constellations #5, guest star: where life happens

Hello! Today’s episode of constellations is a “guest star” edition, in which I hand the mic over to Madeline Zappala. Madeline is an interdisciplinary visual artist and poet whose work, to me, has a delightful and beautiful way of collapsing boundaries — between the natural and digital worlds, between privacy and visibility, between the known and unknown, between being and becoming. They live and work in Brooklyn. Madeline is also one of the most cherished friends in my life and I can’t wait to read what they share with us! xo, M.

Last summer, there was a Garry Winogrand exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum - a big darkened room with eight sets of projected slideshows. Winogrand was a prolific mid-century street photographer, primarily known for his work in black and white. The exhibition focused on a selection of never-before-seen images in color, curated from a massive archive of color slide film taken in New York and other parts of the US in the 50s and 60s, that had never been processed or printed because of the exorbitant expense.

Visitors would lift a heavy black curtain to enter the gallery, stepping into a secret unseen archive frozen in time, surrounded by lenses to a world suddenly illustrated in color. I visited six times over its tenure (with Marissa in tow on the third visit), to sit and watch the projections flip over all around me and write and write, collecting pieces of public life that felt familiar and present, yet soaked in a nostalgia, which somehow also felt familiar, in the way that we now document everything, constructing a nostalgia for an experience that is currently happening. I was struck by how much of my own experience living in New York was present in that room, how contemporary it felt - the longevity of the work. Maybe it was seeing the photographs in color, I thought. Really, it was the documentation of the way humanity is held and occupied in public space that reverberated, timeless and universal.

In the past few months I have had to constantly remind myself what it means to live, what constitutes not just being alive, but really living, with the dearth of stimulus outside of my own neuroses (and the massive collective trauma we are currently immersed in) - because my life in New York has been so thoroughly punctuated and shaped by being a small part of a public togetherness, a passive collectivity moving, alive, throughout the city. 

Here are the poems I wrote in that room, after Winogrand’s photographs, my own documentation of a public life, now both familiar and far. 

Blue suds / light blowing curtains / and red stripes illuminate / 8 kinds of color / and color I’ve never imaged / stare me square in the face / for a second / Or don’t / Look away / Keep on / separate from me / the same, one two, in blue and white / puffed chests and cigarettes / delicately held / public / under the umbrella red / Excused and public / a light dividing public / a handkerchief a towel a box of flowers / and a glove / a one eyed glare / a misplaced glare / a Coca Cola glare thrown from the bull and dead / coffin carried in / We’ll all face up the sun / Tally ho / Blinded by the white sands / picture the flowers / lest we forget / the glow of the woman / under the rodeo lights / wrapped by the fire and rushing hurrah / Flashing lights of change / Time is all around me / Mad / keep up / For a dime and stare / Eyes to meet eyes and time / combed up and away / the cool gel on a neck / Teeth soothing like nails on a back / Hands closed and containing / open themselves up / a coke, clutched / a baby, clutched / Stay open to the sky in death / Clutched / The way arms shouldn’t stretch

Do you know the difference between a carousel and a merry-go-round / Sometimes you’ll be the only one on the ride / with your face up to the sun / Look out through closed lids at the vista / never seen / the face of your shadow / untold and unseen / No, / seen / Peeling eyes off your arm in the sun / Cigarette fun / Watermelon flesh broken jagged and soft / I can watch / sit / my shrine / cash wide / mirror glazed and waiting / United and reopening soon / two sunstruck jewels a citrus barricade a snowbank / the pull of water / the lift of water / flat on my stomach hard to the surface face down to face twin shadows / seen and seeing / of eyes and through minds / the embrace of skin and sand clothing / suited and salt / throw me in the water / Drown me / Really / Drown it out / Bury me in sand with one air hole to breath and let me sleep / Arms on backs bound / faces tucked into another / I’m in love with everyone I’ve never seen / including / most of all 

The shadowed brim hiding eyes the not met gaze the off screen the cropped out the what you’ll never know or never see / even in color / especially in color / on the snow on the street on the beach / beholden to no one / especially not time / do you see the color how it matches the day / every moment touched with light  / as if light could know as if light could see / what light blocks out and ties together, so tightly with right corners and with shadow / Never pass my right angles don’t miss the bend of my inner mouth and elbows / what’s behind my teeth / Can you be sure it’s me / stare into my mouth / watch me gurgle and swallow / with ceiling eyes looking from above / holding a head up / a careful balance / the way light hits everyone, eyes the same when they’re staring in the same direction / catch me face up in the sun / trying to be seen / finding light / Mouth agape mid bite

A moment to rest and these moments / they happen to us all at once / in public, in alignment and alone with a melting ice cream cone / waiting in line cruising down the line / the widest plane of emptiness, the pause, / the moment, the break of oneself from the public / stagnant in a frozen stride, streets and streets of walking going nowhere / and in circles and quickly / a turned out foot a settled weight a pocket / holding me in line / The way every ripple of muscle and in flesh can settle / the shift of the sky / How you’re not sure if its moving / Whether you’re on the train / that’s moving or standing still / only aware of the changing not / where you’re going / You like the glimmer of sweat / on my thighs as flat as I can lay myself in the sand as open as my mouth can smile as quiet as my eyes / Look at my face up to the sun / Know not what faces me or what remains /  unilluminated  / on the other side

Thanks to Marissa for letting me share these constellations of public life. Thanks for reading. 


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Instagram: @mdlnzppl

Photo credits (in order of appearance) & extra coverage of the exhibition:

Brooklyn Museum
New Yorker