The rest of us watch from beyond the fence
as the woman moves with her jagged stride
into her pain as if into a slow race.
We see her body in motion
but hear no sounds, or we hear
sounds but no language; or we know
it is not a language we know
yet. We can see her clearly
but for her it is running in black smoke.
The cluster of cells in her swelling
like porridge boiling, and bursting,
like grapes, we think. Or we think of
explosions in mud; but we know nothing.
All around us the trees
and the grasses light up with forgiveness,
so green and at this time
of the year healthy.
We would like to call something
out to her. Some form of cheering.
There is pain but no arrival at anything.
Margaret Atwood, "The Rest"
I started pairing my photographs with poems I found on the Internet as a way of playing with the mood of the photograph, and to discover new poems and new poets. It is fast becoming a favorite hobby, and is very effective at relieving stress, anger, and sadness. (Which is why I found myself spending a lot of time with it the last few weeks.)
I'll look at a photograph and write down my first impressions of it: what it means to me, why I like it or not, and what I was trying to say with it when I took it. From this, I'll gather select keywords and use these to search for a poem at a site, such as Plagiarist or the Academy of American Poets. I'll wander about through the results until finding the poem that best connects.
For instance, the Margaret Atwood poem was, fortuitously, in the list that resulted when I searched for the keywords for the photo of the fence. Since I had recently been exposed to her work, hers was one of the first I read, and it felt right for the picture.
When searching for poems for my second photograph, below, another Atwood poem appeared, which clearly demonstrates something. When I find out what it is, I'll let you know. Regardless, I fell in love with this poem and it was the perfect one for the photograph.
Now, if people ask, "What does the photograph mean?", I can answer, "Read the poem". If they ask, "What does the poem mean?", I'll answer, "Look at the photograph." I no longer have to explain myself, and can hold my inner thoughts secret, in plain view.
I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head
and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear
I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and as you enter
it as easily as breathing in
I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.
Margaret Atwood, "Variation on the Word Sleep"