- Taking Down the Bridge, and: Against Giotto, and: The Temporary Ones
Taking Down the Bridge
Treasure Island is on fire. Or so it seems, torches smokingthrough the cantilever truss, hiding even the menwho wield them. When it is finished, next year,perhaps, carefully dismantled in roughly the reverse of its creation,58,000 tons of steel will be released and the new bridge—gleaming white of the future— will stand alone. But now,almost dusk, which will be brilliant if the fog bank ever lifts,the old bridge is cut in two, as if the center, in fact,could not hold, had fallen into the bay amid the weekday sailboatswith nowhere else to go, the occasional sea lion glidingby. How quickly we abandon the past. At Zeitgeist,yesterday, we drank beer outside and listened to the youth of San Franciscoget everything wrong. You told me how you would bring old relicsinto the classroom—an antique shoehorn, ophthalmologist’s lancet,a wine key made of bone— and tell your students to become [End Page 91] archaeologists, to discover the objects for the first time, createa use for them, a name, saying this is what poetry does.“How wrong that now seems,” you said. “Why must we makeeverything new?” Hegel understood this, I guess,the demolition of the concrete as necessary for progress.That Being and Nothing unite as Becoming. But the earringsthat will one day be made from the bridge’s picked-apart skeleton—the eager group at the bench next to uswill wear them beautifully. And they will reflectnothing, in their conserved rust. Imagine, I wanted to tell you,what of us, a century from now, they will haul in to hold—your ancient, hulking cell phone that could be a paperweight,a time machine, a device for measuring love. [End Page 92]
When Kristeva said that, in his depictions of Hell, painting reachesits limit and breaks apart, she meant Giotto knew what he was doing.
Mute the palette in a world made of sin. That the demons must be gray.Satan, of course, devouring the humans, one in each fat hand, hung
like meat in some dark cavern. It makes sense: in Hell light isn’tlight. But shouldn’t art have a little something of deceit?
I wanted the earth adorned, a stylized vase behind Gabriel’skneeling. That flourish in his cloak signifying a swift arrival.
Golden border arabesques. Elongated necks to look a little lesslike us. But Giotto was sturdy architecture, gravity and mass.
In his Lamentation, Mary wears her sadness in heavy folds of drapery.Why give the body weight when the body has such weight?
Every touch, Ruskin writes, is false which does not suggest morethan it represents. Too, each brushstroke. In my dorm-room closet
I represented nothing more than a girl with a penchant for scissors.Each cut suggested—what? To Giotto’s bland Salvation, I preferred
the trappings of Siena, the frivolous, swirling silks. Wretches, like me,sick of their dull bodies. Mary with a knowledge of what it is to be,
for once, dazzling, so I could look at her until I grew tiredof looking. Giotto zoomed in on Mary to give form to grief.
I spent years doing the same to a body on which I wantedto make pain visible. To be like one of the damned. Hell I never
believed in. Mary only in books. In Padua, Giotto painted for a viewerin the center of the room. Every diagonal had her fixed there. Such
purpose. Because it matters where one is standing, when the light hitsthe wall of the chapel, when one forgets the body before it. [End Page 93]
The Temporary Ones
We, citizens of a young state,cross the bird shit–covered sandstone, file past the watchtower, and, finally,into the cells. That’s why one comesto Alcatraz. To see where history has emptied itself of the human.
The cells are paintedwhite, mint-green. They hold example belongings but I want to see beyond the props.Fingering a brochure, I...