I Whisper Terlingua

I’ve been intrigued by the relationship between words and images since I started exploring photography. This intrigue has usually taken the form of short self-penned musings or poems or quotes/lyrics that serve as a captions for images I’ve made. The inspirational and relational trigger for a specific quote or piece of writing is usually vague, even to myself, and the interplay between the two is often oblique. I’ve come to view this pairing of words and images as a sort of self-administered Rorschach test. As I edit the image, my mind flutters between thoughts and quotes and inspiration until it lands on something that sticks. 

Lately I’ve wanted to explore this inspirational interplay on an interpersonal level. So I recently asked an immensely talented poet, my good friend Justin Cox, to collaborate on a little creative project with me. The rules were simple: I would create five new images and send them to Justin. He would write a short poem to accompany each image. Then, he would pen five original poems and send them my way. And I would create five images inspired by each of the poems.

We’re now at the halfway point of our project. Last month, I walked around SE Portland, shot a single roll of film on my Hasselblad, and sent five of the twelve edited exposures to Justin.  All of the images, in retrospect, were bound together as fragmented glimpses of urban alienation and its relationship with the ever-evolving language of technology. I would have expected, in return, some sort of Delillo-esque commentary on the price of the pace of our information systems, of the weight and psychic ramifications of technological advancement. But what I received back from Justin were poignant, intensely personal, and gut-wrenchingly beautiful vignettes that explored the intimate nature of human connection. I read them over and over again. The characters, set in narrative pairs, strive desperately to connect with their beloved, whether with their lover or sibling. It reads as an inverse extrapolation from the detached, urban theme of the images, but complimentary in a haunting and timeless way.

We decided to title this first half of the collaboration “I Whisper Terlingua”, a line from one of the poems, in which the narrator agonizes over the lingering absence of her lover, until his eventual return, when “ghosts dance on the wind and then the stillness and the silence is complete”. I’ve spent time analyzing the ink of this Rorschach experiment and attempting to decipher the conscious and unconscious lines of interpersonal inspiration between the images and the words, and have eventually just resigned myself to revel in the beautiful ambiguity of it all. And I hope you will as well. I’m certainly looking forward to finding the final five poems in my inbox sometime soon. But until then, here’s the first half of our collaboration, “I Whisper Terlingua”…


As I lay in the light fulfilled

As this joyous ocean kisses my feet,

As I lay flush from the heat of the forge,

I whisper Terlingua – language of rustling horses and broken bodies,

Language of the soul lost and found.


I, as the sun rises, watch him moving from this world to the next,

From sex’s electric lust and utter gibberish, to the stoic silence of the unbroken road.

In these final moments together, I luxuriate in the tendons of his feet

As he buckles his belt.

His spotless boots, his thick, unruly hair, all that he is that springs from within sings himself,

And his is the insistence of cicadas in a land of ghosts.


My eyes now look to his leaving across the dirt lot.

Hands that cupped my face in the dark and declared me beloved, blood,

Now hide in his pockets.

His shoulders stooped to the cold morning, chin tucked, eyes of fire hidden now

Beneath a Stetson brim.


When he disappears I stop breathing, and silence drifts into place,

Hanging out in the distance between us

Ungodly and alone.

Then the bold black cab feels the whip crack; gorgeous roar shatters the window;

Smoke careens into the sky; chuff; metal whine; gravel skitters and pops beneath the load

When the great unknown lurches into motion.


And when the last taillight disappears behind the curtain, I gasp

as the loss slams into my chest.


Three days later I haven’t moved,

but, damn, how the gaudy future returns, smiling, preposterous.

Dawn alights. My rapturous hands grasp fistfuls of shirt, curl into the quickening sun.

He whispers, Terlingua, against my lips and we kiss,

And kiss, and kiss.


In the half-light of early evening the cicadas sing in the land of love

and ghosts dance on the wind and then

the stillness and the silence is complete.

nothing depends on them

lingering useless


dew clings like fresh sweat

intimacy insists

they glisten they wait

a casual rebuke to fear

My love, let down thy hair for me to rise,
And I will climb with lover’s strength to – oh,
Apologies my love, I spoke unwisely;
In haste, I failed to – well, to you I’ll go.
My love? Can you unlock the iron door
Which bars my sturdy arms from yours?
Or maybe buzz me in? Oh, hell – so sure
Was I of limbs I risked – oh well, less is more.
The door is sprung! Oh, joy! Now we alone
Can make our two hearts – oh, goddamn it all!
Is this your sister? I see, I mean – sorry.
She is distressed. So be it. Love’s thrall knows
No bounds, for sense by love is made a mess --
Far better limbless love, than armed heartlessness.

i carry your impediment with me (i carry your avian

neglect) I am lost without (it is in a tree

in a tangled skein of wet heartache; and whatever

we do is soulful and senseless, my agony)


i want your dirt (for you are filthy my feet, foot) i love

your heel (for heel is calf calf is knee)

smeared thigh you are whatever a leg has always meant

and whatever whole is is, no more than I, you


now, here is the sweet decay of plastic molds

(here is the hopeless haphazard body of beauty

and the grasp of the depth of the love that we’re in; which kisses

wordless wounds fresh or obvious)

and this (we) embrace (life) is a furious mess


i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)


I heard the Peal of Laughter first—
It burst into the Room
with heartthrob Heat—Soul skipping beats

The morning Dew—refreshed the Blades
of Grass beyond the Glass
The Air had gathered—crisp and new—
Within the Room was Joy—

I cracked the Door to lightening Dark
and there—in mid air on
off the Bed—there and there she was—
My sister—Emmy Rose—

It seems to me Geometry
is just a frame—and Love
aglow within cannot be held
or kept—but keeps us Forever—