“There are signs that say nothing, that reveal, like the poker-faced skull
under all our facial expressions, the bedrock truth of it all.”
- Teju Cole, BLIND SPOT
1. undead, undead, undead
The tell-tale heart of your average citizen bears a cursive
Tattoo with the inscription, Je suis anonyme. Each of us
Meets the camera eye to eye, face to lens, and keeps clicking
Until our profile is rinsed of cynicism. The projected self
Moonlights as the organizing mind here, the finder of your
Perfect tender disguise. We don’t kiss frogs anymore;
You never see a princess with a scar.
Swans follow other swans, echoes of each other,
But waterbirds are bent that way. Think: differently.
An uncomplicated fellowship is their specialty.
There is grace in a swan’s neck-to-neck entwining,
Suspension of disbelief, even, in its coiled bridges.
Swans will never solve the riddle of cold fusion,
But they have much to say of value about following.
Lies may abide in our tools, in focus rings & groups,
For instance. In a vessel purpose-built with mirrors,
To finesse a more flattering angle. But the glamour
Of our subterfuge is that it all passes through the same
Cosmetic centrifuge. Brighter, darker. Closer, farther.
But never deeper. Never a deepening. Only diffusion.
In this way, the aperture is inoculated against
Any failure; is as blameless, really, as the light
That rains, streams, or beams down upon, said hole.
The hole in question may be a rift, a gash, a breach;
A tear, as in fabric or time. But a hole is just a hole.
This is why the camera easily doubles as a gun:
To shoot your true self, triggering your new self.
Like guns and cars, cameras are fantasy-machines
Whose use is addictive, noted Sontag, fifty years ago.
In the future, everyone will be unknown for 15 minutes.
Your closed circuit, meanwhile, is still open for business.
Only shame draws blanks; an aversion to kinking the flow.
Picture the sound of Orca’s sonar nervously listening:
Herd thinning intimations, no safety in dwindling numbers.
An orchid in need of coaxing away from the wall?
Did you factor in the coercive atmospherics of the
Dance floor? Bass roar & strobes, confetti cannons & smoke?
Swinging petals & sinew-glisten? Better bring your best
CabbagePatch, bone up on your RunningMan & RoboCop.
The essence of burlesque is transparency: express
Your intentions from the get. Infiltrate your own cult
With occult musings, then show contempt for the ensuing
Cult following. If you can’t be Bruce Lee, try being Jet Li.
Real cultured butter tastes like culture to me.
2. stress envelopes
Everything was proceeding swimmingly, seamlessly wrapped
In a poreless sheen (blemish-free), until Tim Roda showed up.
Roda is an expert at making messes, but they’re expressive
Messes so we can’t just airbrush them out like smog & poverty.
You’d think he’d be more covert with that monkey wrench of his.
Gumming up the works like a Taurus in a candy store, a bull
Imported from China reenacting Tiananmen Square. Chaos,
Scrambling, shots fired in the air. A Peking duck dangling.
Governments possess cameras with minds of their own,
Mining your own business for free, to better market
Their extensive line of services with ease. Convenience
Strikes a hard bargain. Convenience breaks the bargaining
Table. Convenience leaves a paper trail in your to-go cup.
No returns without a receipt.
Roda’s sons carry picket signs designed in their basement,
Turning their father into an ordinary wage slave.
As opposed to a world-famous artist enslaved by
50% of the take. Allison is balancing herself
On a seesaw, stage left, miming the Scales of Justice,
Trading peace of mind, for a piece of her mind,
To the camera which is mindless.
Remember the ersatz party hats, those dunce caps worn with
Earnest aplomb, despite the dour expressions of his sons?
I know, I know. His family can’t help but make a scene,
See themselves as others see them, rearrange each other
Accordingly into new teams. You simply need esprit de
Corps to foment discord—to skip stones in darkling voids.
Trouble keeps the mise-en-scene interesting.
You need a wife off-screen conducting the audience with
A baton, commanding them to applaud, exhorting critics
To the edge of their seats. You need sons selling tickets till
It’s standing room only. When lonely people realize this,
They, too, will create their own kind of operational
Environment. True, the tools must look like they’re
Attached to you, emanate from the hands like wands.
Drink from the cup and you & the land will be one.
Did she sit on cushions and smoke a water-pipe, clap once for
Whatever she wanted? Yeah, no. She knows that if you want to
Catapult your entire family out of obscurity, it helps to have
A small army of light infantry poised to keep the dream spinning.
(It helps to have an armed catapult with wheels to counter the
Insurgency pleading at your knees). While you’re nursing.
On maternity leave. Now reverse things. She is the ice that banks
The fire inside; Roda, the moonstruck janitor along for the ride.
3. rimwrecker f/x
Roda is counting his family coup d’états
Like blessings on a spit. Meanwhile, his sons
Are busy hoisting the Jolly Roger atop a
Perimeter of bamboo petards like Somali
Pirates. Boyz in their hoodies? Yes, in medias
Mess, as previously mentioned. A pint-sized
Brood of hooded Grand Inquisitors executive
Producing their own mock trial in a custom
Kangaroo court notable for its lone clay camel.
The Wrath of Genghis Khan? Farrakhan? Chaka Khan?
Is the camel even in the Monster Manual?
The executioner’s song is a ring-tone down-
Loaded from the app store. Briiiiiing me the severed
Heads of Gursky, Crewsdon, and Olaf Breuning on
A silver platter, it chimes, again & again,
Mapping the sweet hereafter. Who knows what evil
Lurks in the hearts of men? The Chiaroscuro is
The de facto understudy to The Shadow.
I keep asking myself, what is the opposite of a
Deadbeat dad? A devoted father? Why bother with
Chiseled euphemisms for tolerable estrangement,
Posthumous garlands for the recently departed?
Stone-cold karmic deposits engraved on the grisaille
Side of the slab. DEVOTED FATHER. The name of a
Yacht, scrolled on the back in gothic font, which sinks
At the first sight of rain. It’s not the size of the boat,
But the color of emotion that’s suspect.
But Roda never shrinks away. He’s always serving 40-love,
Resisting the siren-server’s beck & call, keeping his family
Close to his vest (beneath the bearded nest of glue-on tresses),
Avoiding development deals with technocrats & binary hacks
Hammered out secretly in darkrooms, back alleys and
1-Hour Quickie Fotomats.
4. subtle beasts
Viewers always scan the uncanny resemblances
Between father & sons, mother & sons, son & son.
And from picture to picture, tableau to tableau, part
To unholy roll call of the Donner Party snowbound.
Raise your hand to be accounted for. Grab a cheat-
Sheet from the lost & found. Wait, was the Manson Clan
Released buried alive? (See: Still Life with Humans).
Roda picks at his ankle bracelet, cannibalizes his brain
In solitary confinement. Mud men are lifesavers, though—
They save the lives they want to live, test the survival
Of new images. First Blood: Part 2, Roda gathers gravel
Alloys in his cell, weighs the causal consequences of
Pause & effect baked in, then paints his face camo to
Stimulate the language centers of his angst-ridden mind.
Rumspringa is over.
(Even CATS had to close).
Charlie keeps digging himself in
Against North Viet Amish Forces
Sequestered in Shaker quonset huts.
Coppola, Scorsese, Cimino,
Sacred triangles of cinema.
In lieu of chroma, the portfolio is saturated
With the evolution of unseemly incidents.
In lieu 0f more discipline, an inner self-direction
Reveals the standard camera to be glaringly obvious.
A clearing of the stage obtains. An ethnic cleansing of
The old village ways. When Roda encloses space with clay,
He holds a grotto in his hands. (If you have everything,
You need nothing). No more gaffers; the 3rd key grip has been
Fired for insubordination (is the broad-brush explanation).
For jerry-rigging clip-on lights to the ceiling again.
The beauty of ingenuity is that we all become
Midwives of invention. Your dark chamber,
In case you’re wondering, has a tension headache.
Is visible at arm’s length in Roda’s imagination.
Migraines make for grainy silver-gelatin images.
Horror is the new normal so we don’t need to see
Roda’s stormtroopers ordering take-out at Wendy’s.
You can’t drive-thru a cock-eyed pot or pinhole dot
Even with a matchbox car or sub-atomic jalopy. Hot
Wheels, maybe. Those stickers aren’t logos advertising
Corporate sponsors like Ceramic Monthly, just more
Evidence of Roda’s sympathetic blood relations.
David C. Hunt
TIM RODA: The Father’s Folly Garden