Wrong Way

How do you read a church, a building, a yard? Not by drawing your eyes around its volume as though it were a book projected on irregular surfaces; but by projecting yourself out and around it, letting your spirit fly into it.

After a year of lockdown and three months of winter, a walk in the old neighborhood only gets bearable again when you leave the sidewalks and go into the alleys. If the uniform setback of facades repels your spirit – especially in the daytime, when it can’t get in to the houses through the windows – in the alley, you find more amenable perches to flee between. Along the right-of-way, a long miscellany of spaces unfold directly to the left and right: giant gravel patches and high concrete pads, half-collapsed sheds, garages with their doors left open and the wind blowing through. This is a tonic in of itself after so long of sliding down the same unvarying street section: four lanes traffic, two lanes parking, two stripes of lawn, and then you in your own four-foot stripe of concrete.

Still better, the gaps between those alley structures are not well sealed. The lots around here get defined in terms that are mostly transparent: wire fences, scant palings, and patches of bare shrub, full of sparrows that issue out as you get close. And this makes it easy for your spirit to dart in and out of other people’s dreamy back yards.

In a neighborhood dominated by student rentals, retirees, and a downwardly mobile middle class, these yards are gradually losing their composure, cluttering up with improvised fire pits, abandoned station wagons with the soap of the impound lot never washed off, bundles of old brush tied with twine, big burning-bushes tapping at the windows. The alley, that is, shows you a collective garden where every home’s lapses add together into a moving panorama of change.

What does a landscape share with a carpet? A few things; but lately I am thinking about how both include the possibility of better understanding the structure, just by being looked at the wrong way.

(February 2021)