Finalist : Terrain.org 8th Annual Contest in Nonfiction
In John Cage’s three-movement composition, “4’33″”, the score instructs musicians not to play their instruments for the entire duration of the piece. What happens, of course, in the span of this intended silence is that the surrounding sounds of the environment become the piece, become its performance.
This idea that there is never nothing. There are noises, echoes, voices, reverberations.
Something persists, carries on, in the arbitrary—or deliberate—absence of something else. Individual experience filters through. Overlays. Fills in. The composition changes every time.
She lives mostly a life of subtraction, I overhear my husband say to our friend. I am somewhere off to the side of them in a cemetery photographing statues of saints missing arms or heads, angels without wings.
It is always something not there that attracts me, catches my eye. Not just the idea of being broken or flawed, but the lack. That part which has been omitted. How the eye either replaces what was once there or adjusts to the shape of what remains.
I spend the day leafing through notebooks filled with flowery love poems my mother left behind.
Erasure is a form of poetry created by taking away words from an existing text and framing the result on the page.
Erasure: noun 1. an act or instance of erasing.
In the months leading up to my mother’s dying—her death—winter took hold. Green slipped away gradually, but I noticed it more than I ever had before. Ivy leaves turned the brown of tree trunks they’d spent summer climbing. Flowers shriveled, dropped, became part of the dry earth and decay. Everything breaking down. Falling away.
Birds abandoned backyard feeders. Chipmunks retreated into tunnels they’d burrowed into a crumbling stone wall.
My mother was disappearing, too. Drowning. Her lungs filling with fluid. Her breath shallow. Never enough air. Disease stealing her from me, and I could do nothing to stop it.
She would be gone before spring.
Erasure: noun 2. a place where something has been erased; a spot or mark left after erasing.
My interest in implosions began in my mid-20s. Or perhaps long before that, before I could possibly be aware of or name this fascination I had with the idea of something ceasing to exist.
Minutes before nine o’clock on a cold October morning in 1994, I waited on the sidewalk along Roosevelt Boulevard in Philadelphia for the Sears Roebuck building to fall. My first implosion.
I expected the noise, like claps of thunder, the rumble and shake. But what intrigued me was the clock tower, how it remained intact almost until it hit the ground, then how, suddenly, a cloud of dust swallowed it whole.
Thick, gray smoke climbed high then spread out slowly, the wind carrying it away. I covered my nose and mouth. White residue layered on cars and streets like snow. The nine-story building, its clock tower, obliterated in seconds. In its footprint, a three-story-high pile of bricks and concrete and metal beams.
Perhaps my father had been the one who’d drawn me to the spectacle of demolition, or at least to time’s capacity to diminish what had once stood grand.
I was ten years old the first time I slipped through that fence with him. He’d found a way to sneak us in, rolling back a loose section of chain link along a field. We came to see the old amusement park as our personal playground, closed off to the passing world. We memorized the landscape of what remained, climbing and playing alongside the ghosts of so many summer seasons.
The park had been shut down a year before, in 1976, and most of the rides sold off. Smaller chain link fences leaned into the broken concrete spaces where the rides once spun. The Scrambler. The Flying Rocket Ships. The Satellite.
I imagined those rides, conjured the blur of lights and colors, the sounds. I whirled around inside those empty spaces until I fell to the ground, dizzy, laughing.
Beneath what remained of the Thunderbolt coaster, among the moss-covered trusses, I looked up through the splintered wooden rails and pictured the rolling cars that had once rattled and roared.
Screams of riders hushed. Silence hung in their place. Though, if I stood completely still and listened, I could hear the faint creak of swollen boards, the squeal of a metal gate swinging back and forth.
There was no way for me to know then that I would be holding onto these images, chronicling this steady wearing away, wanting to remember.
Four years later, the parkland purchased, slated to become a shopping mall, the cranes and bulldozers arrived. Posted signs warned us. The mended fence kept us out. Hoisted up onto my father’s shoulders in an adjacent field, I watched as bulldozers and cranes toppled the Thunderbolt, the loud snap of boards like gunfire.
Ten years after the Sears building rumbled and shook and turned to dust, I returned to the streets of Philadelphia to witness another implosion. Veterans Stadium, home to the Phillies 1980 World Series team.
In the bright morning sun, the Vet seemed to take in one final breath, and, in just 62 seconds, the massive structure collapsed inward, a domino spiral, leaving at its center a heap of crushed concrete and twisted metal.
The voice of a sports announcer echoed along Broad Street: “Ladies and gentlemen, you just witnessed history.”
Someone in the distance played “Taps” on the trumpet.
Street vendors hawked memorabilia, pieces of concrete and Astroturf salvaged for souvenirs.
It is not so much the act of imploding or collapsing or receding that holds my attention as much as it is the extremes—the before and after. There is something in a particular place then there’s not. There are pictures I carry, though, of what once was.
Flashes of memory.
A candy counter, the smell of chocolate and peppermint. The skeleton of a roller coaster, the haunting sounds of its last days. The orange seats where I sat with my father, the voice of Harry Kalas calling the plays.
In the dim yellow light of a hospital room, I see my father for the first time after a blood clot is removed from his brain. He lies completely still in a drug-induced coma that will last for 30 days. Tubes sprout from the stapled skin of his skull.
He is 51.
I am 21, staring at a future I had never imagined.
Months later, a scan of his head shows more darkness than light. The death of brain cells and tissue deprived of oxygen. An area of black where function had been destroyed, where once information had been processed and coordinated and integrated.
Now, an absence. An abyss.
On the day my father dies, I find my way back to my childhood home, another family building a life inside. I knock, tell a kind young mother with a toddler my story, ask permission to look into the backyard.
At the gate, I squeeze my eyes closed.
The small, rusted red shed we left behind is gone, that sacred place where my father stored so much, where he tinkered with things that smelled like gasoline and wet grass and wood.
The space emptied of what mattered to me, yet I photograph what isn’t there. Document what has been erased.
I picture my father standing beside that shed, sweat soaking through his white t-shirt, the lenses of his glasses darkened by the sun. A lit cigarette pinched loosely between his lips. And I imagine my mother in a lawn chair, a paperback clutched in one hand, a glass of iced tea in the other. Smoke from a cigarette curls up from an ashtray somewhere on the ground.
In the silence: the echo of their voices. A low hum of a lawn mower. The tin doors of the shed swinging open, slamming closed. Ice clinking in my mother’s glass.
All photographs by Kristina Moriconi.