I have recently come into possession of my father’s photographic legacy. It is a formidable sorting task. The first step was simply to bring it all into the same zip code as me. It has rained nearly every day since I retrieved it. The boxes remain in roped together, snug and dry in my van, cozying up to my bed, offering me added insulation on these wet and cool October nights.
For the drive home, I extracted an envelope or two from an also-rans and rejects box, to give away as little tokens of sunshine, like you might hand out cookies. Smiling cards I called them. But I gave them all away in one stroke, as I read a contemplation I’d just written about the images, before the ink could dry or I could deem it unworthy. An act of love is never unworthy, only unpolished.
The image he chose from the box and made into a notecard is below, along with my “contemplation.” I won’t call it a poem…. Not unworthy, but definitely not polished.
The ice plant cometh
It is not one of his best portraits.
Still, it draws us closer to unsung beauty at our feet,
which I might not have noticed; but that is less the plant’s fault than mine.
She isn’t flashy; a plain Jane pretty as she is hardy.
Nor bashful, but demure in the blessing eye of his lens.
No sparkle, no choir. Just comely chords of Pink on Green, White on Green.
Succulent sprigs of green orzo, strung like a tangle of Christmas lights,
And flourished with a Mum’s head.
Try walking –lightly—on its woven blanket:
Soft Rabbit tails on a bed of sea vegetables:
cooling the feet, and the earth beneath.
Portulaca: holding water and innocence.
My father was legally blind in one eye, yet his sight could bring a flower alive,
In a way that you saw it for the first time,
into it, and in it God—
All feathers and light—
Infinitely repeating in His hall of mirrors.
Dad himself only discovered color after 50 years of contrast—
Pattern and chiaroscuro:
Petroglyphs… Ansel Adams aspens…
The long arc of a train’s beam traced through a starless midnight around Tehachapi Loop.
Then he woke up.
Enlightenment was really InColorment.
Cactuses bloomed and so did his heart.
He opened, softened.
My father became a friend.
So, these unspectacular little blossoms,
in imperfect focus,
These also-ran portraits–
Mere snapshots, really–
They are little gifts from my father,
Tumbling from his wake,
Like mothballs from memory,
Rose scent wafting from a saint,
Petals scattered playfully,
from the here-after.