Personal Notes of Mina Bayless
Today, we travel east through the foothills, leaving behind fields of long brown grass, briers & birch trees. The sky at dusk is an unreal shade of dark blue, like it’s hurting for a storm. All day I wrote fragments for my thesis, but I can’t seem to get anything to connect. I fight the urge to take off my coat, roll up my sleeves & scribble curse words on my skin. I think I’m starting to understand why people cut on themselves. There’s this underlying anxiety, this constant feeling that something bad is close to happening that I want to throw off. break, beat, stab, motherfuckinggoddamcuntrag.
That feels a little bit better.
Lora called yesterday. There are patches of signal for both cell & wireless, but I’m not up to talking to anyone now. I picked up for her though. We had a few moments of catching-up (upbeat, positive, surreal) before she said, “So he’s dead then.” And we’re off & running, with her pouring obscenities in my ear.
She said she’s glad you’re dead. Something that really shouldn’t have surprised me, but my stomach dropped no less. “He ran off and lived a boy’s adventure,“she continued, “If he had really cared for us, he would have cared for himself and made sure we had a father to grow up with.” She said things that aren’t totally wrong, how you often said, “The chase is always better than the kill, love,” that you were always mixing our birthdays or spelling our names wrong, how conversations with you about something other than the photog life were like playing with a broken Speak ‘n’ Spell.
I tried to defend you; I don’t know why. I tried to say things like you thought that what you were doing was important, that you tried to make people aware of the world. How you brought a human being into a person’s house instead of some tragic news story no one could relate to. “Wake up, Benjamina,” she hissed, “His camera was his fuck-ticket & he wanted it punched as much as possible.” The conversation finally ended with her saying, “Bring back his body so I can spit on it.” She hung up without waiting for a response, her favorite trick.
Outside the window, past the pine trees, the horizon curves on. I think briefly of the undiscovered moments you won’t capture, people who go unseen or corners of life that remain hidden from a camera. Then I remember when the shooting happened at Virginia Tech, how your mom (grandmother to the four of us) called my mom in New Mexico to “see if the boys were alright.” She said you had told her that Drew was going to Tech (he was at Georgetown) & she had lost the numbers to their parents. Then, when Mom had gotten that all straightened out, Grandma started crying anyway, because she hadn’t heard from you in eight months & could she please have your number too?
Part of me thinks that I should leave you. Part of me thinks that at least you gave me a name & I knew that you were my father, at least biologically. There are people who can’t even say that.
Anders Hrafn’s field notes
Dining car, waiting. The girl is in our compartment, crying, her body clenched like a fist. Thought it best to wait elsewhere.
Three subjects in the car. Bodies bear witness to life’s circumstance. A guitarist at the end w. cutdown nails, simple syndactyly of middle and ring fingers. Another man at tea, newspaper in hand, has scars on the insides of his wrists indicating bypass surgery. The hostess: brittle hair and a deliberate way of holding herself, favoring her left side.
All of us deliberately cautious in this shared space; the guitarist has a damper on his strings. The girl enters–a corona of noise and action around her. Her portrait on the other side of this table: her hands constantly in her hair, boots restless beneath the surface, her mismatched eyes (the ones she always hides w. nervous tics of her head) are red from crying.
Conversation transcribed later
: Will you be alright?
She nodded. Danish like a rush of water from broken pipes.
The hostess walked with measured steps and asked the girl what she wanted. As I translated, the helpful woman cried out, “Oh, the poor girl needs tea! It will help calm the mind.” From the girl, much hair pulling before–
M: If. You-died-while-on. Assignment? Who-would-come-to-get-you?
One brown eye, one blue eye gazing. They didn’t look away for once; I said–
: Right now, no one.
She waited, still looking.
: My parents are dead. No siblings. I have friends, colleagues. They care for me, but they wouldn’t bring my body back.
M: Then. Denmark? You wouldn’t want. To go home?
The hostess brought tea, three sugar cubes on the saucer. She patted Mina’s hand. We asked for nothing else.
: I’ll be a body. I’ll be earth, just like those I love. Why will it matter where I am?
Mina still looked at me while her hands translated the outline of the cup. The hollows of her eyes looked jaundiced. The notes of “Oh birch tree” sounded through the car.
M: Please explain.
: We are placed in the world at random. My work has proven this to me. I’ve seen nothing that causes me to believe that I was meant to be born in Denmark or to be raised by the people who were my parents or become the person I am now. I have seen good people, strong people live in beastly conditions. I have seen the Rom in their “safe” mandated camps raise children who have lead coming out of their teeth & daily nose bleeds. I have seen. . .
Her eyes broke as the cup tilted toward her lips. The hills outside threatened rain. The sun set behind us and the sky is dark: yellow and blue like a bruise in transition. The tree trunks–pale and split.
: Any life could have been mine, with a simple twist. So why think that Denmark is home or that any place is special to finally rest?
M: I have felt something similar. My father didn’t tell me about my brothers and sisters until I was a teenager. We were his third family and he hadn’t been around much when I was younger. If my mom and I weren’t enough to keep him home and if two families weren’t enough. . . It meant we equally didn’t mean much to him.
She pulled her hair to the side before looking up again.
M: Anyone could be my kin. I still don’t know that we are his only kids.
: There are things we can’t unknow.
The train moved on. The guitarist flexed his fingers and began a new song. The hostess returned and asked Mina if she felt better. The man at his tea asked politely in Russian if I had a spare pen for the crossword.
Children of the World: a photo collection by Jesse Harker
CL, 125pp. 120 b-&-w plates
Epigraph: Matthew 18:1-5
Plate: (USA) A large nursery with multiple rows of plastic bassinets. All of them occupied by large healthy babies, some screaming, some sleeping.
Plate: (Vietnam) A female toddler in shapeless clothes behind chicken wire. Her black eyes are large, her mouth is open to speak or to cry.
Plate: (Yugoslavia) A male child with dirty hair and a large smile wearing a patched military jacket, nothing else. His collarbone and sternum jut through his skin.
Plate: (Bolivia) A female baby in a striped papoose on a faceless parent’s back. Her hoop earrings contrast against her dark skin and oversized hat.
Plate: (China) A male child in a torn white shirt. The wall behind him has a cracked mirror that reflects a crying woman.
Plate: (France) A female child in a b-&-w harlequin outfit and ballet flats. Pixie haircut, her eyes are darkened with mascara, a cigarette between her fingers.
Plate: (Italy) A male child in rough clothes running over an empty cobblestone street. An unbridled colt runs beside him. The sky is clear; the exposure bright.