Moving Over Christmas Break

We moved into the place next door
It’s a mirror reflection of the old place
The windows, the closets, the mail drop,
The heat vents
They’re all backwards now
The sun shines through the windows
At different times of the day

I dream backward dreams
And if we get up in the dark to go to the bathroom
We nearly always end up in the closet
Horribly confused

We live through the looking glass
There’s even mirrors on each side
Of the separating wall
In the matching opposite place.
So when we look into the mirror
It’s like seeing our old place
Like seeing the old us
Doing what we used to do
Backwards

1999

{I really like this poem, and it brings back some great memories. But frankly, I just wanted to give myself an opportunity to post some Christmas photos in February. Sneaky.}

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The Arch Nemesis in Three Parts

Part one: 11 years old

There is a girl.
She is not real.
She does not grow.
She is always mourning her mother
face down, sobbing into her bedspread
while I sit on the edge of the bed
and watch her black curls tremble,
a useless friend.

Part two: 24 years old

She is another girl,
still not real.
She never knew about me and
I’ve never met her
except through reading a journal,
and she is elusive.
She is bright and lovely.
She buys things and
gets her college degree in art.
She grows into a myth.
I hear she named a baby (her third) my favorite name.

Part three: Present

She materializes in the form of my downstairs neighbor.
The myths fade to paleness.
I discover we are so much alike that it’s creepy.
But I hear her yell at her kids through the floor.
Really, I don’t want to be like her.
I hang on to our differences that grow too close.
She moves away. My babies grow.
I yell at them.
I become grown.
I become the girl
and she must take another form.
She must always be bigger and calm and more bright
and unfurled and singing.

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Dress

 

William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_Seated_Nude

It had been wrinkled and awkward
for more than eight years
in the bottom of a chest.

Once in a while she would peek
down underneath the others just to
see if she remembered the
exact shade of blue.

Last week she pulled it out
to see if it would fit,
tried ironing out its shape,
but clumsily put fresh creases
here and there and then used
too much water.

She kept looking
for the round French collar,
dainty buttons,
and gorgeous pin tucks.
Thinking things, like
the waist didn’t used to look like this.
Then she saw the whole cloth—
that it had never been sewn together,
never even been cut out
in the first place.

Dear readers, this poem is still pretty new and I am looking for suggestions or feedback. If you feel so inclined, please leave comments. What are your impressions of the poem? What does it make you think of? How does it make you feel? Does it even make sense to you? Any kind of (constructive) feedback is welcome! Thanks.

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After the Surgery

My yellow teacup children
in an afternoon window,

Their names were
a favorite pastime.
My Olives and Stars
were put away but
not as carefully or as quietly
as I would have liked.

Try revitalizing an impossible past
and it will only fill you
with second guessing.

{Image borrowed with permission from Cori’s beautiful photos.}

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Ekphrasis: The sister arts of painting and poetry

On “Flaming June” by Frederic Leighton

Sleeping in a corner at noon on a bench
Too small to stretch her full 5’11”
Her full figure

I warm my hands quietly up close
To the reaching oranges climbing
The resting light

Afraid my presence is enough to
Disturb a rhythm of sleep or
Is she too deep

Shallow in slumber and curled
In summer windows
At odd angles

1998


***

I have always been in love with the ideas about how different art forms, like writing and visual arts, relate to one another. While in college, I discovered that there was actually a specific term for writing about art–ekphrasis. Some more cannonized examples of this are found in Homer’s epics and Keats’ odes. I am someone who is easily inspired by visual art to write, and have written many poems prompted by studying a work of art. As an undergrad, I had a fulfilling final semester pursuing this topic as deeply as I liked in an internship with a wonderful and influential professor, who inspired me with her quiet passion for poetry and her encouraging feedback on my writing. During that semester, I found oodles of modern and contemporary poetry about pieces of art, including the amazing book, Transforming Vision: Writers on Art . I have pulled the following quote from its introduction by Edward Hirsch for the sake of acquainting you a little more with the topic:

“Works of art initiate and provoke other works of art; the process is a source of art itself. Responses to a given work become part of the complex history of that work. There is also an intricate history of reciprocity and sibling rivalry between the arts, especially ‘the sister arts,’ poetry and painting…[there is] a long occidental tradition of ekphrasis, the verbal description of pictoral or sculptural works of art…. Ekphrastic modes inevitably address–and sometimes challenge–the great divide between spatial and temporal experience, eye and ear, visual and verbal mediums. They brave the mystery dividing the seen from the unseen, image from text. They teach us to look and look again more closely. They dramatize with great intensity the actual experience of encounter.”

One of my favorite poems from Transforming Vision is by Adam Zagajewski:

Edgar Degas: The Millinery Shop

Hats are innocent, bathed in the soft light
which smoothes the contours of objects.
A girl is working.
But where are brooks? Groves?
Where is the sensual laughter of nymphs?
The world is hungry and one day
will invade this tranquil room.
For the moment it contents itself
with ambassadors who announce:
I’m the ochre. I’m the sienna.
I’m the color of terror, like ash.
In me ships sink.
I’m the blue, I’m cold, I can be pitiless.
And I’m the color of dying, I’m patient.
I’m the purple (you don’t see much of me),
for me triumphs, processions.
I’m the green, I’m tender,
I live in wells and in the leaves of birch trees.
The girl whose fingers are agile
cannot hear the voices, for she’s mortal.
She thinks of the coming Sunday
and the rendezvous she has
with the butchers son
who has coarse lips
and big hands
stained with blood.

***


Another ekphrastic poem–this one by one of my favorite poets, Charles Wright:

Edvard Munch

We live in houses of ample weight,
Their windows a skin-colored light, pale and unfixable.
Our yards are large and windraked, their trees bent to the storm.
People we don’t know are all around us.

Or else there is no one, and all day
We stand on a bridge, or a cliff’s edge, looking down.
Our mothers stare at our shoes.

Hands to our ears, our mouths open, we’re pulled on
By the flash black flash of the lighthouse
We can’t see on the rock coast,
Notes in a bottle, our lines the ink from the full moon.

{From his book, Country Music: Selected Early Poems}

***

So, what I’m wondering from you is, have you ever tried to respond to a work of art in writing? If so, have you found that it makes you see the piece differently? What do you think the relationship between painting and poetry is all about? Do you like to compare different art forms and explore the relationship between them?

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