(short, not sweet, always a photo)
(originally written as a #cnfgram Creative Nonfiction's call for #tinytruths with photographs)
Taxidermy: the word painted in letters that drip like blood down a jagged board nailed to a dying pecan tree. This image appears in more than one piece of fiction I've written. But it isn't until I see this neat sign, this bright Lone Star trailer off I-10 in Texas, across the road from Hruska's--known for its kolaches--that I write what I know about the taxidermist's daughter.
Five days a week the school bus that stopped in front of my family's farm outside Roswell, New Mexico, also stopped at that pecan tree for the taxidermist's children. Nipple. Bone. Breath. Everything showed through the fabric of the sisters' worn out dresses, garments that resembled those worn by girls on Gunsmoke and Rawhide. Myra, the youngest girl, was a year ahead of me in school, her little brother the same age as mine. When the bus driver opened the door for them, we cleared a seat so the sisters could sit together, not because they requested this, but so they would not sit with us. The two older girls were quiet, but Myra was loud and boisterous. She asked to copy homework. No one replied. She cracked her gum and offered pieces to us from her grimy pocket. No one accepted. Shunned even by her sisters, Myra forced us to pay attention to her if only with our silence. The boy, his face caked with snot, always found a place with other boys, often with my brother, Johnny. They weren't close friends, but Johnny didn't ignore the boy's existence.
After about a year, Myra and her family disappeared. Migrant workers were common in our farming community. We were accustomed to transient classmates. The bus no longer stopped at the pecan tree; the sign faded. When I was in college, my mother served on a jury down the hall from where Myra was being tried for the murder of her father and brother. Details leaked. The two had held her hostage in a trailer outside town, raping and torturing her until she got her hands on a gun and filled their bodies with bullets. Myra was found innocent. Self-defense. Her only defense. I put down my kolache and pick up my iPad. Haunted by Myra for decades, I attempt to acknowledge her presence.
Like a lot of people, I felt muted by the 2016 election of a most unqualified, undignified, unenlightened, unintelligent man to serve as the President of the United States. For a while I remained quiet. Full of despair. As I began to shed the despair, I found a voice, mostly in agreement with journalists and others writing about the election. I’d add a few words to a Facebook post of an article or a reTweet.
But I could not write anything of my own. Not a short story, not an essay, not even a journal entry. I could access the minds and imaginations of others, but not my own.
So I turned to photography as I often do when words flee.
A few months before the election, I had begun a self-paced online photography course. So I returned to the syllabus, thankful for direction, some guidelines. A map. One of the course readings suggested finding a theme for taking photos.
I know myself well enough to know that I don’t work that way. Not in my writing (I write; figure it out; rewrite), and not in photography (I shoot and shoot and shoot and hope something emerges). Nonetheless, the shots are my eye, my frame. So there is naturally a kind of theme. Sometimes I can name it.
With the help of a friend who made the comment, “Fire and water,” about the red leaf below, I was able to articulate what I had been seeing in recent photos.
Things that remain beautiful though dead in the water.