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you are not there

We are taking the little one for a ride on her new sled. It is bright orange, with a fuzzy black and white seat cover to keep her extra warm. Her tiny hands in tiny gloves hold the sides as tight as she can. I pull her down a path, shouting "woohooo" and then she replies "woohoo". N's turn is next, pulling her more schoolgirl than mother for a few minutes. There are other parents with children on sleds passing us. Their eyes straight forward, faces completely blank they slip by in silence. I flash a smile to them, and they do not even look at me. I am not there, just another tree leaning towards the stream that runs below.

There are ducks still, flapping around the brackish water and we throw pieces of stale bread to them. I start to think, not about the complete absence of smiles in this culture. I stopped asking about that long ago, told over and again that smiles are reserved for home, behind closed doors. But I wonder, for the children -  these wiggling bu…

to be known

I was walking West in Times Square, where Broadway slices across 42nd Street, veering left creating that sliver next to Sixth Avenue. There was a green light so I sped past her. My camera thumped in the bag on my side as I raked against tourist shoulders making my way. Her face was painted white, red lips, giant arched eyebrows. A police man stood in the gutter, staring into traffic. The woman was talking, jabbing her finger into the cool, wet air facing North. Her face fell, as if she could not speak any more. 

I stopped, as people shoved past me. 

Turning back, I slid the Leica out of my bag, took a few readings with my light meter trying not to be obvious. I held back, predicting what was the best angle to shoot from, what place in the gutter would be safe from buses sloshing past me. When I am shooting, I go into a sort of trance and have no idea that cars want to park where I am kneeling. I forget my own name in these moments. Just ratios, guessing whether I should expose for the brights or the shadows, pure instinct and years of close calls. 

I choose to put the sun behind me. I learned that if I stand right in front of people they do not see me as they squint into the distance. I am just a silhouette. I pull the camera up to focus, lining up the ghost marks and then back down so they think I am just waiting on a friend.

She starts back up and I click three times. People are completely ignoring her. She is not an actor or a performance artist. She is doing this for some private reason, some urgent plan. I wonder if she is here every day, or every Thursday, or once a year. I wonder if this is her first time, or if she does the same on different corners. I step to the right, now shooting her from a 3/4 angle. 

She looks at me. I produce a small nod, a quiet smile. If she wants me to stop, I will. She stares right at me, words sputtering from her that I can only guess are Japanese. She shrugs once, repositions her feet like a horse waiting to race. I see the shadow of a bus coming and I step to the right more. Now the sun is coming at me, and she is in silhouette. I dance in a slow arc around her while she speaks. I have shot at least 10 frames. Normally I get one, maybe three at most. I am convinced that if I have taken a good picture, it should have happened by now. I tuck the camera in my pocket, cold, compact, heavy. I look at her, offering a relaxed face, not sure what I can say.

Her eyes grow wide, she chews into those words. I cannot tell if she is repeating them or if it is an epic spontaneous monologue for the tourists and the neon, for the police horses and the dump trucks. I nod once, a little thank you and then I walk back across the street. I will go West to the lions in front of the library and turn downtown.

We climb into the little bus, the mashrutka. The floor is slick, spotted with ash and salt. The driver looks up at me, his smile flashing a row of gold teeth, his wrinkles, the little tufts of hair messy around his forehead making him look like a bit like Julius Caesar.
 “Dobrei (morning)” I tell him and he nods dramatically, as I drop three ten ruble coins into his hand. E turns into the seat, and I sit next to her. She rests her face against my giant coat. 
“It’s the happy guy.” She tells me, here eyes closed against the bright lights inside the bus as we lurch into the darkness, rolling slowly across speed bumps, stopping for old women to climb inside before we turn left on the main road.
“He likes us.” I tell her, but I think she does not hear me, taking a cat nap before we trudge to school in ten minutes.
We tiptoe across swaths of ice, broken, lumped into grotesque swirls that we almost fall on a few times. Then Kutuzovsky, the accordion player in the underpass, then saying goodbye in the school lobby. 

My head kicks back in the cold air. I feel light, awake.

There is a line for the mashrutka that will take me home. It pulls up, windows steamed over, round women in furs and tall boots climbing out. It is the same driver. He mumbles something to me, smiling as he turns the radio up. I give him another three ten ruble coins. “Let My People Go” is playing on the speakers, the old sounds bleeding and cracking through them.
I close my eyes and lean my head against the glass. I think of strangers, random people  and how they just want to be acknowledged, to be noticed. And then, I understand that I feel the same way, that I want to be known.


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