When my husband set off one cold snowy morning early this year, he intended to
test his new digital camera on a variety of local seascapes. He found an interesting
geometric composition of a round buoy before a rectangular seawall, and as he looked
through the view finder the old fashioned way, a sea gull dropped down into the center
of the frame. He snapped the shutter and caught it in motion, wings out-stretched, feet
braced for the landing. The backlighting from the morning sun and the lift of the angle
of the wings complicated the composition just enough to complete it. (The image is now
the cover of the current issue.)
The sea gull entered the moment, and the photographer recorded it. In the middle
of the quiet morning, in the middle of the wall, a sea gull alighted, never to be forgotten.
You might say its arrival was a gift or you might say the instant of time was taken by the
How often do writers hope for such a spontaneous intrusion to finish their
compositions? An idea for a poem might come at any time, during the middle of the night,
just after sleep and before awakening, or as part of the day when the hands are engaged
and the mind is free. But the work of the poem, or of any of the arts that must be put
onto paper at some stage, will be conducted at a desk. The tools and materials can be
purchased and arranged. The details of inspiration can be summoned, but the spontaneous
ingredient that will define the final masterpiece is unpredictable and elusive. On some
days, the paper—or computer screen, or digital data-space—remains empty, the promise unfilled.
Cameras are said to capture an image. Writers might build an argument; poets construct
a sonnet. But once in the creative mode, you work in anticipation of the bright wings
approaching, the whir of motion stealing into your vision. You might believe you will reach for it, but in a sense,
it steals you by virtue of its unexpectedness. Even as you worry that you did not prepare enough,
you hasten to make room for it as it turns in the fabric of its arrival.
Note: Some of you might remember that the title “Stolen Moments” is also the title of a jazz
composition by Oliver Nelson. Although I do not care for the lyrics so much (two different
ones have been written for the melody), I find great intensity and formality in the music as
played by Eric Dolphy and Ahmad Jamal.