Reflecting Pool Outside the Rothko Chapel

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Reflecting Pool Outside the Rothko ChapelJuly humidity makes breathing more like drowning. Two men – one middle-aged, one elderly, both in milky linen suits – walk brisk laps around the Chapel grounds. They pass my bench next to the reflecting pool every few minutes. Through the scrim of mosquitoes, I watch the men each time they circle past. The steel sculpture in the pool is rusting before me. The younger man leads the older; neither speak.

The older gentleman is wearing a Panama hat and leather gloves that look like he could summon a bird of prey. I pity him. He’s completely covered, save for his face, exerting himself in this heat. I’ve exposed as much of my skin as possible. Bare arms, legs, the only covering a film of salt water from the walk here. Cicadas are screaming.

I sit here most Sunday afternoons because I’m two months in love and not sure what else to do. I imagine all possible scenarios and they all circle the same drain: I will be left broken-hearted. I know it’s selfish and crazy but I come here to press the place a bruise will form before the vessels have broken.

Each Sunday the men arrive and do their laps. Each Sunday Broken Obelisk corrodes a little more.

I’d read that the sculpture was constructed of a steel meant to rust on the outside; corrosion as shield. But inside, unseen, the water in the air penetrates the tiniest cracks, weakens the whole structure, makes it brittle.

The men go around again. I can’t tell if sitting here is helping or making me crazier. Those gloves are a mystery to me. The older man staggers a little now as they loop behind a stand of bamboo.

Principle of constructive interference: two sound waves meet and pile on top of each other.  Instead of dampening, they magnify. How a cicada surrounds you with its scream.

I don’t bother to wave away the mosquitoes blurring my outline; their bites are some kind of penance. The itching, the walk here, the endurance test of sitting outdoors, this is how I atone for being so stupid to have fallen in love, again.

Another lap.

I imagine this exercise is being forced on the man in the gloves, an expiation for some dark sin.  Or maybe they both were in on it.

Broken Obelisk may look solid but it’s vulnerable. Transformed as it’s exposed. A breakdown. It will need repair soon, according to the art conservators. It will be sent back to the foundry.

Cicadas sound like insanity. Felt but formless. The sound forever rising, waves meeting, piling, unanswerable. Laps that circle back around. Inert on my bench, the timbre, the heat, the water, they’re motion, the scrim now a heavy garment, a steam of panic rising and cracking in me, or maybe it’s the urge to do something terrible. I want to fling it off, remove all my clothes, tear off my skin. Desire to do something instead of simply desiring.

I come here in love in 102-degree heat. Two waves meet, amplify. I think my mind is slipping. Another lap.

A febrile cloud of longing. The mosquitoes that land on my skin carry away my blood, my sweat, pieces of me commingling with the air, the heat dispersing all molecules into one mixture. Borders erased. I’m both here and there, floating away without having to know the ending.

I could sit inside the Chapel, where it’s cool as a stone and all noise is dulled. But I never do. I can’t solidify myself enough to enter. That much silence I think would be unbearable.

I’m blurring at every edge. Then, a tickle of sweat behind my knee. Only earth-bound entities are ticklish.


Photo used under CC.




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About Author

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Brooke Middlebrook grew up in the hills of western Massachusetts but currently resides in Birmingham, Alabama. She is a medical writer by day and an essay writer whenever she can. Her work has appeared in Gravel and *82 Review.

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