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Sunday, 6 March 2011

My Father on the Riverside & Great Northern (Little Railway, Dells, Wisconsin)


The Narrows, Dells of Wisconsin: photo by Haines Photo Co., c. 1911 (Library of Congress)

Here he is riding a miniature train
and here I am, in our backyard, engaged

with my train to nowhere. Locomotive
and tender, in close-up, appear bound for

somewhere new, when seen from ground view, but a
long shot reveals the track begins and ends

in our back yard. The blanket over the
sandbox protects the sand. History

is not so forgiving as the human, sad,
common memory of time, which makes of

all effort perhaps no special shrine but
at least tries to understand it.

Elbow and Narrows, Dells of Wisconsin: photo by Haines Photo Co., c. 1911 (Library of Congress)


Anonymous said...

This memory, which is beautifully reflected (echoed, rather) in the two photos seems so appropriately early March, which is obviously a state of mind as well as a place on the calendar. I spent part of this morning writing a "what have you been doing for the last 40 years?" summary for some former school classmates and this brings me back to that (and I thought I had finished). I love the first and last sentences, but all of it, really.


At least tries to understand it! A shrine is much easier and sandalwood incense smells better than my scorching brain cells

TC said...

Like the post above, this one is a meditation upon very old snapshot photos, which I have no way of reproducing (tech resources here modest & basic, though we do own a can-opener).

The documentary autobiographical evidence in this case, pretty obvious I guess -- a snapshot of my father on a miniature railroad train at the Dells, and another of some toy train tracks laid out back home in our microscopic scrub-urban patch of back yard.

As life and time go along, the construction of shrines to the past comes to seem increasingly a purely nostalgic waste of time, even as the overwhelming need to begin, finally, before the end, to sort out one or two bits of truth from that long bulky routine continuum of accident, mischance, etc., grows stronger and stronger.

But I suppose the aromatic incense and small residual light created by all those scorched brain cells (of which Vincent speaks) might be the start of some kind of modest little altar, vestigial evidence of the deep meaningfulness of the fact that no human affairs ever meant a thing to anyone other than those who could not exist one more minute without seeing the meaningfulness of it all.

(I think maybe -- speaking of common human things -- it's suffering that induces this pressure to invest the void with purport.)

TC said...

(By the way, those wonderful turn-of-the-century composite stereopticon panorama shots -- like the spectacular century-old wide-angle views in this post of the natural sculptural work of the Wisconsin River upon its banks and the landscape around -- remain so very thrilling to me, if I did have a shrine in my cave I'd paper the walls with them, and illuminate it with half-spent birthday cake candles from that crumbling keepsake trove in the musty drawer...)


If "History /is not so forgiving as the human, sad,/common memory of time" I'd just throw in the ancestors and say the shrine is a kind of poem of objects and photos, as the poem is an homage if not quite a shrine to the same. But, yes, maybe it is suffering inducing the impulse. At some point just simply wondering becomes suffering.

TC said...

And this point might just be the beginning. Or it might be just the beginning, over again.


Funny how every house does have that musty drawer with the mixture of objects that are expendable but not quite abandoned yet like the half-burned birthday candles. There's always a lock with no key in there, and rubber bands, a broken flashlight, torn maps.

TC said...

I hate to admit this, Vincent, but three feet away from me at this moment there is a drawer that contains every one of those things.

You never know when you are going to need a torn map showing streets that aren't here any more.


There comes a time to admit what's in our drawers