On Proximity and Beauty

Wednesday, October 21, 2015 - 5:00 pm

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.

“Awilda and Irma,” part of the Human Landscape art installation by Jaume Plensa at Cheekwood Art and Gardens in Nashville, Tennessee. (Beth Bachmann)

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.

Beauty

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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is the author of two award-winning poetry collections about trauma: Temper, a book about the murder of her sister, and Do Not Rise, a book about war, memory, and post-traumatic stress. She teaches creative writing at Vanderbilt University.

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