Six photographs and six prose poems
by John Tranter
On the Other Hand
Where the camera should stare back at us from the glass there’s a scribble of electrical wiring, the guts of a dead radio. Her left hand hidden in her pocket ― is there a ring? Her right hand hidden behind her back. She’s holding something ― a knife?
On the one hand, her dress, her decor: no collar, no edging, no pleats, no lipstick, no necklace, no earrings, no watch, no frills. On the other hand, the flat sheet of glass stuffed with lace, reflections that refuse to be a mirror ― it’s a cupboard now, choked with old wedding dresses and the blurred idea of a garden.
The double door without a handle. No one ever passes through it, you imagine. A keyhole without a key, and never locked.
Or so completely locked that it is never opened; closed on some day of disaster, forever hidden, put away, like the young woman’s hands.
She waits for the faint click, then she’ll look up to the skyline behind the photographer, the horizon heaped with pale saffron-coloured clouds.
On the Wallaby
As the carnival creatures travel into the cave they take some of the light with them. When they emerge for their brief passage through the upper world, they tell us the stories that give them the energy to live there among the shadows. The sheets of little mirrors don’t tell us anything; they just gather the sunlight.
The paws are held up for inspection as a horse gallops by into the future, carrying a new kind of poetry on its back.
The storyteller smiles quietly as he waits, his hands patient and motionless. A dark horse passes silently on the inside rail.
Think of the chambers of the human heart, or the two sides of a spinning coin; a marriage, a brother-and-sister, an old photograph torn in half to make a secret recognition device. The halves are similar, but not identical.
This woman is an artist, and her brother is an artist. She wears men’s jeans, a black leather belt with a chrome buckle, and a black plastic technical watch. She emblazons the front of her body with the image of ‘The Ghost Who Walks’.
In her art, she makes huge photographic prints and then subjects them to the violent disfigurement of oil paint, the tool and sign of the male artist hero. Ikonomachy, the clash and struggle of image systems.
She stares at the camera, through which we imagine the silent collective gaze of an audience. The lens is made up of four pieces of glass cut like jewels on a diamond lathe to a formula of complex mathematical curves. One side of this crystal eye looks out at the world, at the flickering shafts of light and movement, the sounds of passing cars and laughter.
The other side glances briefly into a tiny darkened chamber at a blank piece of film.
Tess (& John)
There’s a loyalty between a poet and his poem ― if he feeds it, takes it for a walk occasionally, and cares for it just enough, it will come and sit at his feet, as it were, waiting to be noticed. Give and take, you might say.
Snapshots are different: the black contraption jumps out and steals your soul and attaches it to the present moment like a decal stuck to a window, where it fades day after day as the sun sweeps across the sky, season after season. It steals for the most humane of reasons: its art is the rehearsal of nostalgia, its trick audible, its motivations mournfully explicit: love me, before I die.
To leave England behind, for the brutal weather of a distant colony… writers are always doing that. Love one another, Auden guessed, and die; having his cake and eating it too ― revising his sex-life from an armchair. Outside, windy New York. Forget the bombers carpeting the Channel with thunder. Yeats died ― what a sermon. Inky schoolboy, blot your book! England’s death-agony!
But here, at the farthest reaches of the known world…
The afternoon sun scatters its photons. The emulsion, in its contraption, waits for an ideal temporal cross-section.
Here comes one now, almost invisible in the glare.
To Absent Friends
Let’s visit the largest holographic installation in the world. It’s titled ‘To Absent Friends’, which sounds sad and complicated, but relax: it’s simply a bar; a local bar situated somewhere back there in the seventies, a boxed-off space where a grainy red glow trembles in the air and nothing is what it seems. The martinis are dry, with two olives: that seems about right.
Pools of ruby light ripple in the three mirrors behind the bar ― the past, the present, and the future. The woman behind ‘The Bar of the Folies-Bergère’ comes to mind, with her bored air and her bottles of English beer. You lift your drink, and its reflection hovers just under the polished surface of the bar, waiting for its echo to return. In the noisy room are other people and the sound of voices; flowers, and paintings of flowers. You realise that the art of gathering light is balanced by the gift of spending it.
A glove reaches for itself.
The light wave strikes the mirror, and begins its endless journey into the past.
A girl in a loose dress sits on the roof. It is a summer night, and a high drift of cloud covers the sky with dispersed moonlight. Today she’s a girl, tomorrow, a woman. But which woman? Will she become a different person? And then, after all the pain and drama, the new friends and the old enemies, the love and the betrayal, what will happen to the girl she has to leave behind?
She thinks of rules: writing them down, tearing them up.
Outside the fence in the dark: movement, whispers.
All this is long ago.
Now there’s a hammering at the door. It’s the unwelcome future.
We count the lost names, and bury them: one, two, three. We put the wedding ring in a tin. We untie the rope. We dip the piece of paper in a bath of bleach, and hang it up to dry. Now the page is empty, and we can write down the new names: one, two, three.
On the back of the eyelids we project a holiday snap: a light blue sky, the sun dazzling the water, grass, the cries of children playing. The voices grow distant, and fade away.