23 May, 2007

Brief as photos

by Curtis Bauer

It was evening when I heard the news, a phone call from my friend, the poet Elaine Sexton in New York, to me in Seville, Spain, about dear Shakti's death in India. I had just returned to my apartment after wandering the streets, weaving between the Holy Week marches and processions of masked and robed men and somber music, incense and candle wax. It was all surreal, none of it seemed to have actually happened; none of it made sense, but it all made me feel numb. The next morning I walked back downtown, feeling a need to retrace my steps for some reason I couldn't explain at the time. There were wax paths winding through the city center; I followed them from Plaza Pilatos to Plaza Alfalfa, past my favorite church, La Basilica Del San Salvador, which is run down, has grass and weeds growing out of its roof tiles, but in that state of disrepair and quiet beauty that stops me every time I pass it. The streets were deserted except for the previous night's drunks and a few early tourists. Then I saw a South Asian couple wandering in the plaza, away from all the major tourist attractions, pulling a suitcase, deep in their coats and scarves and hats, but they were laughing and holding hands. And they gave me the memory of Jeet and his Shakti on a street in an Italian village as it rains, or as rain threatens and cars squeeze through the narrow streets of Bellagio and Shakti is struck by something in a shop window and steps into traffic absentmindedly and Jeet shouts, pulls her back and holds her arm, pulls her close and scolds her, but before we walk much further we're all smiling again, laughing at something she's said. And then my mind was swimming with memories of that place and the days we were together in New York City. In John Berger's book And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos, he says that history, our past, is never lost, but it spreads around us, and deepens our present experience. And just a moment ago my wife tells me that she's happy she didn't see Shakti in Italy, that there is greater distance in her memory of Shakti's smiling face, her energy and beauty, and that her heart doesn't hurt as much as it would have had she seen her in the fall like I had. I suppose she's right, but I'd not give that up, that last moment looking out the car window as she stood with Jeet at the gate of the palace where they were staying in Bellagio waving to me and Elaine as we drove away, those recent, now distant days we spent together walking to the lake and eating, reading and smoking in their apartment, or our picnic on the roadside or coffee in some mountain cafe where she ordered a whiskey and we all sipped it, four friends reunited in a foreign place, living together briefly, piecing together a friendship that distance had deteriorated. I still have trouble believing that Shakti is gone; I have these memories of her, as well as those of the 7 Carmine readings she filmed in the Pink Pony in New York, dinner with her and Jeet in the East Village, at Elaine's house... I think of Shakti, her energy, her life and laughter, and her absence overwhelms me.

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