“Found Art” by Gary Percesepe

After he died I found a photograph with no caption or credit. A composition of bathing girls. Giant boulders for a sheltering solid wall, still water rippling as with light on oil, the old white hull of a sailboat bisecting the photograph from left to right. And sprawling on the deck of the weathered hull, the girls. Five slender ropes rise to the right of the center toward an invisible boom, two thicker ropes slope carelessly from the stern of the hull into the water, sagging, bearing no weight. All clear, black and white, sensible at first glance. But the girls, those symbols of summer, are uncountable. The snapshot is cropped so that above the hull and girls and across the width of the picture only a little of the rocks is shown — there is twice as much water below the girls  and hull as expanse of rocks above them. The water looks painted rather than snapped by a young artist, one perhaps my age, using a box camera. All is arranged so as to concentrate on the sprawling girls. But how many? It is a matter of wit as much as math or memory. For the viewer’s first appreciative moments their number is not a question, as other incongruities enter the picture. Who snapped it and to what purpose and why has it lain hidden in this folder all these long years in the hot attic of this empty summer house? Another look and with it the certainty of five girls in the picture. Four lie with their legs hanging over the edge of the hull, behind them sits another reading a book. Five. Well, yes. But there is one more pair of legs close together — crossed at the ankles in fact — and dangling down toward the water precisely in the middle of the snapshot. The legs of the four present to the viewer listless near verticals that  catch the light and the viewer’s eye as well, the pair of legs crossed at the ankles is hidden behind the thighs and calves of the middle two, hardly more than respose in dark shadow. But wait! A portion of a head shows behind and resting on the shoulder of the girl who usurps the center of the picture. A portion of a leg rises out of the left-hand edge of the picture, there is a scraped knee floating upwards to the right, another white sphere, again on the left, reveals itself as the cranium of a head in a white skull-tight bathing cap. And actually another head is resting on the turned-up hip of the girl reading a book. So that the number has now changed to nine, sprawled in this still life of summer heat. But why, father, did you not show me this picture, or name the sorority or tell me who the girl was in the center, the star, the one you composed the picture around, or why my eye travels to the left, to that one perfect leg whose scraped knee I would enter the picture to kiss again and again?

More poetry at Used Furniture.

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