daily preciousness

Friday, January 04, 2002

suburban sightings

A wedding photo, bride blushing.

It's torn up into tiny pieces no bigger than stamps. The ragged edges are a stark white compared to the bride's swarthy latina complexion.

I keep seeing things and thinking that they're signs. But what kind of signs are they?

Walking to the bus stop this morning, I spot a matchbook perched atop a front porchstep. It's one of those fold-over paper matchbooks from a local bar.

Every match is torn from it except for the very last one, jutting out like a rusty nail. The match is dark brown with a cherry red tip, and is sticking nearly straight up at an awkward angle, jauntily.

What's the story behind this random sidewalk clutter? Is the ground beneath my feet speaking in secret signals? What foreign grammar is invested in the torn bits of photograph? What memories were being purposefully, concretely deleted from somebody's mind? Who was that bride? Is this an urban archeology of loss? Mourning? Triumph? What could it mean?

The matchbook is something I might not have ever noticed by itself. But when mentally junxtaposed with the photo confetti, I have to wonder.

The matchbook is a symbol for independence? Lonesomeness? Stoicism? The last man standing? The Japanese legend of the Ronin? A modern day parable, written in the words of street garbage?

So many questions.

They all pop up from the detritus among us. But who is there to see it, really, besides me?

And how do I work these subtle suburban clues to the human condition into my tapestry of knowledge?

Maybe the refuse is just part of the natural scheme of things. The scraps of photo won't just sit there. Nope.

They will soon toss about in the nettlesome northeastern winds, spread out and come to rest somewhere far away, never to come together again. The pieces will never converge into a whole again... the orderly chaos of nature.

"Nature refuses to rest," John Updike reminds us. When he saw falling snow, Updike noted that "the transient sparkles seemed for a microsecond engraved upon the air."

Just like that snow, the solitary match might sparkle for a mere moment before it burns out. Or, if rain or snow visits it, it won't ever see a spark. It will just degrade and depart from view.

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