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Change in Perspective


 
 
Everything is made of simple forms,
said the art teacher—
a car, the body, everything.
And for the first time in my life,
I saw myself as an assemblage
of cylinders, spheres, cubes and cones.
It was thrilling, after fifty-three years,
to break down the body this way—
to see my fingers as stems,
my cheekbones as grapes,
my calves as long pinecones.
And for a moment, it all seemed so simple.
I am a constellation of forms that moves
through a larger constellation of forms.
For a moment, I didn’t think of the shapelessness
of ashes that conform to the cube of a box.
For a moment, I knew that wetness
falling from my eyes as just another sphere.
 

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Oh Vincent,

There is in my heart
a small yellow room
with a small wooden table
with a dull yellow cloth
and a rounded clay vase
with your name scrawled in blue,
and it’s bursting with sunflowers,
all of them open, all of them turning,
turning toward the light,
which is to say the flowers face every which way.
There is light everywhere we dare to turn.

Consider this a love letter, Vincent,
a letter sent back in time,
a letter that impossibly arrives
just when you despair,
just when you believe no one cares about your art,
the letter that reaches you to say you are loved
in that exact moment you feel unlovable.

Let this be the letter in which you see
the sunflowers you sowed a hundred thirty years ago
have re-seeded themselves in me
and now grow rampant in my days,
golden petalled and flagrantly lovely.
And your stars, swirling, your wheat fields goldening,
your cypress reaching, your church bells unsinging,
you will find them all my words.

This is how love replants itself—
more love, old friend, more love.
Because you were so truly you,
so full of hope, so full of fear,
because you risked your everything,
I, too, will risk, will dare.

Consider this a love letter, Vincent,
the one that helps you see
how your life is linked to eternity.
Let this be a letter that says thank you, Vincent,
for teaching us new ways to see beauty.

Perhaps this letter will arrive
when you are in the yellow room,
or perhaps the asylum, perhaps in Neuwen,
and you, surprised to find it addressed to you,
will receive it and let the words in,
then hear your own startled voice saying,
It matters? as you pick up your brush
and begin again.  

*

My dear friend composer/pianist/historian Kayleen Asbo and I want to offer you the video recording of our hour-long conversation about Vincent Van Gogh, loss and The Art of Creative Collaboration– click here.This project has been such an important part for each of us in holding on to hope and beauty during a dark and challenging time. If it speaks to a part of your own aching soul and you want to share it, you have our blessing to forward it to whomever you wish.

If you want to offer a donation in support of our work so that we can professionally record our project in both audio and video format, click here for our Go Fund Me account. And we have an anonymous donor who will match all funds donated before July 30! 

If you want to engage in the full collaboration–Vincent’s paintings, Kayleen’s music, and my poems–I hope you will join us in “Love Letters to Vincent” on July 29, the day Vincent died, at 11 a.m. mountain time. We will present the entire collaboration, sending love letters back in time to honor this man who changed the way we see beauty. There will also be a chance to participate in a group creative activity, responding to his work, creating a giant love letter for Vincent. Sliding scale. It will be recorded and sent to all who register.

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            while listening to Kayleen Asbo’s “Cypresses”


The wind, that knows itself only by what
it touches, does not whip your hair
as it churns through the wide golden wheat fields,
does not steal your hat as it tosses
the clouds into frothy white and violet whorls,
does not slap your face as you stare
at the silver-green branches of olive trees
upswept into turbulent curves. You’re just looking.

Until you realize the wind has breached the frame
and touched you the way it touches all that it loves,
and your heart knows what it perhaps wishes
it did not know—that all is changed and rearranged,
all gets stirred up and remade, even the cypress,
even the mountains, even the stubborn heart.


you can see the painting here

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We watch as the sculptors pitch
and chisel, splitting the stone
to separate what is wanted
from what is not.
The marble, recently quarried,
is still soft. Can be worked, refined,
polished. As we watch, horses
emerge from one large block.
A dragon appears in another.
There—eyes. There—a hand.
There—a rabbit’s ear. Marble
dust hangs in the air
and the rhythmic beat of mallets
rings out a creation song.
I like best the statues
that appear unfinished—
a roughened breast,
an incomplete cheek,
smooth innuendo of a fold in a dress.
I swear I feel my own story
being chiseled by some great hand,
the block of my life not yet hardened,
not completely. Here the rasp of grief,
here the riffler of joy to enhance the shape
of my days—I am yet a suggestion
of what I will become.
It takes so much breaking to find
the final form.
It takes so much abrasion
to bring out the shine.

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for “the lucky buyer” who “went home with a certificate of authenticity” for an “immaterial sculpture” by Salvatore Garau


What could be more valuable
than nothing? The nothing that
frames “The Thinker,” the nothing
that holds every bowl,
every vase, every bust, every thought.
Let others buy the clay, the steel,
the papier-mâché. I will be satisfied
with nothing more than nothing.
Nothing pleases me. Nothing
enchants me. Nothing,
as Heisenberg says,
has a weight. Just think
of the space here beside me
where you are not.
If someone asks me why
I have a five-by-five-foot
empty space taped off in my home
with a plaque that says I Am,
it is because I am so in love
with nothing. Imagine it—
nothing, the color of happiness,
nothing, the size of love,
nothing, the shape of god.

This poem was published in Rattle’s Poet’s Respond on June 13, 2021

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We dreamed of revolution.

What came to Russia was terror,

terror that left us voiceless,

faceless, betrayed.

Blood in the streets.

Blood splattered on boots.

Blood that stank like blood.

 

I stood seventeen months

in prison lines three hundred women long,

waited to plead with the hangman

for my son. Seventeen months

I listened to the scrape

of the iron key that never

opened the lock.

 

Leave, said my friends

as they fled our land,

Leave Russia forever, they said.

 

But I could no more leave

the birches and pines,

the high mountains and endless steppes,

no, I could no more leave

the Russian people

than I could leave my own skin.

 

The government called me

an anachronism. They snarled,

“half nun, half whore.” They claimed

I contributed nothing to communism.

Burned my books. Forbid me

to publish more.

 

They killed my ex-husband.

My next husband, too.

They claimed intelligence

was a sin.

 

But when we’re silenced,

that’s the summons for our voice to grow,

and I went from the voice

of one woman wanting

to the voice of over

a hundred million mouths screaming,

screaming for freedom, for justice, for life.

 

They thought that by corseting my words

they could contain them. But they thought wrong.

Now, I whisper poems into the ears of my friends

and my words travel on, become living poems,

poems that throng in the streets.

Poems that stand in line and speak

to the women with blue lips who wail.

Poems that turn into ribbons

that flutter beyond the butcher’s reach.

Poems that slip beneath locked doors

that speak of suffering, futile war.

 

Now I know what art is for.

 

 

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Expressionism

 

 

Let me be the canvas, then,

and you be Jackson Pollock—

be the wild one, the one

who burns, the one who

never sleeps and never yawns,

the one who steals the sun

and gives it to me.

Be the one who transforms me

again and again with colors,

ardent and avid and mad—

no, let me be the canvas,

and let life be the painter,

and you, you be the paint.

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Next Chapter

 

 

 

Mom, she says, Stop crying.

She’s embarrassed for me.

 

I can’t stop. After three hours

of snuggling on the green couch,

 

we are nearing the end of our book,

where the silverback gorilla

 

and the baby elephant say goodbye

to the girl who has helped them

 

leave their cages. It is not

the farewell that makes me weep,

 

though that, too, but the way

that the girl and the gorilla

 

share a passion for art. It’s so good,

I say to my girl between sniffs,

 

it’s so rare and so good to find someone

who really understands you.

 

She looks at me as if she will never

comprehend how such a thing

 

could make someone cry.

My tears land on the end of the chapter,

 

leaving a wet trail I don’t

expect her to follow, not yet,

 

her small hand already

pushing on mine to turn the page.

 

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A response of sorts to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18

 

 

Not that I wasn’t fond of it—the blues

and golds and thick brush strokes—perhaps it was

because I was so fond of it I threw

the art away, that life-size portrait of

eternal summer, mine, the painting in

which one hand reaches for the sun, the other

grows dark roots into the earth. Now all

that lives of those bright lines are these two hands

that painted them. With something less than care

I rolled the canvas tight and took it to

the trash, the company of grapefruit rinds

and last year’s mail. By tea, I’ve gotten used

to how the wall looks—empty, open, free—

already dreamed what else these hands might do.

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then you can enjoy the show right here on your screen. Last week was the opening of In Three Lines, a collaboration in art and poetry, at Gallery 81435 in Telluride.

I recommend listening to cello while you look through these images … that is what we had playing in the gallery, and the rich and resonant tone of the instrument seemed the perfect partner to these intimate and provocative pieces.

Here is a link to the pieces that are still available for sale, and if you look around the site, you will find that you can see the whole show. Thanks to the gallery for putting together this virtual tour.

The show is done in partnership with Snowmass artist Jill Sabella. For two years, we have been corresponding to create this comprehensive body of work. We took turns sending each other three-line inspirations. The pieces in white came first, and the pieces in beige were responses.

You can purchase books at wordwoman.com. And for more information about the artist, visit her website here. the-house-on-fire1

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