#48

#48


Slouch of a summer night

The road out of town harbors secrets

Bobby socks and sneakers can take a girl only so far.

 

Suitcase that holds more than can be carried

For there is much to be left behind

The white steeple that gathers the town

Folds back into the pages of a book

The townsfolk share among themselves.

 

Her gaze tumbles down toward the reservoir

Where the wayward slumber at the water's edge

Dredging their dreams

Waking to find they have fashioned a dwelling

Only sleep can keep intact.

 

The trees conspire the fate of those who linger

Beyond the bounds the birdsong changes pitch

You can feel it as if made of feather and bone

Pushing at the canopy but never quite breaking free

Hers is a mystic road that stretches beyond.

 

From deep in the nested forest of desire

Colors migrate to hinterlands of touch

In motel rooms the windows rattle

And the freeway thunders

Seductive scent of a storm about to break.

 

'Rock Lobster' in a diner where the fifties never ended

It is the coming and going that charges the air

The way conversations ebb and flow with the traffic

The chance encounter that sparks a new thread

A story woven from the fabric of day turning to night.

 

Sunday school neophyte waiting her turn

Hands that might clasp a token of the divine

Hold a ticket to the sacred sidewalks of the strange

An emissary who shall cometh

A posture to be unlearned.

 

Starlet in the blue and sky of the Stars

A road that curves the Hollywood hills

West coast sunlight that sharpens the shadows

"She had it coming" the concierge mutters

As the sirens fade into the drivetime sprawl.

 

Traveling light into the garden of plenty

There's a face for every season

For every stop along the desert road

A suitcase of bougainvillea 

Paper trail for others to follow.

 

She senses a shadow who already stalks her

Flash of light on her ghost-white frame

The soft cadence of breath in warm summer air

It is the songlines of lovers

A map of all that she'll ever become.

 

 

 

July 2019

 Untitled Film Still #48, Cindy Sherman, 1979.  © Cindy Sherman

This artwork and the poem it inspired forms the basis of a book chapter currently in preparation. The book, The Phenomenology of Tourism and Travel,  is co-edited by myself and Hazel Andrews and will be published by Routledge in 2022. The title and abstract of my contribution are below:


A Phenomenology of the Travel Image: Poetic-inductive Reflections on Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #48


Les Roberts, University of Liverpool


In the introduction to The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard describes a phenomenological encounter with an image in terms of a reverberation and sonority of being. Warming to his theme, the philosopher goes on to suggest that ‘[t]he image, in its simplicity, has no need of scholarship’ (1994: xvi, xix). My first encounter with artist Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Still #48, at an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2019, was similarly reverberant insofar as it elicited a response that was visceral, immediate and, despite the relative smallness of the print being exhibited, extraordinarily spacious in terms of the lifeworld the photograph was able to invoke. The image depicts a young woman, her back to the camera, standing at the side of a road with a suitcase positioned behind her looking out to a natural landscape. Taking this photograph as the central focus of enquiry, this chapter explores a phenomenology of an iconic travel image that proceeds by seeking to ‘bracket out’, initially at least, scholarly reflection on the meaning, aesthetics and critical reception of the image itself. In this respect, the chapter’s aim is to comb through some ‘poetic-inductive’ impressions in the hope of discovering insights that speaks to the reverberation I experienced in the gallery space; a ‘poetic[s that] speaks on the threshold of being’, as Bachelard puts it (ibid). Drawing on the work of Barthes, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty and others, the chapter delineates and traces a poetics of encounter that was, in the first instance, mapped in the form of an actual poem and from which, in turn, I navigate a more resolute scholarly path towards an understanding of the phenomenology of the travel image.