Saturday, April 2, 2011

After midnight, before sunrise

She haunts me, she does. A Japanese woman -- in her late seventies, early eighties -- walks alone across a field of debris. In front of her is the ocean, behind her the mountains, around her nothing but ruin. Small and wrinkled, she wears a blue parka, black pants. Her eyes are open, tears run down her cheeks. Is there any clearer portrait of human fate? This was where her life took place, but it has all been washed away. It exists now only in her mind. What should she do? Look for some scrap of evidence that it was real? Start over? How can one start over at her age? So perhaps it is best she give up. Maybe commit suicide and get it over with. Nearby, the photographer aims and shoots just at the moment when the woman, unprotected, opens her mouth to let out a sound.

Ah, the photographer. The one who is not in the picture. So the woman is not alone. He cannot be that close to her, to have gotten so much of the surrounding debris in the frame. Why is he here? He must be a professional photojournalist -- a local person, someone who knows this woman and lived in the place that used to be here, would not intrude on her so. A neighbor would be too stunned, too grief-stricken, to frame a picture as formal as this. For the photojournalist, this is the assignment of a lifetime, to root around the remains of human habitation after an earthquake and tsunami for scenes of devastation. Of desolation. He is a lucky man -- his pictures will be seen all over the world.

I look at her, caught there at the end of life, and think of the fate that awaits us all. It is early morning here in New Jersey and the half-mad mockingbird is trilling for all he's worth, looking for a little love. After two days of rain and intermittent snow, I can smell the earth. I can smell spring. I think to myself how all living things want to keep going. Half a day away, the survivors of the disaster in northeast Japan are eating dinner if they're lucky, or preparing for sleep. I wonder if the woman in the blue parka is still among them. I wonder if they can sleep. Remember sleep? I wonder if it matters, if any of it matters.

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