August 16, 1995
Dear Mr. Holdt.
Here, in Salem, Oregon, USA, on February 25, at your presentation of
American Pictures I was one of the audience. The impact I received from
it urged me to express something to you. Well, it took me this long to
come into the form of a poem. I know it's long, but I couldn't leave anything
Again, I sincerely thank you for your work and your commitment.
For Jacob Holdt
One February afternoon, scheduled
was an inner journey, so unexpected,
joined with casual curiosity. Brief
introduction by the voice, surprisingly light
and friendly. His unsmiling face, so contrasted,
with the eyes, dark as night, and so deep
that fear may one, to look into.
Long and frizzy is his hair, over
the thin shoulders, which dark crimson shirt covers.
His body, lanky, anytime could leap.
Took off each of us,
this journey unpredictable, as was to him,
when the images on the screen, projected, with light dim.
A couple of decades are traced back,
a border between Canada and the U.S.,
an innocent young man crossed
simply to see the huge land of freedom.
For five years, over a hundred thousand miles
of hitchhiking, slide films and a camera he tossed
in his bag, and eventually later, so were his smiles,
Never crossed his mind, this long journey
slowly was leading to the end, which he unravels
the history back home in Europe. A camera for travel,
never handled before, more than his eyes, saw the realities
And then, between them, no distinction.
Unthreatening and invisible, mostly
to a people, he remained. What's offered,
what he took. With discretion,
helped, slept, and ate, as they did. Whatever
seen, experienced, kept in him and his camera, compactly
with his feelings and even shocks.
Thus, thinking was left behind
for much, much later...
A few sketches of his images on the journey,
imprinted on my mind:
A young black girl at eight or nine,
with her sister, reads a textbook at night
by moonlight, through narrow windows, lined,
not by her choice, but the only available light.
Kerosene for a lamp, a gift from him
to the girl's family. For her (and them), such a treat.
So overjoyed that she danced and bounced in the street,
welcoming her father, who walked the long way home, tired and grim,
A young black mother, first her children to feed,
since so scarce is provision at home.
Herself, learns from her own mother, to gnaw
Mississippi mud, to supplement her need.
"What's the taste like?" he asks,
"Never had?" she's surprised, "It's sweet. Good."
Never intimidate his questions, neither hood-
wink, with his compassion and trust,
Ghostly face, nothing but two huge sunken eyes.
Holding a syringe, which barely sustains his life,
Knows he not why he lives, injecting death, not to die.
For other's sake, reveal his misery beyond shame, knifed.
In total, with an intermission, four hours took
this journey. Started out with lightheartedness, though
grew my mind heavily overcast, my body paralyzed.
After, with painfully miserable realities, my eyes bathed,
dried out and shrunk, was how my mind looked.
Forcefully rooted out, my leaden body, from the seat.
In the hallway, behind the long table of his books,
against the wall of his picture posters, he's leaning. I looked
around for nothing, and saw his eyes, as mechanical
as lenses, observing. Wondered how personably they could greet.
There's some urge, to speak to him. But what'?
Still without knowing, went up to him, and managed a somewhat
hoarse "thank you," my eyes meeting his, Just like a flashlight,
his eyes lit bright, for a split second. And again, back to night
dark stillness. Into that air of outside, I stepped out.
Pleasure trip, for sure not, neither cross-cultural.
What kept him up'! What drove him that far'?
His own life, often risked, and yet his trust and faith
in people never disappeared, only strengthened.
Part of his life, kept moving and seeing, became cross-spiritual.
Brought him back, his strong care for his friends, whose
lives mattered to no one, but him. Never got better, rather worse,
even with his consistent effort. Though, attention and awareness, arisen
in public, from unknown realities unveiled. From them
Turn not your face, if one cares, to broaden your spiritual horizon.
Copyright © 1997
AMERICAN PICTURES; All