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2006 08 23
Angle of Incident #17: Orchid Water

By Gary Michael Dault

This is about homespun automatism.

It involves my partner’s placing a bucket on the back deck to catch rainwater for her burgeoning orchid collection.

The bucket duly collected water, but it also collected leaves and maple keys and other bits and pieces of things that fell from above it.

We saw this, Malgorzata and I, more as addition than infection.

The addition of these unplanned “impurities” didn’t appear to make the water less suitable as a libation for orchids.

But it did make the bucket a source of delight—as the site (small, bounded, circular, focussed) of a continually shifting tondo-like composition.

And here’s what I found so satisfying: no matter what fell into the bucket, it never failed to achieve some harmonious, utterly satisfying resolution of the presence of the new addition(s).

I began to photograph each day’s bucket. Each photograph was as good as, as dopey as, the one before.

I began amassing a file of jottings about automatic composition. Lots of surrealist material here. I also found this in John Ruskin—about drawing a tree:

“Languidly, but not idly, I began to draw it, and as I drew,
the languor passed away. The beautiful lines insisted in
being traced—without weariness. More and more beautiful they became, as each rose out of the rest, and took its place in the air. With wonder increasing every instant, I saw that they “composed” themselves, by finer laws than any known of men. At last the tree was there, and everything I had thought before about trees, nowhere”.

---John Ruskin, quoted by Arthur C. Danto in his introduction to Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece (New York: New York Review of Books, 2001), p. xv.

That which composes itself. Such a gift. Such a peace—such cessation from striving.

I wrote a poem about the bucket and the water and its constant accommodating, its endless adjustment:


The moon is resting in a suburb of the sky.

My love is collecting water for the orchids
in a zinc bucket she puts out under the stars
Some of it is rain
Some of it is dew
The water is as clear as her heart
The maple keys and yellowed leaves
that come to float, sometimes,
on the water’s surface
are objects against her vision
memories, meditations, ideas that turn
with the wind

In time
the minerals will fall to the bottom
she tells me
and the water will be pure
for the orchids.

The sun smoulders up
over the house next door
turning her orchid-water
carefully to wine.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 08/23 at 11:27 AM

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