NOTHING BESIDE REMAINS
by Melanie Almeder
“And We Find Ourselves, My Beloved Angel, On the Itinerary” (1)
At the edge of these photographs we stand, visual tourists to the landscapes of memory Tasha Doremus gives us here. She is a Bricoleur, visually gathering the wasted, the abandoned, the discarded, and insisting that we “Unforget.” But by what method should we unforget that which was never ours individually, never belonged to us outright?
How decontextualized the subjects of the images, the discards, are: an abandoned store in Boujdoor, a Saharawi refugee camp in Algeria—its door plastered in, the lighter color speaking of days when people passed through it and back out again. Another building in Boujdoor stands, partially whitewashed, a blue scroll of language bleeding through the first coat. And then, on an incline beyond the camp, a steering wheel, long since detached from the car it once navigated; to one side of it, part of an engine, to the other side: stones. In the distance, the buildings of the camp, smaller than the engine discard, near equal to the size, the weight, of the stone.
The discards without their whole narratives cradling them, the discards laid bare to wind and sand and dust, beget questions that lead us to think empathetically: why the lone black shoe there, filled with sand, untied? What of the person who lost this shoe to the desert; what of the person, a world away, who lost this shoe to the snow and the black edges of the grate? Why, on the camel pile, a suitcase open, the clothes strewn, and tangled with the bones of camels?
These images might register solely a sense of loss, an elegy for all that might be deemed insignificant. However, the photos are beautiful—full of classic lines and light, and though “the lone and level sands stretch far away” (2) from this detritus, from these poignant traces of lived lives, the discards are empowered by the photographs: the store might be a Mecca; “The Flotsam Tree,” though it has registered the trash of this century, though some great winds have brought blue twine to it, and trash has nested in its splayed limbs, seems sentient, a witness of the landscape’s memory.
“House Ghost and Montserrat,” “The Farm,” and “Concentric January,” offer up the logics by which history might be revealed, as, for example, that ochre insistence on the wall. There is always that blue magnificence of sky that calls our vision, at some point, upward. A sky, which Doremus insists, is a magnificence that belongs to all of us equally.
Is beauty and magnificence enough to redeem a lost people, lost narratives, and the barrenness of memory? The photos seem to argue that no, beauty is not enough. To help us redeem the insignificant, to help us claim the landscapes of memory, Doremus gives us distance—the tree alone in “December to January,” might be anywhere, might belong to any of us, and is ahistorical. Similarly, in “Winter Twilight,” the earth and bare tree branches have darkened against themselves and, though brilliant, the twilight itself is a cusp of dark and light we must witness and navigate.
Some negotiation with the dead and the lost must be forged without an iffy, clichéd resurrection; the lost deserve so much more. In the photos which most bear the artist’s hand, Doremus has collaged the very cusps we must negotiate between significance and insignificance. Shaman-like, she has willed resurrections: a mouse fetus rises from a bottle, birthed dead into the air; a dead cicada must consider the view; a dead bee must fly between fractured skies. The whole skies reverberate with its small wings beating.
Melanie Almeder, April 2013
1. Derrida, The Postcard
Melanie Almeder's first book of poems, ON DREAM STREET, won the editor's prize from Tupelo Press and was a finalist for the Walt Whitman Award. Individual poems have been published in a range of journals, including Poetry, The Seneca Review, and The American Literary Review. She is the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Prize and the Yeats' Poetry Prize for individual poems. In recent years she has written lyric essays and poems for exhibitions in Finland, Ireland, France, and Miami. Because she is a great believer in community arts, she has run workshops at after-school programs, battered women's shelters, and a women's halfway house.
Almeder studied literature, creative writing and art history as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, holds an M.F.A. in poetry writing at the University of Massachusetts and a M.A. and Ph.D. in contemporary novel and narrative theory at the University of Florida. An Associate Professor of English, Almeder teaches poetry writing, Native American literature, contemporary novel, and special topics courses at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia.