Lacking Focus

Cover from the catalogue of the 'Focus on Imaging' show, 2010

[Image: cover from the catalogue of the “Focus on Imaging” exhibit of 2010. Photo by artist Nick Veasey, who specializes in X-ray photography; found it on Flickr, uploaded by user Karen Roe. The image seems straightforward at first, but the more you look at it the less plausible it seems. For more information, see the note at the foot of this post.]

From whiskey river:

People don’t do what we want, things don’t happen quickly enough, the weather doesn’t cooperate, our bodies don’t cooperate. Why are these moments so painful? Because our minds are focused on a static, unchanging, me-centric picture while the dynamic unfolding of a broader life continues around us. There is nothing wrong with expectations per se, as it’s appropriate to set goals and work, properly, towards their fruition. But the instant we feel pain over life not going “my way,” our expectations have clearly taken an improper turn. Any moment you feel resistance or pain, look for the hidden expectation. Practice giving yourself over to what “you” don’t want. Let the line at the store be long. Let the other person interrupt you. Let the nervousness make you shake. Be where your body is, not where your mind is trying to take you.

(Guy Finley [quoted everywhere, but unsourced anywhere that I can find!])


To the Happy Few

Do you know who you are

O you forever listed
under some other heading
when you are listed at all

You whose addresses
when you have them
are never sold except
for another reason
something else that is
supposed to identify you

who carry no card
stating that you are—
what would it say you were
to someone turning it over
looking perhaps for
a date or for
anything to go by

you with no secret handshake
no proof of membership
no way to prove such a thing
even to yourselves

you without a word
of explanation
and only yourselves
as evidence

(W. S. Merwin [source])

Not from whiskey river:


The shoemaker’s wife ran preschool
With a fist made not so much of iron
But wire bristles on a wooden brush.

She made us recite and learn by rote.
Our trick was to mouth words, sound
As if we knew what we would one day

Come to know, what would dawn
On us as sure as a centipede knows
What to do with its myriad legs.

She made us settle our feet on the mud
Floor of her daub and wattle hut and she
Wielded a cane cut from wood that bit

Into the palm of the hand and left a burn
That resonated up the arm for an age
After its smart swing and crisp contact.

Worst of all was the shoe cupboard
Where the old man stored his wire
Brushes: a cold, dark, narrow place,

Replete with brushes hung on nails
Covering every square inch and said
To come alive when a child was locked

In with them so that they scrubbed
Flesh off that child’s bones. She said
We would end up there if we did not

Concentrate, so we stilled our feet
And spoke the words in the right order
For colors in a rainbow until the very

Thing took her place in front of us
Arranged in cuneiform, polished,
Brandishing a window to climb out.

(Fred D’Aguiar [source])


The world of the Dagara [people of west Africa] doesn’t distinguish between reality and imagination. To us, there is a close connection between thought and reality. To imagine something, to closely focus one’s thoughts upon it, has the potential to bring that “something” into being. Thus, people who take a tragic view of life and are always expecting the worst, usually manifest that reality. Those who expect that things will work together for the good, usually experience just that. In the realm of the sacred, this concept is taken even further, for what is magic but the ability to focus thought and energy to get results on the human plane. The Dagara view of reality is large: If one can imagine something, then it has at least the potential to exist.

(Malidoma Somé [source])


Letter of Recommendation

Miss A, who graduated six years back,
has air-expressed me an imposing stack
of forms in furtherance of her heart’s desire:
a Ph.D. Not wishing to deny her,
I dredge around for something laudatory
to say that won’t be simply a tall story;
in fact, I search for memories of her,
and draw a blank — or say, at best a blur.
Was hers the class in that ungodly room
whose creaking door slammed with a sonic boom,
whose radiators twangled for the first
ten minutes, and then hissed, and (this was worst)
subsided with a long, regretful sigh?
Yes, there, as every Wednesday we would try
to overlook cacophony and bring
our wits to bear on some distinguished thing
some poet sometime wrote, Miss A would sit
calm in a middle row and ponder it.
Blonde, I believe, and quiet (so many are).
A dutiful note-taker. Not a star.
Roundheads and Cavaliers received their due
notice from her before the term was through.
She wrote a paper on… could it have been
“Milton’s Idea of Original Sin”?
Or was it “Deathbed Imagery in Donne”?
Whichever, it was likely not much fun
for her. It wasn’t bad, though I’ve seen better.
But I can hardly say that in a letter
like this one, now refusing to take shape
even as wispy memories escape
the reach of certitude. Try as I may,
I cannot render palpable Miss A,
who, with five hundred classmates, left few traces
when she decamped. Those mortarboard-crowned faces,
multitudes, beaming, ardent to improve
a world advancing dumbly in its groove,
crossing the stage that day — to be consigned
to a cold-storage portion of the mind…
What could be sadder? (She remembered me.)
The transcript says I gave Miss A a B.

(Robert B. Shaw [source])


When you stepped up from the sidewalk onto the porch, your shoes thudding hollowly on the boards, when you reached for the worn metal handle of the screen door, when you stepped into the [barbershop’s] interior — forever fragrant with Vitalis and Pinaud Clubman, Barbicide and Old Spice — and the door swung shut behind you, you half-expected to find a spittoon on the floor and not a barber, but a cynical saloonkeeper.

Instead, you’d find just Walter: one-eyed, wispy-framed Walter.

He’d lost the left eye when still a boy, so said the whisperers, in an unlucky encounter with a pair of scissors. Fact was, no one really knew how it had happened. No one remembered ever seeing Walter without a pair of eyeglasses, black electrician’s tape over the left lens. A few people had glimpsed the zipper of a scar behind that lens, but they never spoke of it. When you talked to Walter Evans, you learned to look him in the right eye, or to look nowhere at all.

(JES, Seems to Fit)


About the photo: So how did the photographer shoot this? Here’s a “making-of” video, from Nick Veasey himself:

Send to Kindle


  1. Great photo and quotes. Have missed you. Been preoccupied with husband’s cancer. We’re “in a treatment protocol,” that seems to be working but it’s a long one-year haul of social isolation for immunological reasons. Bone marrow cancer.I’m trying to get back to story-writing instead of wringing my hands. Be well.

Speak Your Mind