883: Extreme Close-up

883: Extreme Close-up

883: Extreme Close-up


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

Summer 2018: Didi and I rush to see a piano concert at Église Saint-Éphrem-le-Syriaque on Rue Valette in Paris. We hold hands out of affection but also to navigate an extremely narrow sidewalk. Just after we pass an exquisitely dressed couple chatting at a tiny café table, drinking flutes of champagne, I squeeze Didi’s hand, stop, turn around, and say, “Excuse-moi. Êtes-vous Juliette?”

I had not seen my high school classmate in three decades. Our sophomore year, Juliet sat several rows ahead in French class, and here we were, miraculously reunited years later, on a small street in Paris. Turns out, she and her husband planned to attend the same concert. After enjoying the adagios of Chopin, we spent a lovely evening over charcuterie and glasses of wine, reminiscing and catching up. Until then, I thought accidental reunions only happened in the movies. Juliet had not changed all that much. Still, I marveled at the swiftness of my recognition after thirty years of not seeing her. And marveled, too, at the serendipity of identical evening plans.

When in public, I try the near-impossible task to notice everything and further, to memorize the overwhelming stream of details of my day; bright colors and styles of clothing, ambient sounds like hissing buses, the world charged with patterns amidst chaos.

Noticing and paying attention to my surroundings is more than for the purpose of writing poems. I’m trying to bring the world closer to me. It’s an exercise in being alive, in retaining the intimacy of our moment, in equipping myself to observe all that fleetingly passes by. To call up daily experience by zooming in, by locating language that is as lush as life yet elegantly sparse, well, then, that is an act of love and reciprocity.

Today’s poem expresses a profound level of familiarity that becomes a knowing intimacy, where the poem as cinematic lens reads an exterior to reveal an interior.

Extreme Close-up
by Susan Rich

All the things I love about his face come from movement:
the fishtail lines, sketched just above the edges
of his cheekbones, a tadpole of a mustache which appears,
then disappears inked along the philtrum—trimmed
to obscure the future. And yes, my father’s ears do resemble 
oyster shells, sculptures adorned with an outcropping of hair.
Praise be to his widow’s peak—un-furrowed and furrowed
like a sail for survival; to his small mouth now open—
ready for a lobster tail or a knish. And somewhere,
perhaps burnishing his jaw or dimpled chin, his father’s
early death and the knowledge of his own. I scan the code
in his crescent-shaped eyes. My eyes. DNA spiraling
along a connected shoreline. The taking and giving
back of deep waters; his wonderment hooked to sorrow.

"Extreme Close-Up" by Susan Rich. Used by permission of the poet.