Kelly Krumrie’s figuring

Figuring is a monthly column that puzzles over (to figure) and gives shape to (a figure) writing, art, and environments that integrate or concern mathematics and the sciences.  This month’s column looks at Jessica Reed’s poem, “Red After the Taking” and image scales. 

Kelly Krumrie’s figuring

Figuring is a monthly column that puzzles over (to figure) and gives shape to (a figure) writing, art, and environments that integrate or concern mathematics and the sciences. 

I have been thinking about scale, especially in outdoor environments: landscapes, deserts, mountain ranges, and mines: the size of the things coming out of them, the space they take up and leave empty, individual particles. 

Last year, my husband’s coworker emailed me a link to Edward Burtynsky’s photographs of mines, tailings piles, salt pans, railcuts, quarries. I left Burtynsky’s site’s tab open for a long time. My computer’s desktop background is Salt Pan #13

Many of Burtynsky’s photographs are, like Salt Pan #13, aerial—a macro view of environmental scouring, gridding, destruction surely, extraction and razing—at an angle we don’t often see, or one we are prevented from seeing. 

Along the road, bluegreen tailings ponds you think are water. 

Driving southwest on Colorado State Highway 91, below ski areas and before Fremont Pass, you’re flanked by the Climax molybdenum mine and a few ponds. 

A couple pulls over at sunset and takes a picture in front of a reservoir (bright sky, bright lake): in fact a place for particles to settle, the colors chemical. No fish. It’s pieces of the mountain floating or sinking, hovering in the water depending on shape and density, separating out. 

The vastness of these spaces is hard to picture. Burtynsky changes perspective, or one considers it further, maybe, in Nickel Tailings #31, Sudbury, Ontario, which Jessica Reed takes up in her poem “Red After the Taking” in the new Earth Elegies issue of Conjunctions

Reed opens with “what am I looking at”—which is exactly the thing: this orange, this landscape, radioactive beach scene. But what are nickel tailings really? What am I looking at?

Scale is what the image is. Color pulling the eye out, up. 

  an image makes demands

     an interior of a line filling up space

  a mind tries a narrative:

To mine the image. My mind’s clicks and tailings. 

  what am I looking at

To mine climax.

  a mind tries a narrative:

  there was a separation 

     of metals from the ore

The angle of the slope, rush to a beach, good light.

  I am looking at

grass.

About the Author

Kelly Krumrie‘s prose, poetry, and reviews are forthcoming from or appear in EntropyLa Vague, Black Warrior ReviewFull Stop, and elsewhere. She is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing at the University of Denver where she serves as the prose editor for Denver Quarterly.