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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Roots and Flotsam

We wandered over the hill to the riverbank this morning. The Ohio has receded, shrinking in its channel, leaving great swaths of parched earth on the northern side, dirt all cracked and fissured and reptilian. A family of Canada geese was breakfasting in the tall grass -- how fast it grows, that grass, those weeds. A city crew had already been through, whacking down the tallest of the new tree growth along the shore. I don't know why they do that. Mercy killing?

A great stump had washed up, its roots upended, all fingerlings and ganglia. I broke off a section to bring home. Then I added another small wedge of driftwood, its bark largely gone, bleached bone showing through. The last piece: a section of a plastic bottle, produced to hold Dove dishwashing liquid, the white bird of peace embossed on the severed torso.

I put the pieces together in my back yard. Is it art? Is it beautiful?

The riverbank is littered with plastic. Folgers coffee containers, margarine tubs, lids and caps and bowls and bottles and jugs. We can wish it weren't so, wish all the trash would stay in its place, which is somewhere called "out", that place where we cast our unwanteds. But maybe all that trash is really testimony: the wretched refuse of our teeming culture. Why hide what we are, what we do? Why pretend that "out" is anything other than what it is: the places in the world we'd rather not see. And why protest when those places overspill their bounds and wash up in our backyards? This is our stuff. Yours and mine. We might as well claim it: at least that's honest. Call it art if you like, call it beautiful if you can. But let's at least call it ours.

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