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Archive for the ‘words’ Category

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March 25th, 2012 by marv

Imagine the scene: a close up of clothes – striped towels and sheets, perhaps – tumbling slowly, rhythmically, in an industrial sized dryer.  The camera pans wider to reveal stacks of dryers, some tumbling their contents, others like black portals into empty nothingness.  A harsh, bright florescent light burns and flickers overhead.  There is music, too – some awful cover of Lee Greenwood’s ‘Proud to be an American’ – coming from a TV that is bolted to the ceiling.  Dancing With The Stars is on, and some former football player is doing a mambo.  People sit below looking up at the TV from a bank of orange plastic chairs, their eyes wide and mouths agape at the spectacle.  Someone walks out the front door and it is raining out.   It’s the kind of rain that’s more like a mist than anything else – the kind that you can feel but not really see unless you look up at a streetlight from a certain angle.  It’s coming in sideways.

Across the parking lot is a boy, sitting in the back of a Jeep.  The tailgate is up, and he’s hunched over a book.  He only has a few pages to go until the end, and with at least 29 minutes still left on the dryer, he should finish it but won’t.  Some other time, he thinks, and closes the book.  He has an unsettled, distracted look about him – like he is waiting for someone or something to happen without knowing who it may be or what it is he really wants to come to pass.  He picks up his pipe and considers lighting it.  Then he wonders if he doesn’t look like a fool, sitting in the back of his car, smoking a pipe in the Metro Laundromat parking lot.  So he fiddles with his phone for a while and plays “za” on Words With Friends.  It’s a double letter score for 22 points, and he knows it’s a shit move and a shit word, but he needs the easy points.  He also needs to know what song is on the radio – it’s a late 20′s dixieland stomper by Richard “My Knee” Jones or King Oliver, and definitely has the old New Orleans sound with which he’s familiar.  He’s a long way from that place, and may soon be going farther still.  Perhaps that’s what preoccupies him.  Perhaps not.

But the boy likes being here.  Surely, its kind of a shithole and sitting out in the car like this leaves a few things to be desired.  It’s good thinking time, though.  So he thinks.  And like any boy, he can’t think about much before he begins thinking about girls.  He remembers the one he misses, he feels sorry about the one he’s hurt, and he longs for the one he’s not yet met.  There is no conclusion to these thoughts, no easy resolution, so he chases them away by heading back inside.  Maybe by now those 29 minutes have passed and it’s time to change the laundry.  If not, he’ll wait and stand and stare into one of those dark portals as everything continues to spin around him.

Sunday March 25th, 2012 in words | No Comments »


December 31st, 2011 by marv

Found during my reading today as I sat alone at the Garage, my own sort of breaker’s yard:

Mr. Nevil had worked all over the world doing this, from Bangkok to Barking.  Now he was sitting with me, remembering the harbors he had inhabited at one time or another, rolling a piece of blue chalk in his fingers, suddenly meditative.

It was, he murmured, a dangerous profession, of course.  And it was painful to realize that nothing was permanent, not even an ocean liner … He had been there to help dismantle the Normandie — “the most beautiful ship ever built” — as it lay charred and half drowned in the Hudson River in America.  “But somehow even that was beautiful … because in a breaker’s yard you discover anything can have a new life, be reborn as part of a car or railway carriage, or a shovel blade.  You take that older life and you link it to a stranger.”

- Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table.

Happy New Year.

Saturday December 31st, 2011 in found, words | No Comments »

First Epistle of Flannery

May 25th, 2011 by marv


To Alfred Corn

I think that this experience you are having of losing your faith, or as you think, of having lost it, is an experience that in the long run belongs to faith; or at least it can belong to faith if faith is still valuable to you, and it must be or you would not have written me about this.

I don’t know how the kind of faith required of a Christian living in the 20th century can be at all if it is not grounded on this experience that you are having right now of unbelief. This may be the case always and not just in the 20th century. Peter said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” It is the most natural and most human and most agonizing prayer in the gospels, and I think it is the foundation prayer of faith.

As a freshman in college you are bombarded with new ideas, or rather pieces of ideas, new frames or reference, an activation of the intellectual life which is only beginning, but which is already running ahead of your lived experience. After a year of this, you think you cannot believe. You are just beginning to realize how difficult it is to have faith and the measure of a commitment to it, but you are too young to decide you don’t have faith just because you feel you can’t believe. About the only way we know whether we believe or not is by what we do, and I think from your letter that you will not take the path of least resistance in this matter and simply decide that you have lost your faith and that there is nothing you can do about it.

One result of the stimulation of your intellectual life that takes place in college is usually a shrinking of the imaginative life. This sounds like a paradox, but I have often found it to be true. Students get so bound up with difficulties such as reconciling the clashing of so many different faiths such as Buddhism, Mohammedanism, etc., that they cease to look for God in other ways. Bridges once wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins and asked him to tell him how he, Bridges, could believe. He must have expected from Hopkins a long philosophical answer. Hopkins wrote back, “Give alms.” He was trying to say to Bridges that God is to be experienced in Charity (in the sense of love for the divine image in human beings). Don’t get so entangled with intellectual difficulties that you fail to look for God in this way.

The intellectual difficulties have to be met, however, and you will be meeting them for the rest of your life. When you get a reasonable hold on one, another will come to take its place. At one time, the clash of the different world religions was a difficulty for me. Where you have absolute solutions, however, you have no need of faith. Faith is what you have in the absence of knowledge. The reason this clash doesn’t bother me any longer is because I have got, over the years, a sense of the immense sweep of creation, of the evolutionary process in everything, of how incomprehensible God must necessarily be to be the God of heaven and earth. You can’t fit the Almighty into your intellectual categories.

I might suggest that you look into some of the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (The Phenomenon of Man et al.). He was a paleontologist – helped to discover Peking man – and also a man of God. I don’t suggest that you go to him for answers but for different questions, for that stretching of the imagination that you need to make you a sceptic in the face of much that you are learning, much of which is new and shocking but which when boiled down becomes less so and takes place in the general scheme of things. What kept me a sceptic in college was precisely my Christian faith. It always said: wait, don’t bite on this, get a wider picture, continue to read.

If you want your faith, you have to work for it. It is a gift, but for very few is it a gift given without any demand for equal time devoted to its cultivation. For every book you read that is anti-Christian, make it your business to read one that presents the other side of the picture; if one isn’t satisfactory read others. Don’t think that you have to abandon reason to be a Christian.

A book that might help you is The Unity of Philosophical Experience by Etienne Gilson. Another is Newman’s The Grammar of Assent. To find out about faith, you have to go to the people who have it and you have to go to the most intelligent ones if you are going to stand up intellectually to agnostics and the general run of pagans that you are going to find in the majority of people around you. Much of the criticism of belief that you find today comes from people who are judging it from the standpoint of another and narrower discipline. The Biblical criticism of the 19th century, for instance, was the product of historical disciplines. It has been entirely revamped in the 20th century by applying broader criteria it, and those people who lost their faith in the 19th century because of it, could better have hung on in blind trust.

Even in the life of a Christian, faith rises and falls like the tides of an invisible sea. It’s there, even when he can’t see it or feel it, if he wants it to be there. You realize, I think, that it is more valuable, more mysterious, altogether more immense than anything you can learn or decide upon in college. Learn what you can, but cultivate Christian scepticsm. It will keep you free – not free to do anything you please, but free to be formed by something larger than your own intellect or the intellects of those around you.

I don’t know if this is the kind of answer that can help you, but any time you care to write me, I can try to do better.


Wednesday May 25th, 2011 in words | 1 Comment »


September 21st, 2010 by marv

If I had a few bucks and wasn’t an actual homeless tramp, then my dream house would be full of furniture made by Matthew Holdren.  I don’t know if I’ve ever seen furniture that so distinctly and directly felt like, well, “me.”  Just imagine us sitting together some afternoon in an old farm house out in the country, listening to Justin Townes or Elvis Perkins on the hifi while sipping on some lemonade or Bulleit, playing cards or making collages on this beautiful table:

Sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

Oh, and we’ll have some Oatmeal Creme Pies, too.

Tuesday September 21st, 2010 in words | No Comments »


January 31st, 2010 by marv

I wish for a warm summer day when, while on a drive along some big empty interstate, I can stop at a an old gas station and find a copy of Bob Seger’s greatest hits, buy it for $6.99, and play it till the sun goes down.

Sunday January 31st, 2010 in words | No Comments »


January 16th, 2010 by marv
Shoolhouse, remote mountain village, Haiti

Shoolhouse, mountain village, Haiti

We had been driving for nearly two hours when the road ended. Not that it was much of a road – we had wound up and around and up again through rocky terrain on what would be better described as a dirt path, just wide enough for our 4wd vehicle. Little did we know that we were not yet half way to our destination – a small mountaintop village, inaccessible except by foot – a place without electricity, running water, or a well.

The reason for our visit was to deliver medical supplies and visit with some school children that our organization supported. The village was said to be one of the most remote and poorest in the region. On the way up the mountain, a journey that was at times more of a climb than a hike, we passed women villagers making their way down, balancing large casks for water or huge bundles of laundry on their head. Some of them carried children, too. They were on their way to their only source of water – a river at the bottom of the mountain. I marveled at how they managed to make such an arduous trek every day. It was so steep, the sun scorching. My camera gear, weighing probably no more than 8lbs, felt like half a ton. I couldn’t imagine making the same trip with 10 gallons of water on my head.

After 2 or 3 hours of hiking, my canteen dry, I was nearly at the village. Just outside of it I was met by a few men with a large blue cooler. As I approached, they opened it and offered me an ice-cold Coca Cola – for a hefty price, of course. Again I wondered at how they had managed to carry these large coolers full of ice all the way up there.

Coca-Cola is unique in Haiti, as it is in most countries outside of North America and Europe. First, it tastes better because it is made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup. Second, it comes in the classic glass bottle. The bottles aren’t new, however. They are recycled – not the type of recycling that means melting and re-casting, but recycled as in washed, refilled and re-capped. They are scratched and scuffed and murky – a visceral drink, and good. I bought one and drank it.

One of my hiking partners, a guy who had lived in Haiti for a number of years and had visited this village a few times, told me that the people there are so poor that they cant afford to buy the cokes for themselves. Instead, they buy a case and keep it cooled for when people from our organization come visit. We get refreshed, they make a few dollars – an economic symbiosis, built on aid relief and fizzy drinks.

The village itself was more like a camp. Most people lived in tents or lean-tos. It looked like many people lived without any roof at all, just a circle of blankets and belongings around a fire pit. One of the few true structures was a one room schoolhouse. As we entered, the students sang and said their ABCs, their teacher doubling as choir director and drill sergeant. They stood up, sat down, recited Bible verses. It was a grand show that even got the villagers attention – they watched from outside through the large gaps in the walls. We all applauded.

Shortly after the performance one of my teammate’s bottles of Coca-Cola made its way to the children, and the most remarkable thing happened. The first child took a sip, and then without prompt passed it to the girl on his right. She sipped and passed it to her right. And so the bottle was selflessly consumed one sip at a time, child to child. I took a picture.

I think we gave the children a lesson in English or taught them a new song, but I have no recollection of what we actually did or said. Instead, what I remember is what the children taught me about being selfless. It’s ironic that one of the first lessons we are given in school is how to share with others, and yet its so easily forgotten. Here’s hoping we can all remember that lesson now, especially as we have so much and those very children in Haiti are in such desperate need.

Saturday January 16th, 2010 in photographs, words | No Comments »

Remembering Haiti

January 14th, 2010 by marv
Widow, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

Widow, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

In 2000, I had just finished college and volunteered for a short time with a non-profit faith-based organization based west of Port-au-Prince, and had the chance to make some photographs one day when a nurse and I went out for an eight mile hike down the beach to a remote village called Bord Mer LaSalle. We were going to “thump bellies.” Not knowing what that meant, I asked and the nurse explained that the village was in need of medicine, and the easiest way to determine how many of the children were suffering from parasites was to thump their bellies. Once you learn how to distinguish it, anyone can determine whether a child’s swollen belly is caused by either malnutrition or worms by the sound the belly makes when you thump it. One is hollow, the other is a thud.

Bord Mer LaSalle was a tiny fishing village situated just off the beach and in the shadow of a long dormant volcano. No more than a few dozen people lived there. They had a few wooden boats and the houses were really just shacks made from salvaged materials, mud and wood. Roofs were thatch, cloth or sheet metal. Smoke hung densely in the hot, humid air as the villagers tended to a number of small open fires. There was a distinct odor. Most of the children were naked, the adults wore mostly rags. Its hard to describe the place and not slip into some pejorative, colonialist cliche, but it really was just like one of those Sally Struthers Christian Children’s Fund commercials.

As the nurse carried out her thumping duties, I wandered around the village, closely trailed by half a dozen little naked boys, most of whom you see repeatedly in the outside edges of the photographs. I met villagers, fishermen. A widow invited me into her home and asked me to pray for her. She was old and frail and sick, and half of her house had burned a few weeks before my arrival. I didn’t know what to pray, but I did my best. As my pathetic attempt was translated into Creole by the nurse, the old woman rose up and put her hand on my head.  As she stood there she swayed back and forth and repeated “Merci, Jesi, merci, Jesi,” over and over. Running out of things to say I abruptly shoved in an, “Amen” and she immediately took me by the hand and led me to the burned out portion of her home – it wasn’t any larger than 5×8′ – and in Creole said, “Now, pray for my house!”

How does a 21 year old kid with a camera (who happened to be going through a crisis of faith at the time) intercede for a half-burned mud house? As best as you can, I suppose…and with a little boost from a poor, sick and widowed woman whose faith seemed to be in abundance.

I wonder about that widow now. If she is still alive, still in Bord Mer LaSalle, or whatever is left of it. The children with the bloated bellies we thumped that afternoon have adult bellies now. They probably have children of their own. I wonder about them too, and how all of them in that tiny fishing village off the Leogone Plain, situated within 10 miles of the recent earthquake’s epicenter, has faired.

I guess all I can do is offer up my best attempt of a prayer again.

Children, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

Children, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

Fishing Boats, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

Fishing Boats, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

Mending Nets, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

Mending Nets, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

Fisherman, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

Fisherman, Bord Mer LaSalle, Haiti

Thursday January 14th, 2010 in photographs, words | No Comments »


September 1st, 2009 by marv

“Wanna know what my DJ name is, man?” he asked. “It is the best.  Proud of it.”

“Yeah, of course,” I answered.

“DJ Honky White Cracker.”

“Uh, wow, how about that.”

And so went my conversation with Thomas the strip club DJ/Doorman/Bartender, as we stood – or rather as I stood and he sat on the curb – at the streetcar pickup on St. Charles and Common St.  It was around 3a.m., and he had just given me a Budweiser from a 24 pack he must’ve taken from the club.  The beer was cold, and the cardboard case was covered in condensation, making a little pool of water there on the curb.  As he cracked open his second beer he told me that he was a writer and that he had taken the job in the French Quarter to do research for a book.  

“It eats at your soul, man.  It eats at your soul,” he said.  “You see these girls, and they come in – they ain’t nothing but a bunch whores.  A bunch of fuckin whores.”

I asked if he still fell in love with them anyway.  You know, in the ‘you’re a damsel in distress/I’m a knight in shining armor’ sort of way.  He laughed in response and called them all whores again.  I’m sure he had had a thing for one or two.  How could a man not?  And I’m sure there were a few that had liked him – he was affable and decent looking, with sharp features and intense eyes.  Unfortunately his good looks were hidden under some questionable sartorial choices: a panama jack hat, hawaiian shirt and cargo shorts.  Good smile, though, and he had an endearing Matthew McConaughey kind of accent.

“Well, there was this one girl, man,” he said with a slow, drunken shake of his head.  “You know, working her way through med school.  She had it, you know, you knew she might make it out and not get sucked in.  Thought she was special – that she might be my lead for my story, but before long, man, she was up on the third floor after her shift suckin’ cock.  Disappeared a few weeks later.  Never saw her again.  Whores man, they’re all whores.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that.  “That’s terrible.  Really sad,” I said.  I then asked, “So are you, like, one those dudes that stands out in the street and tries to get me into your club?”

“Yeah, I do a little of that.”

“I hate those guys.”

He laughed.  “Yeah, kinda annoying I guess.  But it works.”

I asked how long he had been at it.  

“About 8 months, I think,” was his answer, but he spoke as if he had been doing it for years.  I’m sure it felt that way.  

And about that time the streetcar’s light caught both our eyes and diverted our attention as it rumbled around the corner of Canal St.

“Well, there’s your ride,” I said.


He stood up, and I thanked him for the beer.  With a few swigs left for us both we raised our cans to each other, said cheers and chugged.  A moment later he was stumbling up onto the streetcar and I was left looking for a garbage can for our empties.

Tuesday September 1st, 2009 in words | No Comments »


July 17th, 2009 by marv

I took the Crescent line, New Orleans to Birmingham, on Tuesday and saw the following:

A black Methodist preacher with a mustache and prosthetic leg, which he pulled off and kept next to him when he sat down.  He led his congregation of 3 in a prayer for safe travels as the whistle blew and we pulled out of the station.

A sunrise of orange and purple that wiggled through the old pier pylons just off the banks of Lake Pontchartrain.

A Bob Dylan lookalike dressed in vintage jeans, denim jacket, plaid shirt, boots and aviator sunglasses.  He carried a guitar over his shoulder and an old briefcase in his left hand.  He kissed a tall redhead goodbye in New Orleans and was picked up by a spry blonde in Tuscaloosa.

An old black man with a beautifully large belly and a slight stoop waiving from his crumbling storefront in York.

Two men doubled over the hood of a Chevy outside of Boligee.

A group of half naked children at a birthday party, running through backyard sprinklers in a suburban neighborhood somewhere near Cuba.

A solitary man wearing a Crimson Tide tshirt, hands in pockets, staring at the train from an embankment near some woods, far from anywhere.

Friday July 17th, 2009 in words | No Comments »

dirty frank

May 19th, 2009 by marv

Portrait of Edward Frankland

I’ve been working on a series of collages over the last few weeks using images taken from the Smithsonian photographic archive.  This and the previous few collages posted on the blog are part of the series.  With Google as my usual source for images, using the Smithsonian’s has been a nice new challenge to work within a specific archive.  Not that what is available is limited by any means – there is a wealth of beautiful images, and its through the strength of these pictures that I feel I’ve come to some nice discoveries in how to put things together.  Check out the Smithsonian Photography Initiative blog, THE BIGGER PICTURE, and browse the thousands of pictures featured at Flickr Commons.

Tuesday May 19th, 2009 in collage, words | 1 Comment »

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