A Poem for Joan

(Photo of Elisabeth Badinter)

A Poem for Joan

Soft

Soft skin

Soft skin on the inside

Of your wrist

Soft as a petal

Or a feather

Or a mother’s kiss

Blue

Blue eyes

Your blue eyes not dimmed

I sing a hymn

I sing a hymn for your blue eyes

Soft

Blue

Your soft blue eyes

Soft blue

True

Walking on the beach, I think of you

True

Waltz

Photo by Sebastian Bolesch

And
Here We Are
Alone together
Under the Water,
The Clear Warm Water
Breathing Like Air, the Clear Warm Water
Seeing Not Seeing Yet Seeing Each Other
Floating, Weightless and Painless and Timeless and Ageless
and Flawless We Reach Out Together
Seeing Not Seeing Yet Seeing Each Other
Touching Not Touching Yet Touching the Fingertips
Clasping Our Fingers So Gently Together.
Pulling so gently our beings Together
Closing Our Beings Still Closer Together
Idealised Visions of Being Together . . .

Slowly, Start Rotating Together Together
Hands Clasped to Guide us Through
This primitive Dance, We Are
Swirling together, the Dance of Dances

Waltzing the Waltz of Waltzes Together
Dancing the Dance of Dances Together
‘Round and ‘Round We Go Together
Curling and Swirling and Twirling Together

Trusting each other, yes trusting completely
Dancing as if we were one
As if we were one
If we were one
One

And then Millions of Bubbles Caress Us Rewarding Us

“One of the Family” by F.G. Cotman

Summer 1978, driving hack in Vancouver between terms at Langara. I opened a throwaway restaurant guide called unoriginally, “Restaurant Guide”. Stuck above the listings for pizza and perogies was a low-quality b&w repro of a painting of a family with a horse at dinner. No identification, no clue where the image came from (they didn’t know at Restaurant Guide, either). Thus began my obsession with tracking this thing down.

Years later, after poring over many art books in public libraries I found that the painting is “One of the Family” painted by Frederick George Cotman, a British painter. I couldn’t find any decent reproductions in books. I set this quest aside for a few decades.

“Cotman painted this romantic scene of rustic domestic life at the Black Boy Inn at Hurley on Thames. It shows a farmer (posed by the inn keeper) returning home for his meal, while his horse leans through the doorway to be fed by the farmer’s wife.”

Fast forward to today. I now know the painting is on display at the Walker Art Gallery, National Museums Liverpool and is much larger than I expected [102.6 x 170.2cm/40 x 67 in]. The online images I’ve found are quite revealing of a sensitivity and delicacy of execution I couldn’t see in the RG halftone. When I eventually get to Liverpool (it’s on my bucket list) I won’t be seeking out the Beatles origins but rather Cotman’s work that has fascinated me for so long.

[Cotman’s] picture, “One of the Family,” is a popular example of his realistic manner and shows accomplishment in grouping and lighting. The human interest, the carefully observed poses and character, the contrast of youth and age, the details of the table, shimmering in light from the door and win­dow, the well-drawn horse and dog, are evidence of a quite remarkable skill.

(The World’s Greatest Paintings, 1934)

“Go anywhere in England where there are natural, wholesome, contented and really nice English people; and what do you always find? That the stables are the real center of the household.”

—Bernard Shaw, “Heartbreak House,” Act Three.

Gypsy girl, Idaho Falls, 1964

In 1964 I was hitchhiking west, meandering from a stop in Minnesota aiming at making Seattle by early August. Somewhere in South Dakota I was picked up by a bunch of guys going to Portland. The first thing they asked was “Can you drive?” And that’s how I joined a Gypsy caravan bringing used vehicles for resale in Oregon.

We moved with no particular urgency, hopping from one small town to another always stopping at the little local shop with a large hand on the sign outside advertising “Palmistry”, “Your Fortune Told” or “Your Future is in Your Hands”. That’s how I twigged to the “Gypsy” thing. Our caravan continued to grow in size — more drivers were picked up, additional vehicles added. Our meals were paid for but the drivers were never invited inside to meet the local friends/relatives.

Late one day we rolled into Idaho Falls, Idaho. I parked the pickup behind the fortune teller’s. The sun was bright but the clouds were dark and heavy.

A young girl came out and started sweeping the back porch. In an instant a dog barked and she looked up. And then the sky exploded.

Lightning erupted from a neighbour’s yard and buckets of rain landed on us all. The girl disappeared safely inside while I sat in the truck wondering if its steel shell would protect me.

I remember nothing about the remainder of the trip but those few seconds in Idaho Falls will always stay with me.

Learning a bit about Black Hair

I was watching Melissa Harris-Perry last weekend on MSNBC (Saturday and Sunday mornings 7 am PST) and, as she often does, she caught me by surprise, this time by talking about Black Hair.

Now there I was, a (mostly) white guy in Vancouver BC suddenly fascinated by the everyday reality for millions of women. In just a few minutes she spoke to my long-held curiosity (piqued by my first girlfriend 49 years ago in Newport, RI — she was, incidentally black).

MH-P’s segments were called

The Politics of Black Hair

There’s Big Business in Black Hair

and finally

Great Moments in Black Hair

It was there I saw the photo of the (white) father who has assumed the duties of haircare for his adopted Ethiopian daughter (see above).

This segment was more moving than anything else I learned on Sunday.

And here’s another site with similar musings:

Brown Babies with Pink Parents” on the wonderful CurlyNikki website.

Smile

Moon Earthshine

Portion of photo by Adrian J Scott
Click for full image

Traveling south on the train, crossing the border at twilight, I look out at the saltwater bay and allow the purplish clouds to work on my imagination.

Above a cloud that looks like as a lost dog I am surprised to see the thinnest of crescents, its appearance almost accidental.

Its shape a creamy lopsided smile of bemusement, this dimmest of moons is easily outshone by the nearby Evening Star, this day before Equinox. Its smile not uncaring of troubles it sees, the moon is quietly aware that all this will pass.

An hour or so later there’s full darkness. The moon has kept up with the train and it now reveals something before imperceivable: the slightest of illumination on its darker portion. Not a spilling of light from the skinny crescent but rather earthshine, a bouncing-back to the moon from the unseen sunlit parts of Earth.

An interaction, cosmological and spiritual, of celestial bodies, the moon silently moves through its cycles. Passively illuminated by direction and reflection, it inspires those who see it, but cares not whether it is observed.

Earth possesses a single natural satellite and holds it captive, hundreds of thousands of miles away. This is not without cost, however: the tides, naval and emotional (perhaps they are the same) come from that captive heavenly body.

And just at that moment of clarity, a new cloud obscures the moon. Fade to black. I am left to wonder, now my own lopsided smile of bemusement on my face.

Interlude

On the crowded bus, my stop a mile away. Looking up from my novel, there she is. Across the aisle and several seats ahead, she is next to the window in her own world, reading.

In her fifties, her hair greying, sweeping forward where it touches her shoulder. The outline of her high cheekbone suggests she is Asian — Japanese, perhaps — her dark eyelashes flutter gently as she reads. A tan flannel scarf loose around her neck guards against the cold.

The bus quiets to silence, the other passengers blur out of focus. My eyes see only her.

A rush passes through me as I drink in her beauty. I can’t see her face or what she reads. Just the outline of her cheekbone, her eyelash, her hair. That is enough. She wears no makeup; her skin bears only the faintest of lines.

In my mind I am next to her now. I imagine she turns toward me and smiles sweetly. I gently stroke her check with the back of my hand. Soft as a flower petal, warm to the touch. I taste the skin on her neck — Sweet Jesus! I’m in heaven!

The bus suddenly stops and the side doors open; it is my stop and I’m swept out with a dozen others. On the sidewalk now, I turn to look for her but the window is fogged. I catch only a hint of tan and grey as the bus pulls out.