The Week the Artist Died
This was inspired specifically by the photograph of artist Ruth Asawa, reclining and holding one of her sculptures, by Imogen Cunningham (USA) 1951
I worked in Noe Valley for a year at the bookstore, close to my cousin’s house, though I avoided Anne’s loud laughter and easy confidences, she the daughter of our in-law friends in San Francisco. I walked the steep hills during my lunch break, thighs pounding the 45 degree lanes and horizontal streets the length of the hills.
My favourite path was on Castro Street past the clock shop where a black cat sat next to a deconstructed clock like you’d find inside a large wood case in someone’s hallway, except here it looked like a surreal experiment.
And I would often pass the house of an artist, dwelling of modern wood and glass without adornment. She was well known in the Bay Area for buoyant sculptures woven in the method of native American baskets.
I thought of her as one of us. At that time, I didn’t know that she was among the art gods, that she transformed the sea inside onto the outside of her body. The shapes looked like loose fabric though tight where they shrunk or grew, like gourds. The forms made their way out, strange beings on their own, surging over the crests. And I wondered, did she try to name then? Did she rock with them back and forth, like she would with her young children? One after another the sculptures would teeter over due to the vast size.
Then, one day I found out she died. Heard it from a customer at the bookstore who heard it from her husband who knew one of the children who saw the demise of her mother due to an autoimmune disease.
The next day my cousin appeared at the back of the store as I was receiving new books into the computer. I sat on the tall stool, fingers at the keyboard. She wore a red blouse and jeans, her dark curly hair framing her face.
She wasted no time in telling me about her diagnosis. Breast cancer.
Yet she first wanted to talk about the artist who we knew so little. Not about the doctor who gave her the news, or her parents. And she asked how I was doing. My father died a few weeks before, and I’d been off work for a week. Then, how was my mother coping? I’d returned to work after spending time with my mother and didn’t pretend to smile, just kept my head down while hand-selling books, but mostly asked to work in the back. And she listened to it all.
She also wanted to talk about her loneliness since the split from her husband. As if her other news wasn’t enough. Though she was raising two girls, she wanted intimacy. Did I know anyone?
All this intersected together somehow and I saw her as fragile in all this. Her usual way of going on without pause, this time peppered with inquiry.
And I think we both realized that just talking would help us. This time, through her pointed syllables, I recognized an opening. I realized that I knew it was there all along, the round woven shapes a possibility.
Laurel Benjamin has poetry forthcoming in Lily Poetry Review, Black Fox, Limit Experience, Word Poppy Press. Find her work in Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women's Poetry, South Florida Poetry Journal, Trouvaille Review, The Ekphrastic Review (challenge finalist), California Quarterly, Midway Journal, MacQueens Quinterly, Wild Roof Journal, Tiny Seed, and more. Affiliated with the Bay Area Women’s Poetry Salon and the Port Townsend Writers, she holds an MFA from Mills College and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Twitter handle: @lbencleo More at https://thebadgerpress.blogspot.com
The Ekphrastic Review
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