How to Cohabitate With a Kaleidoscope
Rikki Santer's work has appeared in various publications including Ms. Magazine, Poetry East, Margie, Hotel Amerika, The American Journal of Poetry, Slab, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO, Grimm, Slipstream, Midwest Review and The Main Street Rag. The writer's sixth poetry collection, Dodge, Tuck, Roll, was recently published by Crisis Chronicles Press.
"Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet."
Sylvia Plath, "Lesbos," 1962.
This is the first gate
that opens to my garden
that leads to my temple
Enter you will be offered tea
by the ghosts of the suicides
sitting in the plum trees
singing you’re late you’re late
but keep walking
There are many gates
of black and white
to study like a critic
or to pass through
In the museum of heaven
we may not meet
Tricia Marcella Cimera
Tricia Marcella Cimera is a Midwestern poet with a worldview. Her work appears in many diverse places — from the Buddhist Poetry Review to the Origami Poems Project. Her poem ‘The Stag’ won first place honours in College of DuPage’s 2017 Writers Read: Emerging Voices contest. Tricia lives with her husband and family of animals in Illinois / in a town called St. Charles / by a river named Fox / with a Poetry Box in her front yard.
Vawdavitch by Franz Kline
He knew where the dimensions meet,
where dark invades the light; had seen
the stark assault of harsh on soothing,
the offensive by powers beyond our control.
He had seen and he had rendered,
his vision translated into violent brush strokes,
put on canvas with ‘strident confidence’.
With his sharp and rapid attack on our comfortable
world, he forces us to reconsider
our blind. amoeba-like passing
through the contaminated waters
of our limited lives.
Rose Mary Boehm
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm lives and works in Lima, Peru. Author of Tangents, a full-length poetry collection published in the UK in 2010/2011, her work has been widely published in US poetry journals (online and print). She was three times winner of the now defunct Goodreads monthly competition. Recent poetry collections: From the Ruhr to Somewhere Near Dresden 1939-1949 : A Child’s Journey, and Peru Blues or Lady Gaga Won’t Be Back.
Forty-Thousand K Short
Note: as per Artsy.net, as of 2012, the record high auction for Franz Kline’s painting Vawdavitch was $40 million at Christie's.
A wise old owl once sat in a tree
where nobody noticed him winking at me
when he waved his right hand to attract my attention
(I know—it’s a wing; I inferred his intention)
and then with the other he stretched out a pinion
which swept left to right across all his dominion--
though now, it would seem that my mind wasn’t right
for in looking around there were no trees in sight;
just chairs filled with people, some raising a hand,
others nodding quite clearly, increasing demand
for this bird front and center, much wanted by all,
so intent on possession that none heard his call
when his deep, owlish voice cried out “Who will it be?”
If I’d had forty million, it would have been me.
Ken Gosse prefers writing light verse with traditional metre and rhyme filled with whimsy and humour. First published in The First Literary Review-East in November 2016, his poems are also in The Offbeat, Pure Slush, Parody, The Ekphrastic Review, and others. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, now retired, he and his wife have lived in Mesa, AZ, over twenty years, usually with a herd of cats and dogs underfoot.
Limp and lost in the vast Olympic night
Javelin seeks the heart of an enemy,
finds only limed collegiate grass.
Net screams foul when ball slaps it.
Kayak paddle captures racket,
shoots rapids on the Colorado.
Crampons secure, ropes tight, carabiners locked,
peak and crevasse compete for sky.
Afternoon shade splatters the field. Referees ponder:
First down? Touchdown? Ground round?
Ball rockets past hole, past green, past fairway,
city, state, universe. Par is beyond the course.
Violins ask to play through.
The game so fast hoops run down the court,
floor slats loosen, fly away, drive up
the price of free throws.
Booze, cigars, humiliation—dark swaths propel
the ball on the meat of Mantle’s bat, of Marris’ bat--
even the Babe’s.
Ref’s hand and arm chop violently behind his leg.
Slashing so mighty the puck hides, trembles in the net.
Skates shiny sharp as death.
Pitch askew, the goal is chaos. The foot of God,
not His hand, is required.
Breath in patches, jersey splashed with sweat,
the finish line is there, or there, or there, or there… .
Winning/losing, soft/shrill, black meets white
meets black meets white. One day it’s all gone.
We disappear into dark, into light,
not even a pebble remembers us.
Charles W. Brice
Charles W. Brice is a retired psychoanalyst and is the author of Flashcuts Out of Chaos (2016), Mnemosyne’s Hand (2018), and An Accident of Blood (forthcoming), all from WordTech Editions. His poetry has been nominated for the Best of Net anthology and twice for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in The Atlanta Review, The Main Street Rag, Chiron Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, SLAB, The Paterson Literary Review,Muddy River Poetry Review and elsewhere.
I need nothing
more than this
large housepainter’s brush
and a can of black paint
in this scarcity
bare as any saint’s
I discover freedom
each broad sweep of black
in these limits
the key to limitless
breaking and reshaping space
my arm like god’s
on the first day
pulling new worlds
out of the dark
Mary McCarthy has always been a writer, but spent most of her working life as a Registered Nurse. She has had work appearing in many print and online journals, and has an electronic chapbook, Things I Was Told Not to Think About, available as a free download from Praxis magazine online.
Aggression muzzled can't be tamed.
The soul restrained remains inflamed.
The blunted blades of teeth denied
will sharpen gnawing deep inside,
becoming fiercely angled eye
and ears erect to hear the cry
that postured terror strikes in those
who fear the will it might impose
if ever loosed from reason's rein
to wreak what now it's forced to feign,
content to merely contemplate
the vengeance that would compensate
the liberty so long withheld
and by such brutal means compelled.
Portly Bard: Old man. Ekphrastic fan.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Headframe over a mine that could only be coal
from where I started in Pennsylvania and left
for a steel town in Colorado.
The line down a cable to where a woman
can scratch with pick in the hard earth,
gone the superstition that her blood brings death.
She digs for silver in Leadville before she becomes
Baby Doe Tabor. I combed tailings for gold in Victor.
Brutal work—when Dempsey swung fists in a nearby bar.
Walk up the bed of narrow gauge through Phantom Canyon
that brought coal from Florence to fuel cages
of men with yellow fever down the shaft.
Even hay fields of Kansas have the body of Vawdavitch,
the up and down bob of wells that pump oil
from the sturdy left side of the hoist.
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press), and Wildwood (Lummox Press). Ride the Pink Horse is forthcoming from Spartan Press. With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
A Beautiful and Brutal World
The geese take off, wings whoosing
against the white afternoon - skyward
into the wind, dipping and alighting
in the field near the Chevrolet dealership,
blasting announcements for the Service
Department. This new place for cars
next to the traffic circle, expanding
on all sides, has SUVs that look like they
are smiling broadly. Near the intersection
a man is holding a sign for help: anything
will do in black letters scrawled big
enough to be read. Disguising the mess
of his life, he is grasping and reaching
into a landscape of cars with drivers
who gaze straight ahead. Meanwhile, one
of the geese, head up and seemingly
guarding the feeding flock, turns
his head, like he is pointing at the man,
his bicycle propped up against an orange cone.
Whoever we are, this abstract environment
expands us. We feel like the bicycle, like the geese,
like the idling cars waiting for admittance.
like an owl,
if harm would come
as drugs wore off,
day, money, phone,
could mean escape,
clean sheets, warm baths,
did not know
where she was
Cleone T. Graham
Naturalist, poet, and painter, Cleone Graham exuberantly explores the forests and coasts of Maine and New Hampshire.
Is this what it all boils down to? Even though you have stated it boldly in black and white, you have never intended to be understood. After all, being understood can be a risky business.
Not understood, you are then not held captive to any specific interpretation that may raise speculations of autobiographical references (if those are things you abhor) or any other inconvenient scrutiny bordering on loss of privacy. In the book, The Madman, Kahlil Gibran wisely pointed out that "those who understand us enslave something in us." Has this ever resonated with you? I often wondered.
Not understood, you can be at liberty to navigate between what you referred to as the positive negative spaces of your creation, your paintbrush responding with sweet authenticity to your secret ruminations, everything else being inconsequential.
You may have painted a series of riddles but it is impossible to overlook the aura of enigma you have painted about you during the course of your brief career. Your altar of abstractions know no lack of offerings and especially of late....some have been generous. This I have understood.
Ellen exchanged her corporate heels for paintbrushes in 2007 and had since embarked on a journey from Singapore toThailand as a self-taught artist. When she is not painting, Ellen enjoys going on solitary walks in woodlands and along beaches where Nature's treasure trove impels her to document her findings and impressions using the language of poetry.
My Black Spot
A treasure island mark on a palm
for which mam says she has blankets
in the airing cupboard.
For any metal crashes
we might hear from
the busy A one.
A grey metal bridge
over the spot
I trundle my Raleigh bike
to meet with crystal set Duncan,
bright as the guards
on his new bike.
An overgrown cottage
with walls like broken teeth
and shattered windscreen glass
meets me at the footbridge bottom.
There is no blood,
only what's left after the event.
On return footbridge
is now flyover, black spot removed.
folk fly by too fast.
My old home is a turn off.
into village quiet.
A place folk glance at
On the way elsewhere.
Paul Brookes is a shop asst. Lives in a cat house full of teddy bears. His chapbooks are The Fabulous Invention Of Barnsley, (Dearne Community Arts, 1993). The Headpoke and Firewedding (Alien Buddha Press, 2017), A World Where and She Needs That Edge (Nixes Mate Press, 2017, 2018) The Spermbot Blues (OpPRESS, 2017), Port Of Souls (Alien Buddha Press, 2018) Forthcoming Stubborn Sod, illustrated by Marcel Herms (Alien Buddha Press, 2018). Please Take Change (Cyberwit.net, 2018) Editor of Wombwell Rainbow Interviews.
I pace the street
trace black lines around the block
like a Kline.my past stacks up,
chords through my mind.it’s
only when I feel ghosts breathing
do I do so myself.breathe.let the ghosts’
pasts complain.let me listen silent.it
all[the colour]fades into monochrome.the cracks
break&invade.or I invade them.sink
into a past, not-mine.where what I did is
irrelevant.when abandon meant a good thing.
the sidewalk pushes back up at me at the exact
weight I push down.we, like a team, encircle
squarely.it’s not until I feel the ghosts do I
feel the most settled into my awe.this city
layered two-by-two with pasts.poets.
artists.screaming do what you feel, damn
the torpedoes.damn sense.like termite trails,
pure creation traces these sidewalk lines—and I--
I’m with them.lock-step.trailing closely the urge.letting
my own history die within their favor.permission.I am
the mission.treat kindly the ghosts, a thing whispers.
let self sink into the hard concrete.let the simple
walking guide.be unto the city as it begot you.
I feel this response.approval by the street lights &
taxi screams.let this be my witnessing.
Darren Lyons is currently a creative writing MFA candidate at The New School. His poems have recently appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, Chronogram, and The Inquisitive Eater. A poetry/painting project of his was featured on The Best American Poetry Blog. One of his short stories and another poem were published in the 2016 and 2017 editions, respectively, of Stonesthrow Review.
a cloudy day
ivory black geometry
I’m not done yet
a gash of metal
blue black childhood
what hangs could be
a father figure
a child’s crude game
or the knife’s gesture
as it kills
Jessica Purdy holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. Recently her poems have appeared in The Plath Poetry Project, The Light Ekphrastic, The Wild Word, and Bluestem Magazine. Her chapbook, Learning the Names, was published in 2015 by Finishing Line Press. Her books STARLAND and Sleep in a Strange House were both released by Nixes Mate Books consecutively, in 2017 and 2018.
This is what remains
of the barn after the fire--
aroma of barbecued beef,
smell of spoiled milk.
A haphazard array left upright
citizens to bear witness
an electric act of natural cleansing.
Father too old to climb,
replace lightning rod blown
off during wild winter winds;
too prideful to ask
to get on top of things.
At any cost,
we should protect all mothers
bearing milk and immunities.
They bear the bounty--
nourishment of their species.
If struck down, we lose.
Yet my sisters and I stand here in Spring,
thankful for rebirth, and one less asset
to bear from an antiquated existence.
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. His work has been featured in many online and print publications, and has been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. To see more of his work go to: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com or https://openartsforum.com.
The door opens on its side
and closes on its side. You can
disagree, but there is no darkness
deeper than the self. A weapon
inexplicably cast at a right angle
only makes sense to the flesh
it pierces. I understand your fear,
Franz; portraiture is an opera
of glass, but even
the most abstract artist can be
identified by his hairline. When a bridge
is constructed from a pile
of branches be careful you aren’t looking
for hidden meanings in the cracks.
The light seeping through is nothing
more than a sequence of shapes.
Understanding gives way
under our feet like feathers.
The canvas is losing
its integrity, slashed
one too many times by the paint.
Crystal Condakes Karlberg
Crystal Condakes Karlberg is a middle School English teacher. She is a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at Boston University. Her writing has appeared in Mom Egg Review, The Compassion Anthology, Scary Mommy Teen, and her poem, "Winter Whale" was recently selected as the winner of Folded Word Press' Solstice Series 2018.
Overcome by Art
She really doesn’t get abstracts,
but this Kline froze her in her tracks.
Vawdavitch? What’s that? Sounds
like a place in Eastern Europe.
Menacing, full of misery, from the snow
she can feel under her thin shoes
to the charred fence with no sign of home.
So much violence in the brush strokes!
She imagines trains to Auschwitz
or Birkenau shuffling past this scene.
Remembers Daddy, who parachuted
into battle, but found liberating death
camps the worst horror of war.
She smells the stench of the cattle car,
sways back and forth, struggling
to keep her balance. A blinding light!
“Ma’am, Ma’am. You’re okay.
You just fainted,” says the medic
shining a flashlight in her eyes.
Alarie’s latest poetry book, Waking on the Moon, contains many poems first published by The Ekphrastic Review. Please visit her at alariepoet.com.
Landing on the Other Side
My bones are
white under my skin
not bleached or hard--) and yet you
answer by asking
words, invoking crow--
once white too)--bearing omens,
consumed by riddles.
How far will,
then what?—the black bird,
unfeathered above waters
that drown the questions,
Spinning children of
the same skin--)
What light lays bare,
its absence enshrouds.
A resident of New York City, Kerfe Roig enjoys transforming words and images into something new. Follow her explorations on the blog she does with her friend Nina: https://methodtwomadness.wordpress.com/ and see more of her work on her website: http://kerferoig.com/
Up and across my monochrome cage
Runs the dull ache that darkens life’s rage
Competing with troubled thoughts
The pain of my past that jabs at my wrist
Is guided by fears that are part of the list
That voice the sound of despair
My memory is tinged with anger and rage
And something to do with being that age
Where you should not shed tears
I channel the cries of my former strife
As angular form that’s now part of my life
That repairs to the broken thoughts
Now that I know I have something to say
People will know that this is my way
To repair a damaged soul
Henry is a writer based in Somerset in the UK. He has a PhD in literature and creative writing and writes all types of fiction. His work can be seen in FridayFlashFiction, 50WordStories, thedrabble, ID Magazine and Writers’ Forum, among other places. He also runs a writing support group for people with mental health issues.
The Emotion of a Painting: The Final Test
Is this the text of a bold Japanese print maker? Or a drawing, perhaps, of a child of four gone magic-marker-wild, luxuriating in the strokes of his unpracticed hand? Marked by a child’s reckless glee? (I could show you my son’s paintings at four.)
No, this Vawdavitch hails from Kline of Wilkes Barre, a place mere miles from my old Pennsylvania homestead. What drew me to his abstract message? It was the awareness of his anger, and perhaps my own; a warning that this anger must be treated with care, lest it consume us. In his virile strokes I saw the touch of Pollock, his seeming randomness. I saw the foreboding: the deep-dark, coal blackness against the white, Kline’s life robbed of a father, later a mother, and then a wife.
While subways rumbled and smells of fresh rye bread pervaded the room, my friend’s Pollock hung in his foyer, at the end of a long kitchen. Haphazard, I’d have said in those days. But now I read more into these abstracts, Kline’s included. The premeditated strokes bespeak tumult, the chaotic artistic lives of New York’s 1960s, “flower” songs, Viet Nam, feminism, perverse sexual freedoms already erupting, the careless disregard for babies. In this Vawdavitch, the anger serves its purpose: the vindication for fatherless Kline, of all that wasn’t, but could have been.
Carole Mertz enjoys the lessons she receives from various artworks and the challenge of placing her reactions into comprehensible sentences. She has recent work at Dreamers Creative Writing, The Ekphrastic Review, Eclectica, Front Porch Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Mom Egg Review, Quill & Parchment, WPWT, and elsewhere. Born in Pennsylvania, she now resides with her husband in Parma, Ohio.
The Unfaithful Shepherd
His brash tights tell the whole story:
a taste for the garish, a longing
for some lost joie de vivre
that’s settled down
into the swollen red sacks of his hose.
See how they run--
lift and run as he goes,
legs pounding like blood,
carrying the doughy bulk of his body,
a smile on his broad peasant face.
Because this is homily, Brueghel inclines
the bare field downward,
gravity like sin,
the ground rutted with last night’s rain;
its tracks arrowing the direction
the poor shepherd’s fleeing in.
His sheep too are running away,
their bodies soft white blurs of flight,
like angels ascending into callous air.
Now look to the right,
the wolf’s already there,
his muzzle stuck in the soft bowl
of a newborn lamb .
Whoever said, to live is not as easy
as to cross a field
must have known about nights
surrounded by the warm fug of animal breath,
where the wolves await, patient as death.
Persistence another kind of faith.
This poem was first published in Able Muse.
Editor's note: There is some confusion over the artist of the painting, as both father and son were artists with the same name of Pieter Bruegel. It is assumed today that the painting is by Pieter the Younger, and that it is a copy of the same painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, one that was lost. It may also be a follower or or student of the Elder: in these times, artists learned by copying their master's paintings.
Jeanne Wagner is the winner of several national awards: most recently the Arts & Letters Award, The Sow’s Ear Chapbook Prize and the Sow’s Ear prize for an individual poem. Her poems have appeared in Cincinnati Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review and
Hayden’s Ferry. She has four chapbooks and two full-length collections: The Zen Piano-mover
winner of the Stevens Manuscript Prize, and In the Body of Our Lives, published by Sixteen
Rivers in 2011.
How far and how fast
must I stride to step into
the same river twice?
The imaginative scope of Crockett Johnson’s children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon, first published in 1955, seems deceptively simple. On the opening page we see only a little boy in white pajamas holding a purple crayon with which he’s drawn a short line from the left side of the otherwise blank page. The boy, Harold, looks up toward the empty space on the right side of the page. We’re told, “One evening, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” I like it that Harold appears to have been thinking it over and that he’s looking at the empty space where a moon would have to be if he’s to walk in the moonlight. On the second page this absence is confirmed: “There wasn’t any moon, and Harold needed a moon for a walk in the moonlight.” We see Harold reaching up on tiptoes, drawing a crescent moon. We aren’t told that’s what he’s doing, but we can see him doing it and we’ve been given his motivation. “And he needed something to walk on,” we learn on the third page, and we can see that Harold has stretched that straight horizontal line across the page and is drawing a diagonal line away from it toward the bottom of the page. We realize that he is drawing something to walk on before we turn the page to be told, “He made a long straight path so he wouldn’t get lost.” Harold’s in the process of drawing the other side of the path, extending from the place on the horizontal line where the first vertical line started. We haven’t been told that the horizontal line has become the horizon in the landscape Harold is creating, but we intuitively know that it has. “And he set off on his walk, taking his big purple crayon with him.” With three straight lines and a crescent shape Harold has created a palpable world and somehow it makes sense that he would be taking a walk in it.
That fifth page shows Harold in the middle of two lines that start wide in the foreground and grow narrow to a point in the middle ground, where they meet each other and the horizon. Harold is the largest object in the image, his head and shoulders above the line for the horizon and only a narrow apple-slice moon in the blank upper half of the page. The sixth page has an almost identical image. The caption reads, “But he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path,” and we can see that it’s so. Harold looks to his left instead of his right, but otherwise the image is the same—the large figure of Harold, the wide path narrowing to the point on the horizon, the moon in the same spot. On the seventh page we’re told, “So he left the path for a shortcut across the field. And the moon went with him,” and we can intuit the motion—Harold holds his crayon at the end of a horizon line he draws as he walks along it, the moon still in the same place above him but the path now shifted to the left. On the eighth page we will see only Harold, his crayon, the horizon, and the moon.
From here on his drawings become more ambitious and his wanderings more exciting, until finally he grows tired and starts to search for his bedroom window. He draws a great many windows, none of them the right one, and we may sense that Harold, who drew a straight path to keep from getting lost and later drew a single tree because he “didn’t want to get lost in the woods,” has some anxiety about being lost, unable to see his house or his window. Eventually, reassuringly, he remembers “where his bedroom window was, when there was a moon. It was always right around the moon.” He draws his bedroom window around that persistent moon and then, in a clever bit of wordplay, “Harold made his bed. He got in it and he drew up the covers. The purple crayon dropped on the floor. And Harold dropped off to sleep.”
I’ve always admired how image and text work in surreal harmony throughout Harold and The Purple Crayon and I’m grateful to my grandchildren for exposing me to it again. But lately I’ve been haunted by those fifth and sixth pages, the ones where Harold is on the path. They seem almost like stills from a Winsor McCay cartoon like Gertie the Dinosaur or one of the Max Fleischer Out of the Inkwell shorts, where the hand of the artist is a part of the animation. If those two pages were cells in an animated cartoon and we set the sequence in motion, Harold’s legs would pump as he stayed in essentially the same position while the path would appear to move toward the bottom of the image, perhaps with flowers or bushes on either side starting out small in the distance and growing in size as they near Harold and then disappearing off the edge of the picture, making Harold seem to be progressing on his path. That’s the way cartoons animate linear one-point perspective, where there is a single vanishing point on or near the horizon, and in fact, in a video production of Harold and the Purple Crayon, that’s what happens.
Perspective in drawings and paintings is a way of transferring a three-dimensional world to a two-dimensional medium by creating the sense of depth and distance we observe in life. A large figure in the middle of a wide path in the foreground of the picture seems near to us; a small figure nearer the point where the lines defining the path meet in the background seems distant. The very idea that there are foreground and background in the image indicates perspective. If the large figure has his back to us, we imagine him about to move off down that path, toward the small figure in the distance; if the small figure has his back to us, we think that he has already walked this path. If figures face us we think of them as coming or having come from the distant spot on the horizon. If Harold’s figure on page six were smaller than his figure on page five, while the path stayed the same size, we would think that he had made progress down that path. Had he stayed on it, a seventh page would have shown him smaller still, an eighth might have made him tiny, and we would expect him to disappear entirely by page nine. That’s perspective: things up close are larger, things in the distance are smaller, a path that begins with two parallel lines widely separated tapers to a point near the horizon. If we were able to extend the path in the foreground, so that it ran beneath us, it would be wider still, widest of all where we stand viewing the image.
Look at it this way: for the figure with his back to us in the drawing and for the viewer—or for us in life who would be facing a real or metaphorical path in the same direction—the place in the foreground is now, the present, the place where we are, and the point on the horizon is eventually, the future, the place where we’re going. But what Harold reminds us, because the paths on pages five and six seem identical and he seems to be the same size and we know that in the first image he has “set off on his walk, taking his big purple crayon with him,” is that in the second image he should be on a different location on the path. That “he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere on the long straight path” is really a joke about perspective—in a still picture, anytime Harold is in the foreground on that path, no matter where on the path he might be in relation to where he was when he started out, the path and the horizon and the point of convergence would all look the same and he would not seem to be getting anywhere. The parallel lines that define the path in the foreground—in the now—are equidistant from one another all the length of the path; the lines only seem to converge in the distance; as you walk the path it is always the same width because you are always on it now and when you reach the point where the lines once seemed to converge—the place that one would arrive at eventually—you don’t run out of path or recognize it as the convergence point because it is still the foreground path, the path of now.
Imagine Harold’s inverted V-shaped path, in essence an isosceles triangle, the baseline the bottom of the page. Label the widest part of the triangle, near the baseline, now; label the narrow end eventually. Picture Harold or any figure—or yourself—near now, looking off at eventually. This is the way we see our lives. If we place Harold or any figure or ourselves at the narrow end, as a tiny shape, we need to change the labels: eventually becomes now, now becomes then. In linear perspective in art the figure in the foreground can’t turn around and see where he’s come from, can’t visually locate then, but if he could he would see the wide end of the V that stands for now begin to narrow in the opposite direction, not widen indefinitely the way perspective seems to suggest, but taper to a distant point, as distant as eventually. That point would be then. For our tiny figure to turn around and look back, the triangle would need to shift direction—the wide end is always where we are, the narrow end is either where we’re going or where we’ve been. Only Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings,—think January—would be able to stand at now and see both then and eventually simultaneously, be able to appreciate a two-point perspective where the vanishing points are in completely opposite directions.
With perspective we expect the large figure to get smaller the further we place him toward the vanishing point. Imagine what it would be like to remain that large figure to the end of the path, all the way to the horizon, stepping onto the point of convergence, reaching the end, the absolute eventually. It would be like the title character in The Truman Show thinking he’s sailing a vast open sea and thudding into the wall that has limited his life all along, without his awareness that it was there. It would be like the moment on pages 10, 11, and 12 of A Picture for Harold’s Room (a sequel to Harold and the Purple Crayon) when Harold, having drawn a small village on the horizon on a wall of his room, thinks it would look pretty in the moonlight, and so “stepped up into the picture to draw the moon.” On one page he stands large at the foreground of a long road in perspective leading to the tiny village and on the next he stands on the horizon, in the middle of the village, as large as he was on the previous page. “He looked down at the houses. ‘I am a GIANT!’ he said.” He exactly takes the position of someone who sees himself as a figure of now who has reached the vanishing point of eventually.
That’s the problem with having to live in the now; it makes it hard to acknowledge the eventual or perhaps even the then. Is that what happens to us in life? We walk the path thinking we are still the large figure in the foreground until we smack into the wall above the horizon and look down to discover ourselves already—too soon—at the vanishing point.
It may be that thinking in terms of one point perspective in regard to life or to destiny doesn’t really capture what happens in either of them. Isn’t life a long and winding road? On a winding road we may have no way to locate a vanishing point up ahead or one in the direction from which we’ve come; we may have only a vague sense of where a horizon may be. Instead, if we’re aware of anything, we’re aware of what we’re passing, what we see on the sides of the road, the scenery that limits our perspective. I think of the opening scenes in Jez Alborough’s rhyming picture book Duck in the Truck, where on the first page we see only the duck in his truck on a road in the woods and then on the second page see “the track that is taking him back,” a winding gravel road along a winding creek that does employ one point perspective to show us where the duck is going. But once we encounter “the rock that is struck by the truck” and “the muck where the truck becomes stuck,” we are shown only where the duck is now and his efforts to enlist others to get him back on track. Life is most often like that, where we’re stuck deep in the now, uncertain how to move on to a later now, with little awareness of where then or eventually might be or how much later each now is.
Perhaps life is like a myriorama card game I have been long intrigued by called “The Endless Landscape.” In the version I have, there are twenty-four picture cards, each different from one another but having in common a river and a road. The cards can be strung together in whatever sequence the player chooses and in no particular order whatsoever, because however you juxtapose them, the river and the road in any one card will always line up with the river and the road in every other card. No card works specifically as a beginning card or a final card; there is no specific point of origin to move away from, no specific destination to arrive at; the limits are set simply by the number of cards available to be played. The road and the river go on and on until you run out of cards to lay down and without warning they end. If you were walking that road or floating on that river, in either direction, you would only notice the panel you’re in, not the panels ahead or behind; at either end you would simply step out of the final panel, simply, suddenly drop off.
It’s possible to think of life in terms of one-point perspective, to think that we stand in the foreground of the present moment and are aware of the path before us narrowing and narrowing until, inevitably, we reach that vanishing point. Won’t we all reach that vanishing point eventually? If we look behind us, toward the background of our lives, can’t we recognize, if perhaps not remember, our origins at the vanishing point of then, before which we did not exist? And yet we don’t often think of our lives that way.
Instead we tend to see ourselves as we see Harold on pages five and six, occupying the foreground. Unlike Harold, we don’t wonder whether we’re getting anywhere and don’t see a long straight path ahead of us that we’re not making any progress on. Our focus is always on where we are each moment rather than where we’ve been or where we might go; we live in now rather than in then or in eventually. Even then we make little effort to simply be in now; instead, a Buddhist might say, we worry about how to end a present difficulty or we worry about how long a present joy might last—instead, we struggle to imagine a different now than the one we’re in. Certainly that’s what Harold does, to the great pleasure of those who read about him, but it’s only at the end of the book, after he lets his anxieties drop behind him and he returns to his room and his bed, that Harold is at peace with where and when he is.
Maybe it’s only when we seem to not be getting anywhere—when we stop worrying about getting anywhere—that we begin to see our lives in perspective. Maybe it’s only when we close our eyes on distant vanishing points and lose our sense of foreground altogether—when we let that large figure, that dominating awareness of ourselves, fade from the image—that we awaken to the present. However momentary that might be, maybe only then do we fully know the now we’re living in, realize where we are. Finally gain perspective.
Robert Root is an essayist, memoirist, editor, and teacher. He is the author of the album memoir Happenstance and the article “Essaying the Image” (The Essay Review, Fall 2014) and teaches a course in captioning and composing. He lives in Waukesha, Wisconsin. His website is www.rootwriting.com.
Behind the house the meadow looms
that's also made of many rooms
where treading feet have trampled halls
and trees suggest surrounding walls
and flowers now expectant wombs
are splashing colours of their blooms
against the grass they rise beside
of greater reach as if to hide
from tiny hands that cannot know
that as bouquet they cease to grow
except as beauty briefly seen
amid arrangement where they lean
to beckon fate they might preserve
by oil and canvas they could serve.
Portly Bard: Old man. Ekphrastic fan.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Georgia O'Keeffe's Pattern of Leaves or Leaf Motif #3, 1923-4
They fill the frame, intense, close as a palm raised to your face. Deeply veined. Collage of layers. Background smoke. Three leaves overlaid, one on another.
Bottom one, only ruffled edges—a gray-green shadow. Middle leaf, white as if furred with mold. The top dark maple the colour of merlot, in places almost black like dried blood. A vertical cut clean through the pulp, zigzag of lighting strike. Yellow in the wound. Break of sunlight. Exquisite. Obscene. A plump heart yanked from a body.
A torn heart.
The slash so clean hints leafcutter ants. Voracious hunger that consumes in minutes. Flesh-eating driver ants in The Poisonwood Bible. A village runs for the river.
Is it hard to paint violence? To form that jagged gash, nearly disconnect one half from the other? To scar beauty. Inflame it.
Karen George is a retired computer programmer obsessed with art and photography, working on a poetry collection inspired by Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Emily Carr paintings. She’s author of five chapbooks, and two poetry collections from Dos Madres Press, Swim Your Way Back (2014) and A Map and One Year (2018), and her work appears at Adirondack Review, Louisville Review, Naugatuck River Review, Sliver of Stone, America Magazine, and Still: The Journal. She reviews poetry at http://readwritepoetry.blogspot.com/, and is fiction editor of the online journal Waypoints: http://www.waypointsmag.com/. Her website is: http://karenlgeorge.snack.ws/.
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“Everyday, something else about you goes,” she would laugh, picking a stray hair from his shoulder or an eyelash from the side of his nose. She liked something about how lax his body was with its property. It meant he was not distracted by the question of where to be, not like the others who insisted one way then went another. Only one man had actually left her like that, left quite so suddenly. Maybe two. “But one or two is all it takes,” she would tell you if you called her on it, “for a boring woman like me.” And she might laugh then too, though afterwards she would not be sure that boring was what she meant and she would feel the shadows across her cheek and neck and her mouth would be dry waiting for him to reassure her he still understood. When such reassurance would come, and it would come, she would of course not believe him, but his words, students of his drifting eyelashes, had a way of drifting just short of her ear to catch on a shoulder blade. They let her know he wasn’t offering false promises. It seemed clear to her nothing as worth listening to as a lie would be so casual.
What she would have actually meant was that she was a woman who stayed put, holding again and again to what was last given her, so she never knew how well the held held back. Her imagination was skilled in filling in the blanks, laying out just how any man or woman—yes even him, no not her—could leave with no because. This was how her imagination created the shadows and how the shadows warned her to stay in one place since she was not wanted in others. But he, at least his body, didn’t seem to understand the difference between one place or the next. And though she maybe somewhere knew if his disintegration kept up she would eventually be alone, she knew this only as well as she knew he wasn’t quite gone as long as he was going. He, on the other hand, had reservations about his condition.
He didn’t share them liberally, considering it silly to complain over what was obvious and seemingly beyond one’s control. And he didn’t want anyone to think it was vanity. Quite the opposite, he especially liked the receding hairline. As a teenager, thick auburn waves encouraged in him the occasional fantasy that he was special. But he had learned in good time, as most men must he supposed—taking only a generic sort of pride in his ability to relate well with reality—that he was in all significant ways just as most men are. What he wanted now was only to be decent at being this, being a man just for one woman, just lucky enough there was one woman foolish enough to want him. Nothing special. Unfortunately, as long as his good features persisted, the repeated interest of repeated women repeatedly called his bluff, leaving him disheveled and ashamed. He was, above all, embarrassed by the youthful fantasies prodded awake by these women, insignificant women in all other ways and not themselves the characters of the fantasies they inspired. And even on top of this, he was embarrassed that any part of him found these fantasies persuasive still and all of him might have even found them so if he allowed it.
But a receding hairline, though she called it sophisticated, was a highly efficient anchor to tether an evasive insecurity. It let him walk from other women with a simple sense of defeat, the way most men are defeated every once in a while without ever having tried. It meant when he said all he had was all he needed—just her, a good woman used to her flawed man, victims of time as are we all, and he was used to her—his consolation had authenticity to it. It left them free to find no better explanation for their love than that it was what they had agreed to without concern for any externals. He did not mean to complain about that. He did not mean to complain at all. Still, it seemed strange. The hair, soon joined by peeling skin, tarried on his belongings, his desk, his car, his tennis rackets. This debris made a trail for anyone with an interest to follow his activities, as though where he was and what he did deserved a permanence other people’s actions did not. It was as bad as a woman’s gaze. He did not like thinking he, meaning the parts of himself he did not share with humanity as a whole, was all that deserving.
“The formality of the human condition,” he would say, referring to ideas he garnered from the right crowd of contemporary thinkers, “is beautiful, each of us filled in by circumstance and scratches history leaves behind, but nonetheless, all at base a similar form.”
“And that is all that is necessary,” he might add internally, reassuring himself that love and happiness were themselves a sort of human formality, their being-had or not-being-had leading to the same conclusion. “Since we’re all the same when it comes to capacity,” he might then wrap-up, meaning the capacity to grab for something, fail or be satisfied. This was of course the sentiment she saw in his casual body. Lives, she knew he believed, were all variations of the same, so he might as well continue with the one he had started. And he would have, shedding and peeling be damned, if only he had not begun to disappear altogether.
Generally adept on his feet and not particularly clumsy, not more so than most, he began to find himself scraping his elbows or banging his toes while passing almost any corner, stair or doorpost. His fingers too became accident prone, daily being discovered too close to the edge of a knife or just inside a heavy door after the damage was done. The thought crossed his mind first metaphorically during an inner admonishment and defense: “It is as though the ends of my limbs wander off!” At one time he might have been amused with such a creative phrase, sharing it with her because she liked words and he liked how she laughed at the things she liked. But this thought gave him an eery sensation of knowing too much and too little all at once, and he didn’t think he would like her laughing at it.
Of course, after some time—as it so often goes, he vaguely acknowledged—he grew accustomed to the fading in and out of the thinnest edges of his skin, the ones most apt at getting caught in life’s crossfire if left unattended, and when he finally mentioned to her what he suspected was the problem, he could say it with a grave mundanity. “Sometimes,” he simply said, “my fingers disappear.” It made him think, he didn’t know why, of how he liked to watch the delivery men outside the grocery move boxes of apples onto a conveyer belt that brought them from the truck into the store to be placed in bins, knowing eventually a few of them would go from the bins to his bag. His body was disappearing he told her, but it was just a body doing something slightly unusual, and in each delivery there were among those many apples ones that fell to the floor.
She did not believe him easily. It was not that disappearing was so different in her mind from disintegrating, not in what it could tell her of his character, but, for the most part, the men she knew who had left always took their bodies with them. The bodies did not go first. No, she was quite certain, men did not really disappear. Sure sometimes, well, sometimes he looked strangely gaunt, and—but this must have been in bad light—his nose or ear or pinky finger would sometimes look, look, as though it weren’t there at all. But men, in a bodily sense, speaking strictly of the facts, did not disappear.
So she did laugh, and teased, calling him the disappearing man, meaning mostly something that had nothing to do with what was happening. Or was its opposite. She meant, as she had always suspected, that slowly, slowly his body would be all she’d have left. She had watched him over the years, watched him work diligently to secure a very specific amount of contentment, the amount recognized for being good at keeping men away from mourning lost expectations, expectations such as the ones he assumed most men, now and again, do fall lazily and soberly into desiring, as even he, less so now that he was older, did occasionally desire and mourn. She liked watching him grow used to himself and used to her, liked knowing her body, also not going anywhere, if anything, just making more claims to the space allotted it, excited him only so much, feeling him touch it only so firmly. And if at times he asked for something out of the routine, getting creative as men do during play, what he came up with was never very taxing, never more than any woman could give. Desire is what separates us, she knew, because a man had left her once when he desired something different. “Desire casts a big shadow,” she thought she might say if she spoke more like him. But the disappearing man let his desire disappear and so she knew his body would stay exposed and with her. There was something she liked about this. It felt nice to think maybe then she could disappear too—“slip into the shadows,” she might have said if she were still thinking to talk like him—and still not have to be alone. She did not say it like that though, only laughed again, liking laughter because it made her feel she could be distant from her self and nothing bad would come of it. It made her feel that maybe there was nothing to all this pleasure and pain she ran after or away from, nothing much to expect and nothing much to regret. It made her feel close to him.
He liked how she laughed too because he did not see the shadows himself and only her laughter echoed out where they might be and that something bothered her but she kept it from him, which he appreciated. This was not how he explained it to himself. To himself, he thought she laughed enough for the both of them, thinking time and again it was good she laughed for him, at him, or he would be concerned and think something was terribly wrong, and he would desire to be ordinary and his desire would separate them. He felt close to her when she laughed and thought maybe he was silly for taking such notice of himself. Maybe disappearing is just what happens to some men. “Probably men disappear all the time,” he thought, “so often we just don’t talk about it.”
Near the end of March, his torso would not materialize for a week. This was when her laughter stopped and they decided it was time to seek medical assistance. It was nearly summer after all and they enjoyed days at the beach as much as anyone. A man without a middle would get them talked about, as would false modesty, so there was no way around it. The doctors did not know what to do. One said he did not see the problem, equally not noticing that his patients did not enjoy the pun. They laughed afterwards though at the doctor’s coffee stained bark of a laugh. It was good for her to laugh again and for him to laugh at all and for them to laugh together. Doctors do not know everything they agreed, continuing to go to one after another since they were not going to the beach anyway.
“Maybe some men just disappear,” he said. She told him she didn’t know that that wasn’t the case, but that she did miss putting her arms around his waist. “Well,” he said, “just sling them around my neck for now.” Which worked until that disappeared too. The neck, the elbows, one thigh, all the toes, both earlobes and the lips all invisible one breezy summer day.
After that, they touched much less often. He wondered if things would be different if he at least still had his wavy hair. She assured him that had nothing to do with it. It’s just difficult, they both had to admit, keeping up commitment to an inside that has so little outside to overlook. One day he came back from the office and all there was to him was his suit. “If you take off that suit,” she told him, “I might as well start looking elsewhere.” He left it on. Not only for her, but because he did not know where enough of his body was to undress it and worried even if he managed that, he would not be able to find himself again to put the suit back on. He imagined how the suit would lie then inanimate on the floor, watched over by an emptiness, and he wondered if he would still cast a shadow. “It is maybe something of an accomplishment,” he thought, “to be so indiscreet, so universal.” But no one else was quite as common and it left him, even with the suit, more than a little self-conscious. He fantasized—as he still had his fantasies, as he had had all his life, blushing only over that young one in which he imagined the others coming true—if only his skin would come back, they could be ordinary in their own private way, like everyone else again.
Over the summer and through the winter the suit became worn and she grew afraid if he moved too much it would tear. She asked him to stand still and suggested the backyard, explaining that this way he could watch the birds. He had liked, she remembered him mentioning, watching birds when he was young. Compared to other men’s desires, it was the sort she would not remember ordinarily, but she didn’t think to compare him anymore.
So he watched the birds. He watched the birds and thought about flying, feeling sometimes as though he were flying himself. Or floating perhaps was the better word. The truth was, his thoughts relied less and less on words as words became more and more unable to find his mouth. Sensations instead waved through him, or what he took for himself, which was the space around the suit, a space spreading daily so that soon it reached the top of the trees and deep into where the earth breathed heavy, moist and dark.
“If I could just expand less symmetrically, I might fly,” he thought a day or two before words made no more sense to him at all. She might have laughed at that, but he wasn’t sure anymore. The doubt reassured him that he missed her laughter. She still laughed he had reason to suppose, as he supposed she was still in every way as he had left her, not supposing that his leaving made that impossible, not seeing himself as having left. But the sound of her laughter when it did wade through the air now and again was not now one he could distinguish from all other noises, as noises, like colors, tastes and touches, did not know anymore where to enter him or how to pass him by. One or two snagged on the suit, but so many more got through the cloth they soon covered him and then slipped into him and out of him so he was not covered by anything and could not sense his own beginning. It was not long until only this single strong sensation of being nothing and nowhere told him he was still something, still somewhere. He was in the suit, wasn’t he? Yes, of course. He was watching the birds. Watch, they fly very close, gathering his expression in their wings.
Editor's note: This story was inspired by the painting, Uncle, by Whitfield Lovell, which you can see here. Unfortunately, we were unable to contact the artist for permission to show the painting. The image above was not the original inspiration for this story, but it was created especially for it by Dov Alpert, a colleague of the writer.
Tikva Hecht is a writer and content producer based in Toronto. She holds an MFA in creative writing from UC, Riverside, and an MA in philosophy from the New School for Social Research. Her poems have appeared in several print and online publications, including CV2, Canadian Literature, Ghost Town Literary Magazine, The Broken Plate, Jones Av. and the Mima'amakim Journal.
La Place by Alberto Giacometti (Switzerland). 1948.
A woman and four men walk
in the city square. Fleshless.
Skinny. Comic. Their heels
pull from the pavement but
never detach. Who am I? Who
am I? Wind cuts across.
They gaze inward. How
do we know when we are?
they ask. How do we tell
knower from deceiver?
Purpose from frivolity?
Under their skinless skins are
no pulses, no orgasms. No spigot
of words, no maker of flame,
no speech over the no-clatter
of silent feet. The figures
say alone, say terror. Alberto
paces his studio, scratches
his cat's arched back, frowns,
spits, pinches the clay again,
winces at his creation.
Thomas R. Moore
Thomas R. Moore: "I have published three books of poems: The Bolt-Cutters (2010), Chet Sawing (2012), and Saving Nails (2016). My work is represented in more than thirty literary journals and has been broadcast on Writer’s Almanac and American Life in Poetry. My poem 'How We Built Our House' won a Pushcart Prize and publication in 2018 Best of the Small Presses Anthology. I currently serve as Poet Laureate for Belfast, Maine."
"It's as safe as traveling to work..."
-a cardiologist before performing a transplant
The first night of the blizzard
that stranger inched into Ohio.
Halfway through he skidded
into our snow-spackled lives.
His heart is buried
in my father,
who is buried.
This is the hole
in the stranger, in my father,
in my own cracked
chest, hail cupped in its cavity,
the aorta beginning to freeze.
the weather preaches white
lies: fields blank of roads,
a curve straightened,
the even light of sky.
Tonight the breeze is all
from the clouds. Nothing
in this treacherous state.
Our wheels spin,
their rhythm: a breath
that pulls us
then stalls. The law
of the body, of the state,
cannot replace the chain
reaction, jackknifed lives,
hope piling into hope.
The man and his heart,
cold on an icy road,
warmed us for weeks
while winter, a clear blue thing,
Artist, activist, and retired Pennsylvania College of Technology professor Karen Elias created the composite photograph Snow Heart in response to Marjorie Maddox's poem "Treacherous Driving." Both poem and photograph were displayed in the Visual Words and Speaking Art Exhibit (The Station Gallery; Lock Haven, PA, November 9—23, 2018.) The poem appears in Maddox's re-released collection Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Wipf & Stock, 2018), which chronicles her father's unsuccessful heart transplant during the Blizzard of ’93. The book won the Yellowglen prize and was one of three finalists for the Brittingham and Felix Pollak book awards. Maddox has published 11 collections of poetry, a short story collection, and several children's books. For more information, please see www.marjoriemaddox.com
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