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Monday, October 10, 2011

AfterImage Series

Entry 5

Mary Diaz was one of my favorite people on the planet. I knew almost nothing when I arrived as a freshman at Brown, but Mary was on my hall and I knew I wanted to be her friend. If she was excited about something she'd grab your arm and shake it up and down. Sometimes she thought chocolate and Grape Nuts were more important than going to class. Being on time ranked lower than advocating for the world's refugee women and children. Tennis was good but ice cream was better. She had a strong faith, but she asked hard questions.

Mary and I were chambermaids together for a summer on Block Island. Once we ate an entire half-gallon of ice cream and a jar of fudge sauce for lunch. Every night we dug a hole in the sand, lined it with rocks, and cooked our dinner. We broke into a summer cottage just to go to the bathroom and cried over Tess of the D'Urbervilles.  After you do that, you're pretty much sisters, even though your DNA says otherwise. 

Mary died of pancreatic cancer in 2004. There's a great tennis tournament every summer in Columbus, Ohio in her memory, and that of William Copeland, which raises funds for PanCan research ( My artwork doesn't raise money but it helps me keep Mary's memory fresh and pertinent and beside me, whenever I travel. (This, for the woman who once got a passport on the way to the plane....) A few years ago I printed some rocks with Mary's image and decided to take one with me wherever I go, so that as art, she will continue to do and become and evolve along with me. 

The image that opens this post is the newest in the Mary Series, from my favorite particular place on earth, Pentre Ifan cromlech, near Newport in Northern Pembrokeshire, Wales. The ones that follow were taken at the Canyon. These images aren't part of my AfterImage Series, but they exist beside, and enrich, it.

I took some of these pictures lying on my belly on an escarpment that jutted precariously out into the Canyon. I carefully inched out there, and carefully inched back. This is what I wrote in my journal when I came inside:

Monday, 7 February 2011, “Mary & Pam”

 They had sand in common that summer. Sand on the floors they swept, sand in the sheets they changed. Sand in the shack where they stayed. Sand at the bottom of the toilets they cleaned that flushed away but always returned with the backwash. Sand in their sneakers, sand on the chocolate donuts they dropped on the beach and ate anyway. Sand under their fingernails after they dug fire holes at the beach to cook their dinner.

 Twenty years later one is sand in the other’s memory. Not quite a pearl. Not yet. But the grit is there and memory is working on it.

 Pam is lying on her belly on a precipice at the Grand Canyon. Not too close to the edge because her father warned her, and deep down, when it comes to things like this, she heeds her father’s advice. (She will never bicycle, ever, without wearing shoes). In front of her is a pebble imprinted with Mary’s photo. It’s lodged in a canning jar in a bed of sand and smaller pebbles. The jar is filled with water—a marker of the long-ago summer and the far-off Atlantic.

 Pam photographs the memory held in stone as early morning sun wakes the jar. Stone is all around her. Trillions of individuals sleep in this motherlode of stone. And yet only this one in the canning jar has a face.

 She scrambles carefully to her feet—she’s heard about mules going over the edge, and the condors who come to feast—and discovers she’s covered with dust. The remains of creatures that once sought food and safety and were genetically programmed to reproduce now cling to her black ski jacket. She’s brushing it off when she looks up. A mule deer is staring right at her. Very close. There’s another nearby, in the shadows behind her, picking her way carefully around the rocks.

Click on "The Mary Series" on the lefthand side of my blog to see more images from other locations. One of the mason jar images will be included in the National Park Service Exhibition, "Through Your Eyes," in 2012. 

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