Painting and Poetry Folded in Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

–Leonardo da Vinci
 

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

–Vincent Van Gogh

 

My sisters and I call each other

“No one’s dead,” we quickly chirp,

a macabre affirmation of life,

a precaution for my perpetually panicked sister-niece,

(she answers the phone expecting disaster)

we laugh—because what can you do?

but then comes news of two deaths over the weekend,

my husband’s former colleague and a college friend,

we’re of a certain age now,

most of our friends have lost at least one parent,

some both,

middle-aged orphans,

I think about links to the past,

disappearing the way beads slide off string one by one

 

and I watch a miniseries about the Gay Rights Movement

see again the AIDS quilt,

memories squared and love-knotted,

blanketing the National Mall,

a memorial, a declaration

we protest with poetry and art,

against wars, against injustice,

fighting for the right to live

and to die in dignity,

(love is love is love is love)

in the epic story of our lives,

we are the heroes,

and its tragic victims

 

We dream and we create,

our lives, like intricately folded origami

unfolded in a split second,

a discovery that the crane

is now simply a wrinkled bit of paper

 

We take my mother to our daughter’s house for brunch,

my mother, once a child, now the matriarch,

a ninety-four-year-old orphan

her parents, her brother, and many of her friends are gone,

she can barely see, but still she paints

the vision must be in her mind and hands

felt, rather than seen,

poetry in paint,

tactile sensibility,

she has her first mimosa

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and we talk of this and that

old hairstyles, Dallas nightclubs,

stories my daughter has never heard before

of a world and people that no longer exist,

I imagine a mirror with endless reflections

and the world through the looking glass

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We’re through the looking glass in a mirrored room, transported to an 18th century French palace. Philadelphia Museum of Art

 

we laugh over misunderstood words

the kind of laughter that brings tears,

and we are entertained by pets,

sitting in the kitchen,

a domestic scene,

that could come from the past,

generations sitting around a table

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My husband and I go to an exhibition of watercolors

an amazing show, 175 paintings on display,

the show traces the history–

how watercolor became an American medium

from what was essentially work done in the home,

by women, decorative artists, as well as illustrators

becomes much more after the Civil War

and Philadelphia,

with publications and art schools

becomes a center

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The exhibition describes the painters’ techniques

the importance of the paper in the watercolors,

various textures and colors

watercolors are luminous, but fragile

reflecting light,

but also, fading in light,

the picture dies

the image no longer exists,

and I think of the building, landscapes, and people in the paintings

that no longer exist

except in these depictions

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where the sun still shines and wind still blows

and alligators huddle together in the mud,

lethargic beasts with deadly grins

 

at night, I dream of light and art,

I paint my dream into a poem,

a dream of misty luminosity with opaque spots

brushed by the artist

(look there closely at the strokes)

on an unusual type of paper, with texture both rough and smooth

folded over and over,

to form different creases,

like wrinkles on faces in time

endless, like reflections in a mirror

 

Information:

We watched the miniseries, When We Rise

We saw the exhibition, “American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent”

You can see a trailer on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Website.

It is a stunning exhibition, but because watercolors are fragile, it will only be seen in Philadelphia. No photography is permitted.

 

 

Bridges and Puzzles

Monday Morning Musings:

“Then we got into a labyrinth, and, when we thought we were at the end,
came out again at the beginning, having still to see as much as ever.”
–Plato

“From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world.”
—William Shakespeare,  Love’s Labor’s Lost, Act V, scene iii

 

There are bridges that carry us across rivers

And there are bridges that close gaps in time or understanding

But life is a labyrinth

There are no direct routes

It twists and turns

Until it finally ends

Unsolved

 

We took a bridge to my sister’s house,

Our annual Mother’s Day ritual,

Lunch prepared by my sister and her wife

Stuffed shells, meatballs and sausage for the meat eaters,

A great salad brought by my niece

(ten minutes of agonizing about it over

the phone the day before)

because that’s what we do

The women in my family can make

Not simply mountains out of mole hills,

We can make Mt. Everest out of speck on the ground

But oh, we can spin stories, too–

Best done with food and wine,

Enough food for twice the number at the table

Also part of the tradition–

So we sit at my sister’s table

We talk about our pets

The size of our cats

(big and small)

The time my daughter’s dog

“sprint peed” around her apartment

We talk about family

The “art genes” we carry

The ability to write and a love of chocolate

(Must be carried on dominant genes)

Perhaps a love of spicy food, too,

As no one thought the “hot” salsa was particularly hot

And daughter and I had

a little pizza with our hot peppers the night before

My niece discussing family craziness

“If our husbands die do you want to live together

 and we can drink and be crazy together?”

She might have said this to my daughter

That’s perfectly normal, right?

And then it was off to Macy’s

How many women does it take to shop with my mom?

We have our assigned roles,

Dresser

Assistant dressers

Clothing hangers

Hunter and Gatherer of new items

But sometimes it takes a village

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And this year, we also have

The bra hunter

And dressing room bouncer

Do you wonder what it must be like

Or why we laugh?

You hook the bra, and I’ll put the boobs in

And later a whispered aside:

Just put the pillow over my head if I start wearing bras like that

She has great boobs– you have good boob genes

(Is this carried along with the writing and chocolate gene?)

To the dressing room bouncer,

How about if you close the door– I’m sitting here in all my glory.

Finally, the shopping is complete

My mom has quite a haul– dress, pants, shirts—no new bra

What $40? Forget it?

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

We head back to my sister’s,

where my husband, brother, and sister’s wife

have been watching the Phillies

They won!

Time for dessert,

My brownies and daughter’s cannoli dip

We like our chocolate

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Not much left here!

And coffee

What? You don’t make coffee at home?

Back in the car, driving my mom home

We talk of family history

We learn that some of her family lived in a refugee tent city

In England

Caught there between Belarus and the U.S.

Early in the twentieth century

Perhaps during WWI?

My mom doesn’t know

She said her cousin, then a young child

Thought it was fun—the children got to run around and play–

Their mothers probably did not enjoy it as much–

We arrive at my mom’s, but

Just before she gets out of the car

She leaves us with one more family puzzle

Her father left family in Russia who vanished during

“the war,”

That would be WWII.

I have no idea what to make of this.

What people?

How did they vanish?

Life is full of such puzzles

We can never solve all of them

But there’s a quest to try

To work our way through the labyrinth

Not right now though

It’s late

And so we head back over the bridge,

East with the sun at our backs

To home

Where there is more chocolate waiting for me.

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Saying Goodbye

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“Remember me and smile, for it’s better to forget than to remember me and cry.”

Dr. Seuss

Last night, our old lady cat Tasha died. I made the very difficult decision to terminate her life. She was 19, and up until a couple of weeks ago, despite kidney disease and arthritis, she was still coping well and holding her own against the two little boy cats who shared her home. Yesterday though was something else, and when it seemed to me that she was actually in pain and not able to eat, I didn’t want to prolong her suffering. The veterinarian and the staff were kind and compassionate, and Tasha’s death was very peaceful.

Pets are part of the family. If they’re not, then why have a pet? I believe that once you have a pet, you are responsible for it, as you would be for any family member. Coping with their illnesses and death are part of the package. In return for your care, they give you love, keep you company, and provide you with an endless source of amusement. It seems like a fair trade. I resisted getting any kind of pet for many years after my husband and I married because I knew I could not do it lightly. But when our young daughters wanted kittens, my husband and I gave in. That was the start. I had grown up with dogs, and I never suspected how much I would love my cats.

As Tasha became old and frail, it became hard to remember her as the young cat who leaped into the kitchen sink to get lettuce—and that she ran to the kitchen at the sound of the lettuce spinner.  Or that she once had the curiosity and sense of adventure to figure out how to open the cabinet under the bathroom sink, crawl into the space around the pipes, and run around in the area between the bathroom floor and the kitchen ceiling.

One of my daughters (lovingly) referred to her as a diva, and she was. She demanded immediate attention, and this attitude increased, as she got older.  We referred to her as the old lady princess cat. She also began to howl (that is the only way to describe it) in the bathroom when she wanted water from the sink, which she did, constantly.

One time, however, her howling helped to rescue another one of our cats. After a period of very heavy rainfall, our basement had flooded. That night as my husband was trying to pump the water out of it, we think our cat Ricky got scared and escaped through the window, but we did not discover he was gone until the next morning. I was in tears for two, long days as we tried to find him, assisted by friends and friends of friends.

Finally, my husband and I camped out in the dark of our backyard. I placed fresh food, the litter box, and one of my dirty gym shirts on the ground near the window from which we think he made his exit. We accidentally scared Ricky away once. Then cautiously he returned. As we wondered what to do, from the open bathroom window, we heard Tasha howl and howl again. Ricky replied with one his strange little squeaky sounds. I called to him then, and he ran to me.  I scooped him up and brought him back inside. Ricky got food and hugs; Tasha got water from the bathroom sink.

Tasha did not like our other little boy cat, but she tolerated Ricky. She let him sleep next to her, and even let him lick her head.

Tasha could be annoying, and I do not miss cleaning up after her. But I would love to hear one of her howls now. Rest in peace, Tasha. You were well loved.

Of Dogs and Heroes

 

Recently I saw a report about how trainers at the New Zealand SPCA are teaching rescue dogs to drive. It made me think of a recurring dream my dad had of our dog Zipper driving his Lee Antique Company truck. I don’t know if I ever knew the details of my dad’s dream; if so, they are long gone from my mind. But I like to imagine Zipper and my dad sitting in the cab of the truck, ready to embark upon some glorious canine-human buddy road trip.

Truly, if any dog is capable of driving, it should have been Zipper.  It is difficult to separate truth from family legend, but I was told she was part German Shepherd and part Doberman Pincher. She was smaller than is typical for either breed; more slender than a Shepherd, but longhaired and with Shepherd coloring.  She looked a bit like a wild dog. I thought Zipper was beautiful, but as adults looking at photos of her taken long ago, my sister and I concede that OTHERS who did not know Zipper might have thought she was ugly. Zipper was fiercely intelligent, determinedly wild, and unwaveringly loyal. As a little girl, I whispered my secrets to her, and she protected me from anything or anyone she considered threatening. When we traveled from Dallas to visit family and friends in Philadelphia, they would ask about Zipper, as if inquiring about a family member, which, of course, she was.  There was even a Zipper song, created by my older brother. I still remember it.

When my mother, sisters, and I moved to Havertown, Zipper remained behind in Dallas with my father. After my mom found a house for us, my father sent Zipper north with our furniture because he said without us there, she had found a spot in the yard and settled down to die. By this time, Zipper was quite old, but after she arrived in Havertown, she lived for several more months until her heart stopped and she died in her sleep one night, as though she didn’t want to cause us any bother.

Zipper was brave and true. She was my hero.

What makes dogs or other pets heroes? What makes us risk our lives for our pets and vice-versa? Susan Orlean’s  2011 book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend recounts the remarkable rags-to-riches story of the amazing German Shepherd, rescued as an orphaned puppy from a World War I battlefield by Corporal Lee Duncan to become a movie star.  And Rin Tin Tin was a true star, not merely an animal sidekick. He nearly won the first Oscar for best actor, until the Academy decided the award had to go to a human.  When Rin Tin Tin died in 1932, news reports interrupted radio shows throughout the nation.

Zipper never outwitted bad guys, nor did she rescue people in dramatic on-screen adventures. Millions did not mourn her death, but my family did. If there is a Heaven, or some sort of alternate world, I like to imagine that she and my dad are driving around in truck together, listening to the radio, and stopping to eat and play pinochle with my dad’s friends.  I bet Zipper would win.