My daughter, just the other day, gave me her 4th Grade school picture and I got that feeling. You know how when you want to say something about rivers, the intangibility of memory, and a fork slicing through a piece of blueberry pie? It’s like that. But only for a second and then it’s not.
It’s frustrating, isn’t it? Because that feeling? It’s made of images but those images themselves are only symbols for water that slips right through your fingers when you try to grab it. Sometimes the content of the feeling veers away from imagery and seeks to announce itself in sound. I mean, it erupts into words but it yearns rather to be heard as opposed to dwelling in what the words mean. Like, for me, it seems to most often be about the conversation between long e’s. I want to stand on a chair or atop a tall building and yell something like She’s calm seas and bumble bees and the breeze through trees on a Japanese puzzle box. But I never do. And so that feeling stays lodged in my chest, caught in my throat, restless, urgent, waiting to explode.
In the end, there’s something strangely and tantalizingly lacking in the reach of what words are able to say. Often, in relation to that feeling and its expression, I discover that it pushes and kicks at its boundaries in an effort to be a song. I hear the fast rippling notes of an acoustic guitar that come and go like a waterfall and the lyrics drip like syrup in a foreign language that belongs not to another country, but dreams. None of it makes any sense and, it seems to me, that it’s this inability to decipher that feeling in a way that secures meaning that ultimately secures its mysterious and unfathomable beauty.
It’s just a 5X7 and—yes—it’s the rectangular limit of the picture, the boundary it erects between the image and everything else that initially stirs that feeling into being because it evokes an immediate contradiction. She is in the picture. But she’s more than the picture. This contradiction creates sparks that flicker into imagery, poetry, and music. And there she is, frozen in a blink of time, well lit, smiling, wearing a purple leopard-skinned top and a light blue sweater peppered with the silhouettes of dachshunds. And I get that feeling. That jagged inhalation. The ancient aesthetic gasp. Because—yes—she’s beautiful and—yes—pictures are great and wonderful things to preserve bits of stasis in an otherwise relentless world of fluid and flowing flux, but it’s this stasis that refuses, even in imagery, to stay put.
There she is, a 9-year-old 4th Grade girl, trapped in a rectangle but, like a song, she pushes and kicks at the boundaries, dripping like syrup into the past and the future. She was my baby, a speck of pink flesh in tiny pajamas (with zebras), and I rocked her to sleep night after night to the tune of Lou Reed crooning Pale Blue Eyes. And, still dripping from the picture, she will one day be an old woman with wise eyes that seem to float in a calm sea of memory and wisdom. Pictures accrue meaning from their befores and afters and it’s all the time that erupts from the blink of the moment—flash—that gets lodged in my chest and caught in my throat, that feeling urging itself into being more, into strangely juxtaposed images, the assonance of poetry, and the opaque familiarity of the songs that haunt our dreams.
Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine