so Greta Garbo.

There was absolutely no noise.

I was sixty years old listening to Bill Maher, who tells me, “menopause.” Get it? Men A Pause. Yeah, I got it.

But how to see my way. That is the question. Is that not always the question?

Bird on a wire, out of the cage.

He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.

Three years later, on the street, when going to the movie—they went to see The Reader, the movie about the woman who teaches herself to read—first she touched his arm to reach for it. He said, “Don’t pull on my sleeve.” In the movie, he bought popcorn. They are on a date. She is moved by him despite the gesture of dismissal, moved by all that she’d known of him.

This is the man who left her.

She eats a handful of popcorn, reaches to touch his head, the head he shaves—smooth like a baby’s bottom. Their thirty-five-year-old daughter has had a child. A birth, a new life in a new marriage.

Again he pushes her away. “Greasy,” he says, as if that mattered, as if she’d muss his hair, as if the popcorn were buttered. It was not. She recalls: After they’d sold the house, after she’d taken the job as a visiting writer at U. of Missouri, he invited her to a wine tasting at the Greek Embassy—this man who did not want her though he’d not said that. After that awful Greek Embassy thing (barely any food that you had to fight for and zillions of people standing in line for wine), he wanted to take her out some place; she wanted to go home, but they went to Cloud in Dupont Circle. She asserted, “You don’t desire me. Tell me.” “No,” he said.

Like the O ring on the Challenger that exploded in the sky—from where we stood watching through a lens: no noise. Like the O ring when placed in 32-degree water. “The O ring, a large key to the problem,” the investigator said. Indeed, it would not give, it wouldn’t expand or contract—frozen.

We were frozen.

After The Reader, when they got to her condo—gone: the house with the chef’s kitchen, the four-story one-hundred-year-old Victorian they’d renovated like a wish fulfilled—he stays with her. They watch The Thomas Crown Affair, the second version, the one with Pierce Brosnan, the financier and art thief who takes a hundred-thousand-dollar bet on a golf swing from a sand-trap the day after he’d stolen the Monet, and Rene Russo, the insurance investigator who wants to nail him, get his head—you know that he loves her: When he gives her the controls on his glider that slides through the sky with no motor—“Like a hawk”—when he brushes his hand across her hair. While they are window shopping, when he stands behind her, his head down, when he takes hold of her shoulders, the slight brush of his hands.

No noise.

She wakes in the middle of the night, knows that he must go, that she is returning to territory she knows too well: backtracking.
I backtrack: a dream: My father lies in a bed, my dead mother stands near. An official-looking man, clipboard in hand, asks him questions. He says to me, “I know you hate me.” I say, “I don’t hate you because I believe you know that my father’s intelligence and wry sense of humor drive his answers.” The clipboard-man persists, says that my father’s answer to his last question confirms that he cannot live on his own: assisted living needed, nursing home more likely. “So what was the question?” I ask. “If you are outside, on open grass and see an object coming toward you, what do you do?” “And his answer?” I ask. “Golf.”

In the morning, they make love and, as they begin, she says, “The trouble with you is,” and he says, “Only one trouble?” She says, “The trouble with you is that I love you.” And he says, “That’s not the trouble. That makes all things possible.”

I look out a window. Sky and water merge and in the mix I see iridescent blue-black birds, yellow-blue-black fish on limbs of trees. Through the glass, safe inside a house with a large kitchen, my pots hang again. But how could fish and fowl, light and small as they are come to my tree? How could they, so rare in size and startled color, come so close to me? The answer is, Whoever would become light and a bird …