Corn. Rows of corn. From one perspective it is scary. You have seen those movies. From another it is only a day’s work on a tractor, food for you and me and for the cows.
The thing about a cornfield is getting through it. The cornfield pictured here was photographed on Billy’s holiday in Tennessee. He went with his friends: boys roughing it for a few days. The corn is like a port in the air, as the poet wrote. To finish with it you have to start. Otherwise it takes dominion everywhere.
This is the Ol’ Swimmin’ Hole, as the folk tales call it. And out of the corn ready to swim the boys who came along: Blade and Tom and Joe and Trevor. Three with no shirt. One with wet shoes. One proud of his belly.
Here the one they call Tom does his best Deliverance impression, his left hand a blurred fist after chopping timber. His shades are perfectly male, his cap a version of military green. A backpack full of snakes is not pictured.
Rare indeed to catch sight of the Woodland Spirit descending with the lantern of the Brotherhood into the Sacred Brook. Either that or this is a still from The Blair Witch Project’s cutting room floor.
I like some of the ambient music of Brian Eno but not all of it. I like modern paintings. I like mouthwash after I have eaten too many onions. I like to ride the wave, the ripples and splash. I like the sky blue. I like the sky seen from the perspective of the water, the trees as blurry worlds in between. This is where our ancestors lived. This is where they came from, a watery world like this.
At some point the boys multiplied hats. Shirts arrived. Two girls. Beer. Like a water snake, Billy’s camera was ever ready, steady and sleek on the river’s surface.
This is the one called Blade, sharp as the corners of Tennessee, future owner of these and other properties. He appears here as the River God, his jaw bent to the right into the center of the photograph. Clouds swirl around him awaiting their return to the condition of water. He holds the brew.
It is true that laughter can be a watery substance, and also that it can burn like gasoline. It does not always chase whiskey.
This is my favorite photograph because of the balance of its pictured objects and colors, for the fish and fish and the leaf and vertical clouds. It could be a painting by Tiepolo, blue and round as the ceiling of the world. It could be jets at a Sunday airshow, fast and fearless, daredevils circling. Billy has used his special camera. He has taken the shot while stretched out on his back in the riverbed. There should be a picture of him at work!
But we have only this to work with: Billy on his way down, Billy holding his breath. He appears skeptical. Something is wrong. Something has yet to be sorted out. Something is escaping his representation.
As it always will. Like the cornfield, the riverbed is a mystery. The riverbed is ever changing, even its tires and bicycles, its toasters and hubcaps. Is it any wonder we cannot know it?
The river is dangerous, too, with spikes enough to defend a castle beyond. No dolphin will penetrate this perimeter.
Still, they come to the swimming hole every year. The rocks of Tennessee are good as gold. Plunge for them. Dive. This is what to come for.
One leaf floating, lost from a tulip tree or some other, water in a jar or birdbath. Or the photograph is taken close up so that the wilder river is out of the frame with the boys.
The boys are nowhere in sight. All is calm and all is bright.
Sail away, little red leaf, and little reader of mine. The boys have all gone home. Like you, they are redder now. Like you, they are wet. Yes, they are all wet.