The Impossible Poem: San Francisco

to look, for a photographer:  is to call the story down to footsteps, to hold stillness by its wings, to contemplate things that cannot be saved and to guard whatever moment restores your sense of another moment’s equal distinctness––to look:  is to follow the open flinging of glances through the squares, to court mild admonishment and slight astonishment, to intervene visually in the flow of life and capital––to look:  is to parry the exteriorities of strangers who inhabit the public realm as extensions of their own private realms, amid the awkward comforts of commerce and the half-governed energies of the streets––to look:  is to offer strangers an unscripted place in your own interiority, to receive them with the same generosity and the same scrutiny as family––to look:  is to study the disaggregated human union and to be startled at the sharp presence of hazily recalled sentences from a years-old book review, later recovered from a notebook in a pile of notebooks:  “a poem ought to take the chaotic state of our minds and our constantly shifting viewpoints into account… such a poem could begin anywhere and stop anywhere; there would be no closure, no summing up, only a temporary resolution of differences…”— to look:  is to smile at the added insight of these sentences, written by the poet charles simic, if the word “photograph” replaces “poem”––to look:  is to work your way into the puzzle that photographers sooner or later encounter, namely that making is coextensive with finding and finding is coextensive with losing, all of it an irreducible type of thinking that is also a way of feeling and a way of adding and subtracting appearances from the core doubts about knowing––to look:  is to practice the art of discovering, which turns out to be the art of covering and recovering, and adjusting the tensions between many sets of brethren words––to look:  is to pace curiosity to the tides of streetcorners and the eye of the walker, to feel for the unspoken microhistories of shared space, to intuit what you would call a wondrous art of nature if birds all held ink in their quills and the sky were their canvas, to affirm wind, flame, sweetness in memory and all mutations with no design––to look:  is to cultivate the difficult awareness that nothing is final, not joy and not deception, not numbers that measure death and not heartfelt dreams of god singing mercies, not the light that glimmers and not the shadow under the shadow, not the tightly held suffering and not the benign summer––to look:  is to contemplate again the journeys of the ancestors, in my case jews who fled violent bigotry a hundred years ago in eastern europe and found their way to san francisco, took the adopted city’s name as their own name, set about sifting their facts from others’ facts, and seeking a share in the word home––to look:  is to contemplate the journeys of so many others likewise seeking their place, and the changing character of a city that my own family, still here, both does and does not recognize––to look:  is to find the tracks that lead toward refuges and away from them, toward common objects and away from them, toward the advance of time and away from it, each step unclosing new names and unforeseen pieces of the impossible poem––to look:


jason francisco
august 2013, san francisco