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Friday, 16 March 2012

The Distances


Wheat farm, Walla Walla, Washington
: photo by Russell Lee, July 1941

In the false-dawn twilight
the distances appeared limitless
to the lost rider,
who crossed the field alone, and at the other side paused
to examine the vast sky. Time passed. There were people

gathering, milling in mute groups at the edge of the field,
small, silent. They came up
over the horizon, then fell back. Were there, then not there,
and now here.
The rider, remembering

the poem of Sepehri
, enquired of a passer-by:
Where is the house of my friend?
But the only answer was the wind
whispering through the empty wheatfield.

Wheat land, Walla Walla, Washington
: photo by Russell Lee, July 1941

Wheat farm, Walla Walla, Washington
: photo by Russell Lee, July 1941

Wheat farm, Walla Walla, Washington
: photo by Russell Lee, July 1941

Photos from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress


Hazen said...

There’s a dream-like quality to this poem, Tom. It’s absolutely beautiful in its spareness and concisness and open-eyed clarity. “ . . . there, then not there, and now here.” The poem resembles those dreams, all too rare, at least in my experience, that become part of you, that go on working within, silently answering some question you didn’t even know you’d asked—long after you awake to that other kind of sleep that Gurdjieff spoke of.

Years ago, I had the please of meeting Russell Lee, though I got there too late to study with the man. It would have done me a world of good. Lee’s photos here have a hyper-real quality, and provide the perfect accompaniment.



Yes, Hazen has said it here, Russell Lee's "hyper-real" photos together with poem's sense of things/people "there, then not there, and now here."


light coming into fog against invisible
ridge, black shape of black pine branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

“fragment,” see combination
of forms which was in

the margin of which was and,
continuity, intrusion

grey white fog against invisible ridge,
wingspan of gull flapping toward point

TC said...

Many thanks, peoples.

Hazen, you've read this as it had hoped to be read. The poem has in it more dream vision (or day-dream vision) than literal vision. It sees through light to dark. The leaden skies and cabin fever effects of a week of heavy, steady rain turned the inner life into words here. The more tangible sources were memories of this set of Russ Lee photos -- "hyper-real" is the perfect term, I've never seen anything quite like them, even in the work of this American genius -- and some strange half-waking reveries involving the landscape of Iran, specifically as evoked in this Sepehri poem and in the great Abbas Kiarostami film which, like my poem, also alludes to that work.

(Lovely that you had a chance to meet RL!)

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

That other kind of sleep—here, there—dreaming of waking and finding a poem like this one —“a little nearer or a little farther,/ the slightest distance.”

TC said...


You've reminded me of a phrase in John Keats's letter to Bailey, 22 November 1817.

"The Imagination may be compared to Adam's dream--he awoke and found it truth."

If only!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this evocation Tom Thanks

The land

had lost all its modesty
as rock and now sand slips

You say

″If not here then somewhere
something engaging″

A veil shimmering . . .

This land not land anymore ‒
only becoming

Who can stay with it?

TC said...

If not here then somewhere, yes.