The Heir | Andrew Coburn
Forced March | Robert Lietz
Dear Leader Dreamer | Gabriel Check
Antipastoral: Dairymen | Amy Groshek
Snapshots of the Epic | Gregory Lawless
Three Reliquaries | Laurence Davies
The Inexorable | Stefanie Freele
Travel Photography | Joshua Walker
Post-Christmas Inventory | Laura Kolb
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Evan in the Tent | Walter Cummins
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Travel Photography | Joshua Walker

I watched a man die today. He fell off a roof. I was looking outside my window at the choked and foggy skies, at the way the light would straggle through the packed layers of atmosphere, and I had my camera out, because for a while I had wanted to take a Moscow fog picture before packing up and leaving for Shanghai, and he was right there, not fifty yards away from me, all in black with black gloves even, walking across one of the slanted tin roofs with another man. One moment he was there and the next he was flailing through the air moving his arms like he expected to catch onto something, but he didn’t of course, all the way down.

He had been walking calmly in a certain blasé manner that showed he was used to roofs and what their metallic surface felt like wet beneath his boots. He was near a stubby little tin chimney when he slipped; and his mate turned and shouted something and stood with hands limply at his sides. Like he was a child and had just broken something and was waiting to see if anyone would yell at him. I had my camera, so I could see exactly what his face was doing through my zoom. His cheeks were fleshy and ruddy from the cold, and his eyes looked like drinking eyes through their Mongol slits. He blinked three, maybe four times, licked his lips, his tongue was drinker-red, fat, and gathered some of the moisture that had accumulated on his upper lip from the fog, and then he started back to wherever he had come from. This was when I couldn’t see his face anymore because his back was turned to me, but he walked slowly, suddenly aware of the height and the squeaks of his boots.

I couldn’t see the body hit: there’s another building that obscures the chasm. But I’m sure that he died, it was a five-story fall, and the ground is solid asphalt over there. Sure enough, the sirens are already crying in the distance – a good twenty minutes after the fall – and I’m vaguely wondering who’s over there looking at his body. Old women? Children? And what happened with the other worker? Odds are he just skipped off, told someone else that he hadn’t been up there so as to stay uninvolved. That’s what a lot of Russians are like, uninvolved as far as they can be. But there’s one thing the mate doesn’t know, and that’s that I got the entire incident on film. That’s right, I was snapping away photos and I can watch it all again: the two men walking across the roof and one of them spins over the edge and the other looks off and up at the sky in front of him, paralyzed by the horizons until he would be stunned by what I can only assume is shock and fear. Because his blinking and limp arms don’t look like he knew the other particularly well – I can tell from one of my photos. His face isn’t wrung-up in that grip of simultaneous denial and gut-wailing you see after tragedies involving a loved one.

And I’ve seen that face plenty – because I’ve photographed it and printed it. You’ve probably even seen it, over coffee or while waiting for the dentist.

The pictures are good and I’ll send them off later tonight after playing with the sky and the contrast of the roof for a while. I have no doubt that the story won’t be reported anywhere over here and then some American newspaper can buy my photo and arrogantly announce something about Russia’s lack of journalistic integrity or the timidity of its media and they’ll pay well for the pleasure. I don’t really care, as long as you see the picture.

I wonder, now that I study the man’s face when he was still upright and breathing, whether he knew what was coming. You can’t see any fear in his face, but there is something in his eyes, a certain security that the day only promises routine and work and worrying about meals and drink and little slights against him. Maybe that’s why I did what I did – it’ll make for an extremely interesting spread later on. After winning an award for the one where he’s falling I can publish all five as a series, and there will be much conjecture about his eyes then, about his hopes and wants. The way I catch his face might even come up in photography classes.

Because I’m the one who killed him. He was walking as calmly as ever, he had walked these buildings before and he knew how to walk on them, before I pulled his feet out from under him. It’s an old trick: I loosened just a little bit of the traction on his left boot where the rubber met the tin, he tried to compensate with his right, and then I whipped the right out from under him and he had nothing left, and he went hurling into gloom and speed and pavement. The move is similar to that fencing attack where you tap your opponent’s sword from one direction, he responds too much to one side, and then you slip your blade around his and stab him through the heart. And I did that all the way from over here, from my window, a safe distance for any murderer.

I think that maybe he felt my invisible hands on him, I think there’s something in his eyes about that – but then, I hate reading something into my own work. And that’s not why it’ll be appreciated the world over.

Now the sky is clearing a little, the fog seems higher, and some buildings are emerging beyond the high trees in the distance. It will probably rain.

And I’m already thinking about wailing faces in China, hungry little faces with desolate landscapes behind them. Maybe I’ll burn a field, or maybe I’ll turn a river and have the water burn out stomachs and lungs and plant the malicious and hard glowing little seeds into wombs and brains. Wars and urban catastrophe have tired me, I think again as I look at their faces, and I’m bored of altering the contrast of tin roofs.

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commentary | poetry | fiction | chicago | spring 2007   

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