I’m in the Art Show

Last night I went to a German artist’s show at the contemporary art museum.

I knew nothing of the artist, Sigmar Polke. I went because it was free and on the way to a free jazz show. The art was an interesting blend of painting with printing and stamping. The images were intriguing, but, for me, the titles were the arresting element. One painting was named something along the lines of:  an old man and a punk rock young man are sitting in a dark living room full of antique furniture and the father says to the young punk, “someday all of this will be yours.”
At the Saturday intercambio, I am sitting with Julio, Valentina, Mariela, and Gabriel. I mention the show and the vast titles to Gabriel who wants to learn German. Valentina says my description of the title reminds her of a truck commercial in which a man says to his son, someday all of this will be yours, referring an expanse of property. And the son asks: and the truck?
I am walking along the pedestrian corridor planning what I will say to the woman at the bakery as I request a sandwich. I walk and negotiate with myself, and then I am interrupted. An elder with coin purses yells at me in English to buy what he’s selling. I pretend I cannot hear him though my ears are open for any suggestion of English.
It strikes me that my entire month here is the art show and each post I can offer is perhaps a long title to accompany the piece.
  • Of course, this experience of being a painting makes me think of Linda Pastan’s incredible “Ethics.” http://shenandoahliterary.org/blog/2011/09/linda-pastan-ethics/ I’m not suggesting you should elect the same question (a Rembrandt painting/or an old woman who hadn’t many/ years left anyhow?) for your writing. Maybe you ought to increase the stakes?

Dancing in Llano Park

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The Zumba class in Llano infatuates the whole park. Who can resist the joyful music and movement? The way they sway those hips!
Even this construction worker joins in. He’s  on an eight-foot ladder, readying a structure for a canopy, when he suddenly, rapt by the music, breaks into dancing.  How gracefully he maneuvers the ladder, as if he’s on stilts, as if this is just something one does.
That’s the secret to this city. I know better than to question the magic. I just need to let myself be swept up in the music.
  • Umberto Ak’Abal writes, in “The Dance,”

    All of us dance/ on a cent’s edge

    (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/dance)

    Upon what edge are you or your characters dancing? And, what happens? And, what do those watching fear will happen?

Back in Oaxaca

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The officer at passport control in Mexico City asks where I am coming from. I offer Sacramento; he counters with Atlanta. But I am so tired I don’t recognize the word Atlanta. I start to nod no. He repeats, slowly, A T L A N T A. I agree that’s where I have been most recently.

He asks me why I am in Mexico, and I want to tell him that I long for music in the streets, tacos in the park on Fridays, children roaming freely into twilight, a ride in the back of a truck, Indigo skies over Santo Domingo church. Instead, I sneeze the word: tourism, and he sends me off for two rounds of suitcase inspections and impromptu Spanish tests.

I’m usually up for trying out my comprehension, but I left Sacramento at 11:05PM and arrived in A T L A N T A at about 3AM my time, to take a train and find a gate in the vast terminal and then tried to sleep while a little old man loudly read the newspaper and slurped steaming coffee.

The officer has caught me at 10AM his time, 8AM mine, 11AM Atlanta’s.

Before meeting him, I have mostly fruitlessly tried to sleep in three time zones: pacific, eastern, central. I will have experienced a handful of solid minutes of sleep without disruption.

I will, at last, nap deeply in the small plane over Oaxaca and then briefly in a taxi-van full of seven men in the bustling streets leading to my stop (second-to-last) and my room, my comfortable room, at the posada.

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  • April Bernard, in “Roy Orbison and John Milton Are Still Dreaming” (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/roy-orbison-and-john-milton-are-still-dreaming) delivers us the joy of waking from a satisfying nap:
    You know what I mean: In the instant
    of waking in bliss, the whole body smiles—
    Then, she shows how though the mind may want to wake “in bliss” (as in the joy of landing on Oaxaca and being delivered to the posada), reality is often not as generous. In her poem, Bernard offers a list of “happy facts.” What are the “happy facts” that fill one of your characters?

Dublin Castle at Christmas

It is week ten of the semester, and we are on the brink of spring. This is the point in the term where the speed picks up, and what felt like racewalking suddenly turns into a jog to Spring Break and then a frantic sprint to the end.

This weekend I am scanning photos of Christmas as though the length of time is as vast as the distance from here to Dublin. I am grateful for having timed my visit to encounter a castle elaborately decorated for Christmas, for the generous sun shining on the labyrinth and gardens, for the the luxury of history and the venue of a gallery to learn more of Ireland’s bombings and terrorism. I am grateful for the joy and safety I enjoy even at the end of a long winter.

Indeed it has been a long winter full of hard lessons and interesting work. I just have to  pause to remember where I am going and where I have been. Speaking of week ten, the creative writing students are blogging.

Daily Bread 400: https://dailybread400.wordpress.com/

Blissful Binge: https://blissfulbinge.wordpress.com/

Passions of 8: https://passionsof8.wordpress.com/

World of Actions & Reactions: https://creativeblogforclass.wordpress.com/

All Things Dreamy: https://allthingsdreamyblog.wordpress.com/

Please follow them, like them, and tell your friends about these diligent and creative writers.

Looking for writing inspiration, take a look at: http://awesomewritingprompts.tumblr.com/

 

 

Carousel

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Piazza della Republica, Florence

Of course, carouse is at the heart of the word “carousel.” And, we do not deny we were utterly intoxicated by the lively accordion tunes from the carousel; by the buzz of activity on the square, including musicians and strolling lovers; by the joy of the last few merry-go-round riders; by the cold that made us aware that we needed to keep moving and that the graceful herd of twenty buckskins and creamy palominos, elegant as ballerinas, enchanting as unicorns, had dazzled us so that we were practically frozen in their presence. We could not resist envisioning ourselves resting in the two golden carriages covered in blankets or, dare we think it, furs; warm.

Something inside us that hadn’t twinkled in a long time was stirred, and we, delighted that star was still there, were ready to wander back into real life, into being middle-aged tourists.

  • There are many carousel inspired pieces out there in the world. Zachary Schomburg gives us the sense of being inside a carousel, of being pinned to the wall and then made disoriented by the spinning in his “The Carousel” https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/carousel. And, take a look at Laura Kasischke’s poem, “Recall the Carousel” at https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/recall-carousel. Her piece is a frightening reminiscence of the threats facing children. The poem takes a sharp turn into the dreadful as she writes: “The carousel? Do you recall? As if/ we were our own young parents suffering again/after so many hundreds of hours of bliss.” Suffering seems to be understatement in the face of horrors she evokes. What happens when you step onto/into the carousel stage?

This Little Piggy and Other Superstitions

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Fontana del Porcellino pavilion with projections on the cement

In Florence, there is a bronze boar.

Rumor has it, if you rub the piggy’s proboscis, you are certain to return to the fair city.

Another superstition particular to this porcine effigy involves putting a coin into the piglet’s mouth; as it falls into the grate, you can make a wish.

Some believe that rubbing the hog’s snout will bring a male son.

Because of the threat of fertility, I was uncertain whether I should rub for the promise of a return. In fact, I waited until the last day of our visit to finally approach the swine statue.

I am intrigued by superstitions. Here are five ways of looking at Florence through superstition:

  1. A neighbor will warn you not to bother knocking on wood. Instead, touch iron (or one’s own testicles, or one’s own breasts, if female).
  2. The wild taxi driver will ardently suggest you watch out for black cats. Even while driving, pull over and wait, however long it takes, for another driver to cross these felines’ paths.
  3. An intoxicated man at a bar might insist that posing the pinkie and index finger like devil horns can: 1. Defend against the evil eye. 2. Curse an enemy. 3. Signify infidelity. (You will not know how to translate his meaning when he uses this sign minutes later.)
  4. In a tall building, you are likely to learn the Italian seventeen is like the American thirteen: unlucky.
  5. A waiter is certain to inform you in certain terms that thirteen is lucky, unless you sit down to a table with twelve other people (as in the Last Supper); then one of the diners is certain to betray you. (The Real Housewives of Anywhere should take this into consideration.

Consider the following lines from the beginning of Malcolm Glass’s poem “Superstitions:”

I write these words on the twenty-seventh

page of my notebook, ensuring my words

safe passage and ready readers. In my lapel

I wear bloodroot to ward away broken

mirrors and my image splintered on tile.

“Time as Memory as Story”

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On the drive from Dublin to Belfast, from the passenger’s seat, I drift into a deep sleep; I fail to distinguish this landscape from California’s rolling hills. I could be nearly anywhere.  The rain, the radio, my jet lag, and the driving monotony of kilometers of sheep fill me, drag me to dreams of lands radiant with sunshine and warmth.

I do not discern that I have arrived in Belfast until the car abruptly stops. Instantly I understand why people suggest counting sheep to summon sleep. In fact, I do not know where I am or that I am on a pilgrimage to learn where M’s father grew up, where his gran used to live, until M brings me into the cold afternoon to pose with him before a narrow door with the number 193.

It is as if I’ve been snoozing in a time machine; M’s eight again, visiting Ireland on summer break, heading to the candy store around the corner, searching for the spot in the alley where his father carved his name. Though I’m shivering and disoriented in his immense ocean of memories, I want to dive deeper with him into this past and startling tales he has hauled within him his whole life.

However, we must drive, because as Simon J. Ortiz reminds, in his poem “Time as Memory as Story,” “Time has no mercy. It’s there. It stays still or it moves./And you’re there with it. Staying still or moving with it./I think it moves. And we move with it. And keep moving.” We also keep moving because it is Christmas Eve and we are expected in Newry, the countryside, to meet M’s cousins for supper, to settle with them in their cozy home surrounded by a Mary Kay convention of sheep.

At breakfast Christmas morning, I am nearly lulled back to bed by a window full of livestock until I realize one of the conventioneers is stuck in dense brambles. I’m captivated by her efforts to break free, how another gets caught, and then how the others (sheep and people) join me in counting sheep.