Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Floundering in multiplicity

Driving in the city,
after so many months in rural isolation,
I am floundering in multiplicity:
so many stories, so many lives,
so many little shops to be managed,
each with its bickering employees,
and merchandise that needs to be ordered and displayed;
each with its owner, paying taxes, rent, and salaries,
and worrying that customers won't come...

So many buses, filled with faces, all unique,
all on their way from lives I cannot know
to somewhere else they want or need to be --
and what is that? Imagination churns
and still my car is inching its way
down the dark gray ribbon, threaded yellow;
pausing at each stoplight to make way for other people
in other cars, or walking, who are also on their journeys
to whatever they will see and do today;
stars in their trajectories,
spinning, drifting, in and out of vision,
cluster briefly and and then hurtle through
each other's orbits, seeking other spaces, other places,
leaving traces, bright
or fading into night...

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Missing herons

I saw a heron yesterday --
painted on a canvas, hanging on a wall,
glimpsed through a store window --
and keep thinking of the herons
on the beach I used to walk,
and the reams and reams of photos that I took.
Their tiny feathers, fluttering in the wind,
their ungainly legs,
straight, or bent at the knees,
their distinctive stiletto beaks,
stabbing into the water, lifting
wriggling fish to swallow in a gulp,
their massive wings and graceful flight,
the harshness of their cry,
and something in me,
terrified of trying to paint the real,
is aching to recreate those memories on canvas;
bold strokes and thin, all clustered
on the right side of the page
to declare the presence -- no, return --
of the heron, absent now from my daily view
(having moved into the forest);
to fill the void on the canvas
and my empty field of vision
with their raucous, guttural cries.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Two paths

Once again I'm caught between
what was and what will be,
two different paths, one winding down
and one that's gearing up
to cut the other off before
it dies its natural death --
like putting a pet to sleep before
its time because we cannot bear to watch
it stagger blindly to its grave.

When to stay, and when to go --
the perennial choice we all must make
in every challenging situation, fight or flight --
which do we choose, and how can we anticipate
the fallout of decisions made: the roads
diverging in the wood, the ones we travel by
will always split: no path is ever smooth, or true,
and still we walk, and watch, but where our focus lies --
our feet, the trees we pass, the path ahead, the sky above --
might easily determine our decisions. Where to look?
What to see, or to avoid, or to embrace --
it's all a mystery to add zest to the journey.

Friday, February 16, 2018

I cannot watch

I cannot watch the news.
Not that I have wanted to,
since the moment I gave birth --
when suddenly I became aware
each person in each story is now, or was, a child,
whose parents cringe, or wail,
at the tragedy befalling them --

But these days it grows harder still,
with children killing children
using weapons they'd have never touched
but for the millions those who build them
give the makers of our laws.

My horror, that more than half the people
in this place I call my country
believe this is the way that things should be
knows no depths,
and will carry me into the dark
unless I close my eyes and do not watch the news.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

An artist reflects

I'm wondering how many times I drew
that house, that tree, that bird
before my mother told me to stop.
I know the moment seems to haunt me still,
but I'm trying to see it now from her perspective,
knowing what she probably didn't know
about the therapeutic aspects of repetition.

I wonder if she just lost patience;
if my endless iterations failed
to show any sign of progress,
and this embarrassed her.
And then I wonder about my childhood self,
whose pleasure in this simple drawing
seemed to her obsessive.
Did I paint it because it felt good,
or I was trying to process some aspect of home?
Was I hoping that my drawing might improve,
or did I paint it because she praised it once,
and because praise came so rarely
I was desperately trying to earn her praise again?

After so many years, I have no access
to the answers for these questions.
Did my desperate bids for praise
trigger her guilt? I cannot know.
And what I can't know -- ever--
is which came first--
my need to please, or her disapproval.
I only see how this simple incident
reverberates through the years, and wonder --
what if I were to draw that red house now?
That black roof, and that flat blue sky,
that tree, that pond, that grass?
And if I draw it many times,
would the process then reveal
the answers I was seeking?
Or would I finally discover
the truth behind my absolute
conviction that I really cannot draw?

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Shared Delight

He pushes off and soars across the ice,
watched by the crowd as his board
plunges, then lifts;
he flies above us all -- Icarus, in his waxed wings
was never closer to the sun --
and then swoops down,
gathering velocity as the spiral
swirls, descends to rise again, and turn --
two quick rotations in the air,
then one more spin to land and drop again
into the depths and out and up and higher still,
the twist and thrust into the chill of air and sky and blue and glide
and landing as we hold our breath,
the scrape of blade, the flame of snow,
fists raised in proud salute,
and skidding to a blazing crystal stop to wait,
anticipation, exultation, knowing he did well,
all magnified a hundred fold
by the winning of the gold;
and sinking to his knees he gasps, inhales,
and rises howling to the stars.

Seeing his tears, the watching hearts expand,
the wonder of the moment shrills across our eyes,
responsive fires glitter, mirror neurons tearing up in shared delight.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Stumbling in the dark

So many years,
and still I'm stumbling in the dark,
charcoal grating on a classroom blackboard,
obsidian,
indistinguishable.

You ask me what I know,
what expertise is mine alone,
what light I bring into the world,
and hopeful stars blink briefly,
flutter into consciousness,
then spread their silent wings and drift away.
The promise that I might have been unique,
the flicker of possibility stutters,
dies unborn in the arms of memory.

O fecund night, whose blossoms dream and die,
what is there left to say that's not been said,
how can these fingers dance across the page,
these lips breathe words that fall, fail,
ashes to a carpet,
burning another hole in the threadbare fabric.

I squat and stir the flames of others' brilliance,
craving illumination.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Van Gogh's ear

Upon return from your day away,
sparkling with the aftershocks of adventure,
you're eager to share, and so I sit beside you,
smiling at the photos and the look upon your face,
the tales of who you saw and what you learned.

I really care, and am delighted
by the starriness of your energy,
yet through it all some part of me
is bubbling merrily just below
the surface of my smiles,
an effervescent energy that wants to shout,
"But look at me, what happened to me,
in the time while you were gone!"
despite the fact that I've already shared,
already said it all in just two sentences,
yet still it simmers there, whispering,
"Yes, but ME, yes but ME!
Is not what happened to me equally amazing?"

I pat the buoyant energy down,
and smile, a smile for you that's fueled
by the smile for me that floats just underneath,
and wonder -- have I always been so self-absorbed?
Please tell me there've been times
when all of my attention
has been focused on someone other than myself,
or do we always, all of us,
listen with only one ear
while the other waits to cue the mouth
with what's itching to be said?
No wonder Van Gogh had to cut off his ear --
but which one did he remove?
The one that listens,
or the one that only hears? 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Nigredo

Nigredo -- I learned this morning --
is the dark and necessary melancholic phase
of the alchemical transformation,
whose release of its dark powers
awakens beneficent forces
which inevitably give rise to a new dawn.

There are, of course, reminders everywhere
of this dark process --
in the words of the sages,
"We must die to be born again,"
but also in our cities --
the tenements that degrade into slums,
and are later resurrected
to become trendy town homes --
in our forests, in our vineyards, and our gardens:


the trees and vines that lose their leaves,
rebirthing in the spring to later
shower us with fruit;
the rose bush that I prune myself
rewards me with a multitude
of blossoms in the spring...

yet still -- it's hard to trust
when it's happening to you,
and to those you love,
and to your country;
when the machinations of the powerful
set us back a hundred years
and the laws of the righteous
are overturned to harm the very souls
they were designed to protect.

Here, in my studio,
a nigredo of my own:
I stand and hurl black slashes onto canvases,
attempting to express
the dark forces in my soul;
my grief at what our country has become.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The eternal conundrum

There it is again, the eternal conundrum:
when to stay, and when to go;
when to stick with the plan,
and when to abandon ship;
when to put up with all the pieces
that aren't falling into place,
and when to walk away and trust
some other puzzle waits around the corner.

When do we keep putting pencil to paper,
brush to canvas,
feet into toe shoes,
and when do we take a break,
a vacation from the endless cavalcade of failure?
When do we keep railing at
and fighting injustice,
and when do we stop and trust
that all of this is a necessary correction;
that things have to get this bad before
folks are motivated to change?

How long do we keep holding our breath,
anticipating change,
and when do we let it go and sink;
let the waves of doubt wash over us
and drive us to the depths of disillusion?
At what point do we finally
give up and cut our losses?

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Affetuoso

I jump when the door opens,
run down the stairs as you stride in,
to throw your blue fleece coat across the chair.
You sit and loosen laces in your shoes as I watch,
eyes filling with the grateful plaid
of your shirt, flannel, threadbare...
You speak, and I become a violin
my heart strings tremble: wooden chambers quiver,
in response to the echoes of your day;
the sirens and the children's screams,
bright treble, tremolo, and counterpoint,
the deep basso profundo of your moves to keep them safe.

Blood halts, my veins constrict and shiver
as you recount the moment when staccato shots rang out,
I kneel beside you, craving your embrace,
You take me in, your arms a feathered bow stroking my back,
the quiet, voiceless harmony of love.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The artist's enigma

Looking at another artist's work,
I realize how constrained I've been
by my desperate need to please.
In the time-worn way of difficulties,
painting is teaching me all I need to know
about what holds me back;
about the emptiness inside
where confidence should reside;
about the desperate need to look outside
myself for guidance and approval,
when all this time I thought I was
(as Mama always said)
stubborn, and independent.

So what is it that happens
as the canvas slowly fills
and I grow less and less assured
of what to add or change?
It's fear, I know, that had me
crying when I took a class,
but fear of what? My mother's disapproval
seems too distant.
I'm told there's no wrong marks, and yet
I'm terrified that my wrong mark
will ruin a good painting --
just as fear of falling ruined
my collegiate attempt to learn to ski.
What stops me? What abyss is this
that keeps me so on edge?
How can I transform myself
from timid into bold?

Perhaps it's tied to the time I claimed with confidence,
"I'm a National Merit Scholar,"
and then promptly screwed something up?
Could something that occurred when in my teens
carry echoes that would last this long?

I could ask myself so many questions
when standing before a canvas
and wondering what comes next.
Is the problem that I need to study more,
so I know how to achieve what I'm visualizing?
I'm worried that I haven't grown,
despite all the avenues that I've explored.
But mostly it's the marks
that have me stumped.
I can build a structure underneath,
but then I find myself wanting more,
and that's when I get terrified,
and balk, assuming anything I do
will be ridiculed, and mocked as amateurish,
and so instead I always push for balance
though I long for something random.
Perhaps I need to spend some time
addressing a larger canvas, and powering through?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Moving

I think of all the moves we've made
while you've stayed in one place:
the ones where all we moved were clothes
(and a desk for me to write on)
and the ones where we went shopping
to buy all those exciting things we'd need
to furnish a second home;
the couches that we left behind
or carted off for someone else to use,
and the cats -- always the cats --
who never quite adjusted to the changes,
but howled, or sulked,
or hid beneath the beds;
who crouched cross-eyed beside computer monitors,
or sprawled on keyboards, knowing
they could count on our returning
to that illuminated altar.

Ah, the sacrifices made for change:
for kids not doing well in school,
for jobs that ate our time
or cut us off and let us go...
We drank the intoxication of new beginnings,
tasted or left behind the bread of friendship,
all in the sacred pursuit of a home
that could gracefully house the gifts and opportunities
that we kept hoping might arise.
And I remember how strange
the first night in each new place,
the terror and anxiety that followed each new change,
and lying in a sleeping bag
on a bare floor in an empty room
and wondering as the cat curled by my feet
if the choices we had made were wise
or foolish...

Monday, February 5, 2018

Orange memories

First came the fruit: from China,
through the Persians and the Spanish,
to the French and then to us.
Its dimpled skin clings softly
to the tasty fruit below with strings of white,
but when it proved too challenging to separate,
my mom would cut the orange into quarters for my dad,
who'd stuff it in his mouth, skin out,
and come to find me, beaming his orange smile.

Which might explain my preference
for the taste, and for the color,
which speaks to me of intimacy, and innocence;
shared laughter at small things,
the silliness we find in families:
that loss I so regretted
when he married someone else
and left us all behind -- the teasing,
the memories, his granddaughters,
and me.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Invisible, umbilical

Another day, a kind face,
another woman's tears,
and I am softened, and restored to heartfulness,
a painting without definition,
warm with color,
streaked with possibilities
attempted and rejected:
too little contrast, and yet,
still more than I can bear
in this fragile state,
recovering from moods I find
may not have been my own, influenced
(as I still am)
by invisible threads that tie me still
to daughters far away,
some heart-ordained connection
that thrives untroubled by distance
or awareness:
they hurt, or snap, and something in me
echoes their disheartenment,
and seeks to find
an explanation in my own experience
that may or may not exist because
the impulse to ache or wound may stem
from some source far away,
carried along the cord invisible, umbilical
that stretches across the Sound
and still holds remnants of an unforgotten memory;
my mother's dying thoughts, voiced by my daughter,
awakened in the night;
confusion followed by a phone call
announcing the unexpected ending to her tale.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Triggered

I almost ended up last night in tears,
and I'm still trying to parse out
exactly what was in me that got triggered
when you suggested I might have handled that better.

Suddenly there were all these voices
shouting in my head,
explaining and proclaiming their defenses.
but somewhere, underneath them,
a little child was cringing.
You saw her, and tried to reassure her,
but she couldn't hear your voice
above the throng of other voices
clamoring in my head.

I'm pondering now that over-reaction,
attempting to assess its source
and trying to figure out just what went wrong.
Could it be our diet is putting both of us on edge?
Is it that some part of me assumes
if I'm not perfect then I also can't be loved?
Is there another way
you could have said it that would not have set me off?
Was I simply hearing echoes of the
voices in the past that disapproved?

And who is this, that's saying she's upset because
this thing she does imperfectly
is something sh resents having to do;
that this task has cut her off
from the ways she had been hoping to spend her time?
Speak, little one, and tell us how you feel:

I've lost my edge.
I cannot paint.
Because I've all this work
that I'd never planned to do,
I've not been in my studio,
and now when I go back I'm getting nothing,
nothing but ugliness and the pain of seeing
all that beauty come to a halt.
The only thing that made it okay to lose that talent
was the sense that what I was doing instead
might be a gift as well,
so if I'm doing that wrong, too,
then why am I wasting my time,
and what do I have to show
for this loss that I never meant to choose?

Sure.
It could be that.
Or just too many things going wrong in one day --
the confusion over picking up the car,
the implication that I watch too much TV
(and your distaste for my choices)
when I thought the choice was yours.
Perhaps those last two bits
were simply the last straw,
and put my fragile soul over the edge--
but never mind. Today is a new day,
and we'll both try to learn from our mistakes.

Friday, February 2, 2018

The empty room

Awakening to find you gone,
I'm wandering from room to empty room,
seeking signs of your recent occupation,
wondering, not where you've gone,
but how you left, and if you'd gotten breakfast...

Heart skips ahead into a deeper wonder --
what if you hadn't been here at all --
and all the boxes, all the books
come tumbling into my imagination,
piling accusations, responsibilities, and questions:
how would I live if you weren't here?
We always have assumed that I'd go first, and so
the question rarely surfaces,
but staring at the empty bed and chair,
I wonder: would I live this way,
if not for you --
and listen as the wind howls its dark answer
through the trees...