15 December 2011

The play of time and face

I remember reading an interview with a film director.  This must have been about thirty years ago. I can’t remember the name of the director, the reporter or the newspaper. I do remember him being asked, ‘don’t you believe in past, present and future?’  I remember the response: ‘Of course I do, but not necessarily in that order!’ 

Time has fascinated me ever since then, not just in films where there is dream, envisioning, in-the-moment, flashbacks and even other kinds of time-travel that has nothing to do with the fact that we can imagine and remember.  I suppose it is something that fascinates a lot of people; for we all dream and we all have memories. 

There was a time, when I was very young, when I would pick random faces, narrow my eyes and try to imagine how that person would look once they die and their flesh decay, i.e. just bone, without even skin.  I used to see skulls. I used to imagine coffins.  I can’t remember when I moved out of that morbid phase, but something about time and face remained with.  Call it a pastime, a hobby, an eccentricity or an idiosyncrasy, but I like to study faces and wrinkle and unwrinkled them with the touch of the time-axis. 

I remember a poem by Khalil Gibran. Well, a line.  Or, to be more precise, a thought (memory fails): ‘and bring the lamp closer so I can read on your face what my time with you has written.’ 

Faces are pages.  Upon them are stories, written and waiting to be written. Yes, both; the former apparent and the latter expressed in rare languages that do not have a script.  It is fun, really.  You can take for example a middle aged person and trace backwards to youth, adolescence, childhood and infancy.  You could take the other direction: envisage aging, the movement from the decade of innocence to that of confidence, self-doubt, wisdom, infirmity, dependence and senility. 

Look carefully, it’s a tapestry of multiple story-threads. You won’t get it all, but you’ll get some of the pathways from somewhere to where that person is now, or you can engage in a weaving of your own.   

Take a baby and chart life-map, from mother’s breast through school pranks, heart-throbs and heart-burn, anxiety and relief, abandonment and resignation, parenting and slippage, midlife and crisis, the descent to incapacitation, the withering and slowing down, down, down and out.  Take old person and do the reverse. Do the following, for example: 

There must be mind-forceps
and heart un-wrinkler
to take out
time’s intricate signature,
line and scar
and other blemishes
one at a time;
an un-suturing
that thereafter hangs
line as encounter,
scar as love-note remnant
and bit by bit
layer after layer
year after year
the lines of wisdom
those of regret
the hurt of the path un-taken
the ungracious dismissal
of decision’s poor givings,
the coarseness of encounter
the tenderness of un-intersecting orbits
or those that were so touch-and-go
they were inevitably petal-made. 
Moment-line, event-line, person-line
thought-line and love-line
the sorrow-cut mad criss-crossing,
take it all away,
extract histories, and
trash in an unrecoverable folder;
wash away wrong-doing and pain
guilt and grievance
desire and defeat
cleanse face of makeup
and foreboding,
roll back, roll back
charted pathways and random stroll;
there’s a little girl
at the end of the day,
kite-made and dolled
line-free and smiling.
Did you see her, did you not?

What’s easier?  The ‘oldering’ or the ‘infanting’?  Is it easier to read and write someone you know or a stranger? Can you do unto yourself what you would do to others, with or without their permission? 

Is it possible to let mind jump around like a kangaroo, from infancy to middle age, middle age wisdom to the sophomoric stage of wrong word at wrong time, back/forward to the first moment of ‘grandparency’, the grimace at being piddled on?  Can one slip easily from diapers and diaper rash to that embarrassment of first incontinence and the gradual acceptance of such drips as life-part?

Do we play with time on face enough? Or are we just too bored and do it too much?  I don’t know. I like faces because I like to read. I like people because they are epics.  I am a keen reader, when I choose to read.

Time is a neat devise.  It tattoos and un-tattoos. Faces. Other things too.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malinsene@gmail.com

[First published in the Daily News of November 11, 2010]


beautiful sunshine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Padraig Colman said...

Love the poem.

One of my favourite poems of all time is Wallace Stevens’s Sunday Morning.

Is there no change of death in paradise?
Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
With rivers like our own that seek for seas
They never find, the same receding shores
That never touch with inarticulate pang?
Why set the pear upon those river banks
Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
The silken weavings of our afternoons,
And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
Within whose burning bosom we devise
Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly.

Anonymous said...

Lines are about lessons learnt and not.