October 30, 2006
Sketch Problem Narrative
The narrow passage defiantly declares its existence against the encroachment of opposing bricks while the sound of my descending footsteps echo upwards between the two buildings whose walls rise above me to a place where they meet the sliver of sky that arcs across them. My hand reads the stories of many seasons written on the stair rail in the language of thick coats of paint slathered on top of the ones before them, and my shadow rises to meet me, carving my stretched profile into the illuminated shape of the open archway projected across the ground by the western light of an autumn afternoon. On the tenth step, I reach level ground and the end of the rail’s recounted stories. After a momentary pause at the bottom of the stairs, I walk towards the far end of the space, running my left hand over the gritty alternation of brick and mortar and I traverse a distance I would normally cross in fourteen paces in no less than twenty. Midway my shadow joins the somber ambience of the dusky alley as I cross the leading edge of the sunlit projection. Then upon reaching the end of the passage, I grasp the cool metal handle of a second door. Pushing, it slowly begins to swing closed, scribing an arced path across the ground beneath it. I can feel its mass, but it moves smoothly with a sound that can only be described as a polished metal on metal moment of anticipation. It is held in contrast to the reluctant cry of fatigue of the rusted hinges on the right side of the wrought iron gate that swings closed in the arch simultaneously to the door at the end of my arm. My hand still on the cool metal handle, the door comes to a close with a low resonating tone that I feel pass through my hand, down my arm, and through the rest of my body to the ground below me, while the clang of the wrought iron gate silences its old groans as it comes to rest against its frame.
In shutting the massive door that spans across the end of the alley, I feel like I have turned a great valve, closing off through passage and transforming the brick-lined chasm into a sanctuary from the distraction of others rushing through on their way someplace else. I pause a moment and listen to the water in the courtyard fountain splash in its stone basin beyond the pivoting wall. Turning around, I look back at the stream of afternoon light, many-hued by reflections off the turning leaves in the trees beyond, which a minute ago had cast the hard shadow of my frame against the brick ground but now cast the soft rain-splattered shadows of the flowering bars of the wrought iron gate recalling a stained glass window.
Caught short, I am abruptly reminded of where I am by the unforgiving sound of a fireproof metal door slamming shut as someone emerges from the basement of the building rising to my left and passes through the courtyard with hurried steps. The sounds push against the bounds of my sanctuary, carved from the profane chaos of the unprogrammed alley through the ritualistic closing of the pivoting wall. I push back against the intrusion, projecting my thoughts against the brick and mortar walls and into the unseen space of the courtyard beyond. Ensuring the integrity of my sanctuary, I reach to the seat, which folds down with first the sound of polished metal sliding on metal and ending with a quick metallic snap that marks the tight closing of the valve, securing the stillness of the space. Absorbing the sound, I begin to recall all of the locks of my lifetime; trying to remember which one it is most like.
I sit down and the seat back imbedded in the sanctuary wall frames my body in the space. Then shifting my thoughts from the sound of the lock, I open an old book with a frayed green cover and yellowed pages that fill the space with the smell of musty paper and I begin to read aloud, projecting the words into the space and allowing them to mix with the ambience of my thoughts.
April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Another time, another place
On a cold grey day in early spring, I gently nose my car from the smooth monotony of driving on pavement to the staccato crunching of tires on a gravel lot. I bring the car to a slow stop, shutting the engine with the quiet click of a key, which I follow immediately with the sharp ratchet of an upward pull on the parking brake handle. Reaching across the small upholstered cabin, I take my Minolta camera from where its sits on the passenger’s seat, its body engraved with runes that tell the tales of its years of faithful service in less than ideal conditions. I open the door, step out and stand up against the biting wind. The gravel gives under my boots and I slip a little bit, leaning all my weight back on the car door, slamming it shut with a quick metallic snap as the lock engages the latch.
Looking across the vast landscape of barren trees, mist, water, and tall yellow grass dead since last autumn, the raindrops splatter on the hood of my black nylon jacket and the wind bites at my face. I start down a muddy track along the low ridge between the grey lake and the silent field with my camera in hand.