Friday, December 21, 2012

Like Snow Around Dark Letters Like Grass

“From the contents of the knapsack it was evident that this man had been an artist and poet in search of effects. There were scraps of verse. I do not profess to be a judge of such things, but they appeared to me to be singularly wanting in merit. There were also some rather commonplace pictures of river scenery, a paintbox, a box of coloured chalks, some brushes, that curved bone which lies upon my inkstand, a volume of Baxter’s Moths And Butterflies, a cheap revolver, and a few cartridges. Of personal equipment he either had none or he had lost it in his journey. Such were the total effects of this strange American Bohemian.”

from The Lost World
by Arthur Conan Doyle

quoted in The Endless Death Of Maple White

Earlier this week I visited a library—the one where I fell down running up the stairs.

Princess From Atlantis Without A Band-Aid

Earlier this week, as I was leaving I walked past their shelves of books for sale. My eyes picked out and noticed, somehow all by themselves, that one shelf held a copy of Michael Crichton’s “The Lost World” and, just a few books over, a copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World.” So I put the two books together, hoping that maybe somebody would notice them and buy them as a set. I would have bought them myself but I already have a copy of the Crichton book and I only like parts of the Conan Doyle book.

But it occurred to me, too, that the Conan Doyle book is hard to find. That very library, for instance, didn’t own a copy for people to check out. So I considered pointing that out to the head librarian. I mean that maybe they might want to keep the Conan Doyle book themselves and put it into circulation. But I kept my mouth shut. These days nobody needs and nobody wants ideas from the hoi polloi.


But seeing the Conan Doyle book reminded me, again, of my favorite part—I love the business with Professor Challenger finding a lost notebook that had belonged to an artist and figuring out that the artist had witnessed and drawn surviving dinosaurs.

If Maple White had used, for instance, a portable computer or a high-tech tablet, chances are when the device was lost in a swampy environment, even if someone found it, the humidity would have wrecked the device. And, even if the device worked, these days most electronic equipment needs to be “unlocked” in one way or another—a password of some kind.

Simple analog materials—pencil and paper, pen and paper, paints and supports—are much more, so to speak, “future-proof” than high technology.

I just ordered a copy of “Selections from Anna Magdalena's Notebook” from Amazon. Music that Bach wrote or collected for his wife. It can still, of course, be played today.

If Bach had given his wife a laptop or a tablet, chances are the devices wouldn’t be working a few centuries down the timeline. And, of course, even if they were still working, someone would have to know Anna Magdalena’s password.

Again, the simple analog material—music notation on paper—managed to standup to the centuries and remain useful.


Last night we had the season’s first snow fall
that was thick enough to accumulate.

People have been seeing flakes now and then
but this is the first time the grass went white.

Probably when the Sun’s up tomorrow
this will melt and we’ll see the grass again.

It’s not like the grass is gone forever.

Although tomorrow the snow might be gone.

Moments before I took that photograph
I’d been on the internet looking at
pochade boxes from artist supply stores.

Those are travel kits so artists can paint
outside and keep their supplies organized.

If I ever went to Los Angeles
to paint that bridge Tony Scott jumped off of
a pochade box would help me make the trip.

Indoors here my supplies are organized
but when I noticed the snow on the grass
I grabbed my camera not a notebook.

I took a photograph of last night’s snow.

I didn’t make a drawing. Or paint it.

The ghost of Maple White just shakes his head.

If I saw a dinosaur I’m prepared
to get high definition video
and stereo sound of the encounter.

But technology changes. Formats change.

And adventures knock equipment around.

Paper notebooks and illustration boards
can survive. But photographs are easy,
and drawing or painting is a process
that makes you look away for a moment
from the object or scene in front of you
and you have to devote your attention
to the other thing, the thing you’re making.

That’s the whole point, of course, but photographs
are easy. You don’t have to look away.

It snowed last night and I took a picture.

The ghost of Maple White just shakes his head.

I’m thinking maybe I should paint the ghost
but Maple White just laughs and disappears.

If I had looked away I’d have missed it.

Last night it snowed and I made a ghost laugh.

And I wrote all this stuff. But what are words?

The paper is white
like snow around dark letters
like grass made of ink.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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