Art show coming up

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Three of my pieces will be in an art show next week at a local city hall. The exhibition theme is “Nature” and this show is not juried, there is no entry fee and no 50% commission. Naturally, I liked the price. Here are the three I entered. They are smaller – about 8 x 10 unframed. Also below, I have been playing with some new designs for mandalas. These are more freeform and less abstract.

Thanks for stopping by.

Mid-January Morning

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Readers have asked me why my poems  are usually limited to what I see at the park – too much of a “sameness.”

I used to write poetry as a means of expressing my thoughts or opinions, purging deep emotions, telling my stories. Now I rarely get into philosophical discussions, describe the turbulence of life and relationships, make reference to current socio-political situations or injustices, or make comments of a personal nature. What poetry I write now is a by-product of sitting quietly and writing down my observations – very visual, very factual without much recourse to any ‘story’ behind what I see.

I am trying to disappear as a poet, as a presence in the poem – maybe exist as sort of an eye relating what is seen. Why? Because I am tired listening to and recording my thoughts – which often/always revolve around what I think, what I feel, what I want, my past, my future, me, me, me, etc., etc., ad infinitum. If I restrict myself to the visual, the constant chatter of the mind subsides and I feel peaceful. I now leave it to the reader to supply any story line or to give any meaning to the experience.

Here is what was seen the other day. Thanks for visiting.

Mid-January morning,
fog and dew burned away,
reveals a scattering of tiny suns
in the grass – dandelions.

Damp air
filled with the scent of clay and chlorophyll
and the endless twittering of unseen birds,
curls around oak’s gnarly limbs
that twist and turn like arthritic arms,
soaking up the sun that drives the sap
coursing through cellulose veins.

Look!
White dots are scattered
along black branches of graceful trees –
blossoms-in-waiting
soon to awake from winter dreams of summer.

Three squirrels
race up and down the trunk,
of the slender willow,
swing from branch to branch,
like drunken acrobats,
tails twitching, eyes sparkling.

Four city workers
wearing eye-blinding orange vests and baseball caps
set out lawn chairs beside the big tall pine,
open brown bags as they discuss the challenge
of keeping the waters flowing
through sewers that lie beneath
the black paved streets of a winter-soaked city.

Young brown girl
sports a sleek 1940’s pompadour,
curled and rolled above her delicate shoulders,
ear buds in, iPhone on,
in seeming conversation with the air,
sack purse swinging, smooth hips swaying,
young legs striding across the lawn
she moves to other destinations.

Black boy,
pants at half-mast, bandana round his head,
stands beside the hip hop van
with low rider wheels and dice on the dash,
greets a member of the ‘hood’
who arrives slouching and bopping
and snapping his fingers to the booming bass
that smites the air with impact and effect,
and shares the secret tribal handshake.

An old man
in a tattered gray coat
pushing a grocery cart with wobbling wheels
and piled high with fat plastic bags,
rumbles down the street and is followed
by a middle-aged woman
who jauntily holds aloft a gaily striped umbrella
and sings softly to herself.

Grandpa
totters, leading the way to the duck pond,
as the small shoes of the curly-haired girl
blink off and on at each hop and skip,
while Grandma smiles and follows,
walker clacking,
step, roll, pause – step, roll, pause

Little white dog
leashed to a large white woman
is tugged and pulled from enticing smells,
waves its feathery tail
and tosses its head and sets to shaking
ears that are caught up with pink pony-tail ribbons.

Two golden retrievers,
walking along in unison,
jump into a small white car
bearing “Go Kings” stickers –
and as it drives away
big orange heads
hang out of windows,
ears back, tongues lolling,
tails waving goodbye.

Bright, sparkling, clear day of winter

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Bright, sparkling, clear day of winter,
the first day of the year at play
in this garden of Eden.

The rowdy wind flexes its muscles,
somersaults across the trees
and plays kick-the-can with leaves

as they clatter up and down the street.
Bright sparkling, clear day of winter,
beloved by pine trees and firs,

who shake their skirts and toss their heads
and straighten their aprons
in celebration of the new year’s arrival.

The winter sun wraps its chilling arms
around the dark oaks where mistletoe
hangs like giant Christmas balls

and reduces the ladylike white birch to a sleepy stupor.
The naked long-limbed branches of the willow
dance and sway side to side

across the small creek that carries sere leaves
and broken branches and autumn-colored ducks
that paddle around small rocks and yellow reeds.

The sharp sun beams through its blue sky portal
and sets in relief the street man
who rummages through trash barrels

for empty cans and bottles,
setting aside half-eaten sandwiches
and luncheon treats for later consumption

then throws the bulging black plastic bag
over his shoulder, making the bottles clink
as they settle down among the cans

while he walks to the empty playground
that waits in patient silence for the arrival
of the laughing children of spring.

Bright, sparkling, clear day of winter
shows the frosty breath
of the heavy-set, hip-jiggling girl in green

who jogs in the wake
made by long legs
of the young black boy

who slides and glides
along the slipstream of paths
while their stream of conversation

tacks back and forth
in the winter breeze
and startles the small dog with a wagging tail

who sits in a gray camper truck
that wears a kayak on its roof
and waits while the man with a plaid cap

unloads a silver and black tricycle,
long and low and elegant, then
slides down into the molded leather seat.

Man speeds off, dog racing alongside,
as a tall yellow pennant at the rear
whips in the cool breeze.

Bright, sparkling, clear day of winter
with swashes of chartreuse
streaking through the emerald grass

making eyes to squint to mute the vibrancy
while infinitesimal pin pricks of lights
dance behind closed eyes

blinking off and on, each a minute life
played out on a red stage
as the wind tosses and taunts and prods

to create the first poem
of the first day
of the new year.

 

Storm

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The excitement is palpable; the air vibrating with energy. The evening news is full of Storm, born in the Pacific and growing now to full strength, as it journeys inland.

Hints of its arrival can be felt in the increasing winds that are ripping the last brown and yellow leaves from the autumn trees whose bare black branches seem to sag from holding them aloft.

TV’s are tuned to the weather channel where viewers watch white clouds swirl over the ocean and pulsating bands of green move into the Great Valley. Residents in low lying areas are warned of flooding while housewives fill bathtubs and stockpile bread. Christmas decorations are moved indoors and hatches battened.

Soon we will watch with awe as the heavens open and pools form and creeks rush and rivers swell and banks are overflown. For a few short hours the wind will blow without restraint and Mother Nature will loosen her girdle, let her hair down and allow her heavy breasts swing free. The earth will open its mouth to receive her gifts and slacken its drought-weary throat.

A part of our soul yearns for such abandonment, to throw ourselves upon the Mother and changed from the old and ancient into something new and unknown that will rise phoenix-like, not from fire but from water. We seek a baptism into a new life, washed clean of the past and ready to see with child eyes. We are reborn, arisen from Buddha’s mud to Christ’s shining star that leads wise men across unknown deserts as we breathe deep, drink long and fall with the rain.

Getting Around

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Instead of visiting the local park several times a week as I did in years past, my visits now, due to arthritis, are limited to just a few times a month. But today the glory of the autumn sun and the cool breeze traveling up the delta prove an irresistible inducement.

Getting from the car to the grass carrying the lawn chair is challenging but I soon find a spot that is ideal. As I sit and watch, I reflect how man depends on clocks to know what time it is and sets them back and forth to match his mood – so unlike the trees that are guided by solar tempos and are now changing into their autumn colors.

A squirrel scans me from beneath a nearby tee, sitting on his haunches, tail twitching as his small black eyes probe to evaluate the threat I may represent. Slightly reassured, he makes a quick dash across the open grass, one eye on me, the other on the large oak to my left. Once arrived the squirrel seeks the safety of high branches and startles a large black crow.

The crow who raucously caws at a squat Japanese man wearing a large straw hat who trots by, his forward-looking eyes ignoring the young lady jogging with her two pit bulls stepping in military precision. They are followed by two chattering women and a snuffling Schnauzer who briskly make their way towards the pond, slipping in and out of the sun and shade cast by the trees.

A car pulls up and honks. A short broad man with a bald head emerges and hurries across the field, arms waving, to attract the attention of a backpack-wearing young Indian man. Apologies and explanations about missed directions are shouted until they meet and shake hands. They walk towards a picnic table and soon brochures and iPads are brought out as they discuss new business opportunities and over seas call centers.

A man wearing a Yankee’s jacket struggles with a Labrador pulling on his leash while he helps a small boy climb the monkey bars. A bent man with the raveled gray hat is slowly limping around the playground, stopping first at the sliding board, then pausing for a moment near the swings.

Is he perhaps remembering a father who pushed a swing as he tried to touch the sky? Is he perhaps remembering a mother who clapped her hands the first time he slid down the sliding board alone? He is perhaps remembering what it is to be five years old and have his whole life stretched out ahead like a golden road?

The sun slides into a new position and I feel the morning chill. I carry my folded lawn chair in one hand, the cane in my other. My knees creak and my feet shuffle. As I near the car, I reach out to steady myself so that I don’t stumble. I feel the car’s solid, immovable mass beneath my hand holding me up.

Then it suddenly occurs to me that I am being supported at all times by everything around me. I am never left to fend for myself. When I’m at home, I travel across the room, lightly balancing against a chair, steadied by a wall, upheld by a table. Friends and family appear and help me do the little tasks that now are so difficult.

Everywhere I go, I find support in all directions. When I reach out something solid and deep and dependable that keeps me steady. I drive home elated. Without realizing it, all these years, I have been held by angels in disguise.

Noon Chorus

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The oaks are lightly touched with the first tints of rust and gold and the cool breeze, bearing the scent of dying leaves, sets the birches shimmering like a Klimt painting. The clouds are thin and stretched like cotton gauze across the sky.

The stream which has been so dry for so long is wet again from last weekend’s rains. A few ducks investigate the yellowing reeds along the bank as a lone man, head down, hands in pockets, slowly walks along the stream pensively looking into the slowly flowing water. He passes an old lady sitting on a park bench wearing a red knit hat, her hands grasping a long leash that holds in check a jumping white poodle who is trying to chase a squirrel scrabbling in the grass for nuts.

An oversized van pulls up and the occupants disembark. Two white-haired crones sitting in shiny steel wheelchairs slowly roll down the path that leads to the pond. They are soon followed by two red walkers and one blue, pushed by two women and a man, shoulders bent, heads down, eyes to the ground, feet shuffling. The young black man who has driven the van pulls up the rear, his arms filled with brown paper lunch bags. Stumbling after them he loudly exhorts, “Be careful how you go!”

Nearby, the fountain shoots white plumes high above the pond. Splashing down they pepper the surface of the water to create thousands of ripples that race outward like the young boy wearing inline skates who speeds by, body crouched, head forward, hair streaming as he rounds the corner of the path and disappears. He is pursued by a teenage boy riding his skateboard like a surfer, birdwing arms out-stretched, baseball hat blocking the sun from his eyes.

Strollers filled with wide-eyed babies pushed by tired young mothers rumble by while an old man pulls a shopping cart piled high with old clothes and plastic bags. A thin woman wearing scuffed sandals and a Mumu holds a Chihuahua under one arm and carries a bag in her hand. Methodically stopping at each trash barrel, she selects only the best bits of discarded lunches and recyclable cans.

Two wolf-like German shepherds determinedly pull a small man wearing a yellow shirt and pass a young woman wearing a black t-shirt and gold chains around her waist. Meanwhile a large white labradoodle named Marilyn and a small brown terrier named Ted lead a beautiful black girl down the path and bark at the paper bag somersaulting across the field.

A gaily painted purple van arrives and a party planner quickly erects a large yellow canopy that will mark the center of the coming celebration and provide the proper setting for the multi-tiered birthday cake and bobbing yellow and orange balloons. A small boy with blond curls accompanied by his short father and tall mother is soon joined by children who scamper from arriving cars, their voices high and chirping with excitement.

A passing cloud hides the sun and the air cools instantly. Then the sun peeks out, blinks, and disappears again. A lone crow calls plaintively in time with the noontime bells of a nearby church.

 

Luminous Things

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For some reason, Saturday evenings seem the perfect time for curling up in my bedroom chair and reading poetry. One of my favorite go-to books is “A Book of Luminous Things: An International Anthology of Poetry,” edited by Czelaw Milosz (1911 – 2004), a Polish poet, prose writer, translator and diplomat of Lithuanian origin who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980.

After reading this collection many times, I finally got around to reading the book’s introduction where I found some very interesting and provocative observations about art and writing. In quoting Schopenhauer, Milosz states …

“Among works of painting, Schopenhauer assigned the highest place to Dutch still life: ‘This is shown by those admirable Dutch artists who directed this purely objective perception to the most insignificant objects, and established a lasting monument to their objectivity and spiritual peace in their pictures of still life, which the aesthetic beholder does not look on without emotion: for they present to him the peaceful, still frame of mind of the artist, free from will, which was needed to contemplate such insignificant things so objectively, to observe them so attentively, and to repeat this perception so intelligently.’

“The secret of all art, also of poetry, is, thus, distance.”

I pondered that last statement – the secret of art is distance – for quite a while. At first I felt I disagreed, thinking of the subjective art and writing so popular in the last century. But then I reconsidered. If I substituted the word detachment for the word distance, I saw another interpretation.

Any art that is too personal or too subjective runs the risk of egocentricity; one of the characteristics of great art is its universality. If an artist can create from a distant or detached position he will be in that peaceful, still place that invites the muse, and the audience, to enter.

In another section of the Introduction, Milosz says the Old Chinese and Japanese poetry has had a significant influence on American poetry since the turn of the century (20th). “Undoubtedly, what accounts for much is the very discovery that we can understand them, that through their lips eternal man speaks, that love, transience, death were the same then as now.”

This is exactly what I had discovered during my reading of the poetry in “The Book of Luminous Things.” I understood so many of the poems at an intimate level – the sadness of the Chinese traveler when parting from his friend 700 years ago is as real and immediate as it is today; the loss of the loved one just as poignant as that which took place a thousand years ago.

Good poetry enables us to speak to each other across the continents and across the centuries. What makes us human is not the color of our skin, not our politics, geography, philosophy or religion; it is our experience of this happening we call life.

After painting for the last several months, the quietness of autumn is drawing me back to words. As I reread some of my favorite poetry books, I’ll share them with you.

Winter Dawn by Tu Fu

The men and beasts of the zodiac
Have marched over us once more.
Green wine bottles and red lobster shells,
Both emptied, litter the table.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” Each
Sits listening to his own thoughts,
And the sound of cars starting outside.
The birds in the eaves are restless,
Because of the noise and light. Soon now
In the winter dawn I will face
My fortieth year. Borne headlong
Towards the long shadows of sunset
By the headstrong, stubborn moments,
Life whirls past like drunken wildfire.

Appearances

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At a busy intersection near the mall I often see a man standing on the medial strip begging for money from passing motorists. This is not your typical out-of-work guy, street person or welfare mother asking for charity. This is a black man who has been crippled and scarred, probably from a fire. His legs are skinny and bowed, a hand is missing one finger and bent back at a ninety degree angle to his wrist; his head is bald and the skin discolored in patches; his mask-like face is grotesque and deformed. He hobbles when he walks and his arms stick out at angles.

When he comes up to my car window and I hand him a dollar, he mumbles, “Sorry to bother you,” and stumbles to the next car. As I drive away I ponder his comment. Did he mean he was sorry to ask for money? Did he think his appearance was so frightening, he was sorry to show his face? Was he being ironic and making a comment on charity?

This incident also reminds me about the renowned physicist, Stephen Hawkins who has motor neuron disease (ALS) and can do nothing on his own. In an interview he was asked about his life. He replied, “Who could have asked for more!” When I heard this I was at first astounded. Yes, he had fame, his name would be listed in history, he was probably wealthy, but how could that in any way compensate for the state of his health, his life. I would be asking for a lot more, I thought.

It is instances like this that may cause us to ponder why things happen to people. Is it karma? Is it just bad luck? Is there a way we can act, believe, intend that may keep such a fate from our own lives? This then led me to remember a Sufi story in which a beggar dies in the street while a rich man is passing in his carriage. An angel explains that the whole purpose in the beggar’s life (who was a very evolved soul) was to awaken compassion in the rich man’s heart.

In both the street beggar and the physicist we must be careful not to judge the quality of their lives by how they look, their place in society, the state of the physical body. We really do not know what goes on in each person’s soul, the state of grace they may enjoy, the peace of mind they may have. Before we feel sorry for someone in a mistaken feeling of compassion, we should examine the beam in our own eye.

Who knows why things happen the way they do? Who can understand the meaning of life or the depth of eternity? Why is one person born healthy, rich and handsome while another has so little? To say it is karma is a facile explanation but most likely not true. As in the Sufi story, maybe those who in our eyes are less fortunate than ourselves have a different and higher mission that we cannot understand.

The Journey Home ebook

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I have created a small art book with the pictures I recently painted and paired them with some passages of prose and poetry. It is available for free download as a PDF. Hope you enjoy it. I am also posting this at www.sacredgate.wordpress.com so sorry if there is duplication.

The Journey Home ebook:bookpdf2

 

 

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