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Susan M. Schultz

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

Susan M. Schultz is an author, most recently, of "I Want to Write an Honest Sentence" (Talisman), "Lilith Walks" (BlazeVox), and "Meditations:

December 2019-December 2020" (Wet Cement). She is also a critic, a photographer, and the founding editor of Tinfish Press. She lives in Hawai`i with her husband, three cats and a dog, and is a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

"I and Eucalyptus" is composed of a series of meditations trees near the author's house in Kāneʻohe, on O`ahu. Quotations are from Martin Buber's "I and Thou". The photographs are the author's.

 



I and Eucalyptus 6


If my photograph of Eucalyptus is abstract, then who am I to Eucalyptus? Two-dimensional woman with blue-framed glasses and a flat dog, caught in the act of trying to take a photograph? The sublime melancholy of our lot [is] that every You must become an It in our world. But the tree takes my melancholy and absorbs it into its bark, its colors, its substance, which are not abstract. Because I cannot see far up the tree, my photos are of a narrow band near earth. Does the tree’s curvature make it less abstract? The photograph seems to make it more present to me, as I carry it home, stare at it on my screens. Presence isn’t reality, but the object in relation to the space it’s in. But this is to get too abstract: what I love are the reds and greens, the gaps, the way the tree seems to open mouths (at all angles) into which I can look. Some sap drips look like tongues. `Āhhuimanu Bronx cheers. I gave up metaphor for prose, but now it’s back. The It is the chrysalis, the You the butterfly.


I: What do these colors allow you to do that plain bark would not?

Eucalyptus:

I: Do you get lonely standing up all the time?

Eucalyptus:

I: Do you resent the reputation you have of not casting any shade?

Eucalyptus:

I: With what other beings do your roots communicate?

Eucalyptus:

I: Do you find me and my dog half as fascinating as I do you?

Eucalyptus:

I: I don’t resent your silences. They cushion me against paving equipment, the guy who doesn’t want me taking a picture of his truck, a dog behind the nearby fence.

Eucalyptus:

I: Yours is not a silence that fills in, but one that lives beside the noise.

Eucalyptus:

I: Your sticky black sap clings to my dog’s red leash. I'll up the contrast later.



 


I and Eucalyptus 8


Measurement is never simple. To “how long have you been interested in photography?” I might answer, “always,” or “for a few years.” Both could be true. Picture as marker; photograph as marked. Picture as what I saw when I looked at the tree; photograph as the reflective bulb of sap hanging from Eucalyptus. My mother was glad she did not have a camera when she crossed the border into Scotland, saw sheep and a rainbow. But she remembered it as a camera shot. Or a not-camera shot that could have been. I remember missed photographs as well as those I bring home. Download: memory. Download: image. Whatever I see tracks through memory. See the color red, and I remember a red cap. See your room and I remember memorizing it. I suppose I could do synesthesia, too, on a double track of memory. Smell and sound both activate the past, so why not each other? Eucalyptus is the scent of my childhood, enveloped in Vicks. Vicks sharpens smell as the iPhone saturates its images. And iPhone also marks the memories of 12 years ago, as if they were my mine. They are mine, but not the ones I would have happened upon at my desk this morning listening to wind and birds but not (mercifully) weed whacker and leaf blower. I see an image from my past, but it’s an artificial goad. Years from now, Eucalyptus will pop up on my screen. Once the sentence “I see the tree” has been pronounced in such a way it no longer relates to a relation between a human I and a tree You but the perception of the tree object by the human consciousness, it has erected the crucial barrier between subject and object; the basic word I-It, the word of separation, has been spoken.

***

I see the image of the tree on my phone; I see the memory of taking the photograph in my head; I see the tree by way of the lens, which has no memory of its own. The photographed tree is an It, though I remember standing there with You, Eucalyptus, the camera as our witness. Camera didn’t speak when asked if there were reasons not to take the photograph. Camera was reverend at the revered spot. We didn’t marry; the insurance wouldn’t cover a tree-human union, especially after the recent wind storms. So we mumbled some vows, then took some selfies, the better to remember how young we were. We trust the camera, our teacher says, though increasingly we lie with it. To see is already to interpret, and to interpret is inevitably to lie. I didn’t know the origins of her sorrow until I asked.





 



I and Eucalyptus 11


There’s a white car in the woods, just uphill from the marsh; in its back open window, an American flag. Patriotism of the dispossessed, Dispossessed once, dispossessed twice. Dispossessed! Emotions sold at auction, counted out, never banned by the banners of thoughts. The flag is not a book, hence cannot be banned. A book opens. At a distance, Eucalyptus is closed, best described in an adjective: “majestic,” “grand,” “solid.” Close up (at a near distance?) the tree opens, an ear of black bark jutting out. The photograph has blue sky behind the ear, not to be heard but seen as contrast. For the artist, a painting is a prayer. For the poet, it’s prayer and epithet both. Eucalyptus’s silences might make me angry, if there were hesitations in them The totality is like eclipse. Forced to focus on moon instead of sun; cloud instead of sun, your vision becomes an either or. In truth, language does not reside in man but man resides in language and speaks out of it. Or echoes inside it, as in a grain elevator, lacking grain.


Eucalyptus stands

In a stand of monkey pods

Straight man to their jokes.


On the days when there are no photographs, the photographer feels himself a failure. But there are always photographs, a friend writes; it’s a question of mood. Days when the eye’s lens gets covered by a smear of anger, of distraction. (We think anger focuses us, but it only distracts more violently.) When the surroundings are all selfie. A selfie stick is like a tree branch, though the tree never takes them. We have faces to focus on. The tree has more faces than one lens accommodates. If it turned to us, we’d smile our fiction of joy, then retreat into ourselves. Attention is forward; it risks the right flank of an opposing army. The camera your bayonet, thrust forward into a battle against thick air. It meets the tree as adversary, then regrets its hostility. When I post your photograph, I won’t name you. It makes you more general, less specific, more a citizen of the image than exclusive owner of it. Who’s to say who owns stories, the teller or the told? Our ethics is stronger than our will to stretch it into embrace. I will wrap my arms around that home where my mother lived her silent years. An embrace opens it, takes out the locks, the doors, the fences, the words by which we confine what we love to a small space. We talk about love as if it were hostility. I offered my mother to kidnap, considered her safe, answered the 3 a.m. phone calls (not hers, but those in her stead). It was all proxy at the end, words voting for other words until none were left. Talk to her, they said, but nothing seemed better, more true, less infected by noise.




 


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