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On Proximity and Beauty

In my favorite scene in On the Waterfront, Marlon Brando stands inside a rooftop birdcage and passes an egg through the wire mesh, placing it in Eva Marie Saint’s open hand. Part of the fence is the holes — for whispering, climbing, and touch.

We can get so close to another body, inside each other, even make a nest. But when it comes to getting inside the other’s head, we are limited by language.

The two heads photographed below are part of the art installation “Human Landscape” by Jaume Plensa. The stainless steel mesh suggests a boundary, but one penetrable by air, light, and water.

Poetry can get us as close as language can to the interior, because it works via approximation. Metaphor allows for either-or and paradox, simultaneous elements of each part. To be present with another in body or mind is to be with them in the presence of, and in spite of, their surroundings. The mesh in Plensa’s work separates the two heads, but also links them through a shared landscape, where they appear at peace, together, and not drowning.


In between your hands,
my body is a river
you bring to your lips out of thirst.
Did I imagine it? ‘No’ is not either or
with ‘yes;’ the war
is not between reality
and shadow (what we saw, what we thought
we saw) but between public and private
speech and the silence between us in the parts
we can not enter with anything
but each our own word.

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