A friend of mine just returned from a stay at the Academy in Rome with some wonderful photos of Roman walls. Through the magic of her eye, she had transformed these walls, with their layers of paint, torn posters, and graffiti, into abstractions of shape, pattern, and color so that you would not guess what they were unless you moved in closely to note the details. A few of the walls she photographed held small doors, their purpose unknown. It struck me that, through the filter of my friend’s artistic eye and their removal from their actual purpose, these doors had become more than doors. They had turned into symbols. Photography, more than other art, seems to have a way of distilling casual, fleeting moments into timeless truths. Through their ability to stop time and objectify, photos are able to turn simple objects, such as doors, into meta objects—symbols of themselves—allowing us to contemplate and appreciate them on multiple levels. This poem tries to speak to that transformative process, but also to our mystical relationship with doors and all that they mean to us.
Do Not Open
Miniature door, no more than 4 x 4, set in an ochre-
stuccoed wall on a street somewhere in Rome.
Captured by camera and now my eye,
its small truth lies two times removed, lost to art and time.
This door will never open. We will never learn its purpose,
pull its rusted knob and see to the other side.
By shudder of lens and imprint of light this humble hatch
is now door of all doors—tantalizer, barrier, mystery,
threshold of irreversible choice—safeguard
of whatever it is we long for, fear we may be shown.