A concrete slab harvested from a demolished city building defends Pershing Park from the frozen Lake Michigan waves. It is large — the size of a small sedan — and surrounded by smaller rubble. Rebar and concrete and ice mix into a violent Jackson Pollack sketch as waves thunder into the shoreline.
The temperature outside is in the single digits — lower with the windchill. In the small sedan, the heater is not working. Or not well. The driver’s toes — numb from the cold — curl and uncurl. The driver is trying to capture an image — a photograph — of the spray from the waves when they hit the shoreline and shoot twenty feet into the air.
The visit to the public library introduced the driver to books by E. L. Doctorow, Wendell Berry and Alberto Manguel and a book on the history of time by Oxford Press. Timing the waves as they advance on the shoreline creates an illusion of distance. Patiently the driver composes a few more images.
The icy air advances deeper into epidermis. Reluctantly the driver places the lens cap on the camera and stows it in a black bag next to the library books.
It is an early summer morning. It rained the night before as I walk a mile or so before I climb into the car for the morning’s mega commute. The parking lot near my home is dappled with puddles slowly evaporating. It reminds me of when I first started taking black and white photographs in high school. One of my favorite subjects was reflections of the sky in puddles.
I don’t remember what initially attracted me to the subject matter, but I remember loading a 35mm SLR manual camera–either an Olympus or a Pentex–with a spool of film, pulling the leader and lining the sprocket holes with the sprockets, securing the leader to the spindle, closing the back door and advancing the film a couple frames. I’d sling the camera over my shoulder and head outdoors to capture a surreal glimpse of the heavens from the perspective of puddles on asphalt. Or pools of water on gravel roads or a grassy field.
After collecting images captured and hidden on a roll of exposed black and white film, I returned to the darkroom at the high school and processed the film. First developing the amber film strips and then placing it in the enlarger to make prints. The way the image emerged from the paper as it floated in the developer solution was no end of amazement for me–like watching an unseen ghost suddenly materialize. The image of a lamp post in a puddle near the grainery, the water tower with clouds dancing from the pavement, the side of the building of the Coal Miner’s bar on Main Street or a self-portrait reflecting in a pool of water in an alley.
Something about a reflection seen from a different perspective captivated me. How can I look at a subject differently? How can I view it from a different angle–another perspective? I guess that’s how I approach a lot of things today–asking myself, What’s the wider context? Some days I just need to take a long walk on an early summer morning and look for those puddles, search for a different angle of the sky, watch the fog on the mountain tops from a mud puddle. Maybe a distorted, impressionistic reflection will inform me of something I didn’t see before.
More than 50 poems were sent to publishers in January. Encouraged by another poet who submits somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 poems a month, I thought it would be a good discipline as well. It’s exhausting as well.
A few years ago, I was encourage not to post my poems on this blog (or Facebook), because a lot of small press publishers consider those poems “published.” So, I’ve been writing offline and sharing the new poems at private salons, a poetry festival and with friends. But I have not pursued publication until this year.
Talking with Al Maginnes after his recent reading at Malaprop’s, he told me how is first poetry submission was accepted immediately. Encouraged by this, he submitted more poetry to publishers. He said it was years before anything else was published.
So far, two publishers replied with rejection notices. That’s alright. I will submit those poems to other publishers.