The way of it

On the first required workday
before school begins
I drive the familiar backroads
once again

dew-drenched pastures
and old weatherboard barns
defy time
they are
their own world

then to my delight
a patch of tangled sunflowers
on the right
must have been growing here
all summer
I didn’t know
I think of Van Gogh
walking the rustic village
of Arles

up ahead, the pond
I scan it quickly
for the great blue heron
and there it is
at water’s edge
nearest the road
big and gray-blue
like a watercolor rendition
so perfect a pose

I feel light
like these are signs
that all will go well
with the work
lying before me

peace becomes strength
in my spirit
in my bones

on the second workday
I see it all again
even the heron

I can always face
the day ahead
whenever I see
the heron

I am so light
I could soar

then on the third day
without warning
orange signs on white gates
say the road is closed

I must detour

no passing the pond
no seeing heron
standing with elegiac grace
in the still water

although I know
it’s there

so on I fly
day after day
going out of my way
to get to where
I need to be

for now at least
I have the sunflowers

Vincent would say
it’s enough

keep painting the day
and the required work
beautiful
around the barriers
until they are gone

that is
the way of it

Coming home; the pond is just ahead but I can’t see it

Art into words poem

On Day Three of Ethical ELA’s Open Write, Margaret Simon invited participants to “transform art into words” by “choosing a work of art or creative practice and explore phrasing, spaces, and repetition.”

My mind immediately went to Van Gogh and the Immersive Experience I recently attended. The last two lines of my poem are Van Gogh’s own words, written in a letter to his brother, Theo, referencing other artists who were known for painting specific flowers: “You know that Jeannin has the peony, Quost has the hollyhock, but I have the sunflower, in a way.” My poem’s title comes from Van Gogh’s artist friend Gauguin, who loved Vincent’s sunflower paintings in a time when many artists thought they were too rustic a subject. Van Gogh, however, was fond of the flowers. Newly-invented pigments of yellow oil paint enabled him to experiment and innovate, creating the two series of seven paintings collectively known as Sunflowers. At his funeral, the flowers graced his casket; a friend later planted sunflowers on his grave. 

“Completely Vincent”
Van Gogh, painting sunflowers for Gauguin

Yellow
and yellow
thirty shades 
of yellow
new
alive
wilting
dying
returning
with faces
forever turning
toward the sun
light shining
in darkness
returning
returning thanks
for my friend
for the beauty
of these flowers
growing in
wild array 
by the paths
I walk 
day by day
I offer them
to you, 
my friend
can you see
in my oil-bouquet
all the shades
of gratitude
so much
I cannot even say
whether it’s still 
in me to pray
be that as it may
today
today
I have the sunflower
in a way

Immersed in Van Gogh

Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives
and we obey them without realizing it.
– Vincent van Gogh

3D bust of the artist with light and shadows playing across his face

I spent a short while immersed in the world of Van Gogh (visiting Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience) and what I come away with is profound sense of contrasts…

-glories of nature against dark anguish of the human soul
-wholesome serenity of pastoral life against psychosis and extreme loneliness
-wonder at scientific evidence that a man who used so much color so brilliantly was likely color-blind

I stood in a dark room illuminated by his swirling sunflowers, floating bursts of fiery light. This is the flower most associated with happiness; the tortured artist loved them. His doctor-friend planted them on his grave.

I took a virtual journey from the bedroom at Arles past the bright wheatfields where crows lazily took flight, through the peaceful woods (Van Gogh loved long walks in the woods) into the village where fireflies danced around lampposts, to the riverside of the Rhone, where the stars gleamed above… the journey ended with rising into the stars and landing back in the bedroom at Arles where the floor, walls, bed, stand with pitcher and basin, straw hat, and strewn paint supplies materialized around me. I know Van Gogh’s famous quote about painting his dream but the quote that lingers is this: Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.

You are so right, Vincent. So right.

And so we paint our lives.

Immersed in swirling sunflowers

3D rendering of “The Vestibule,” in the Saint Paul De Mausole Asylum

Short clip: Scenes of Van Gogh’s self-portraits set to music

Lion

Look at my mane! Look at my teeth!
I‘m a most magnificent beast!
Only, Little Artist, could you at least
Name me and draw me a body beneath?

“Lion’s Mane” by Scout, age 6.

To me the lion seems quite happy to have been drawn thus far.
Although its expression might be a little sketchy...

Imagination

When you are six
and visiting your Franna
you always check the candy dish

today you would find
miniature Reese’s Cups

and when you are tired
of playing Connect Four

you and your Franna
might build a tower
out of the checkers
in an ABABAB pattern

and you might fashion
a tiny crown
out of the gold Reese’s foil
and turn the licked-clean
ridged brown candy paper
into hair
that you place on top
of the checker tower

The Tall Queen,
you would say,
just as she falls
and splatters her checker parts
across the table

The Tall Queen
has fallen in battle!

you would exclaim

(methinks that may
be the influence
of your reading
Narnia books)

but at any rate,
a Shorter Queen seems to do
especially when you ask your Franna
for eyes and a mouth
and she gives you labels
and pens
so you can make them yourself

and in answer to your question:
No, I do not think her crown looks
too much like a Viking hat
although surely the Vikings
had queens,
just saying

(to me she looks like she stepped
right out of Wonderland)

but above all
I think the whole moral
of the story here
is that everything which enters
your realm
when you are six
has a purpose
and is
never wasted

Scarecrow

Mixed media by Scout, age 5

Suppose you’re a special sort of Scarecrow with a
Carved pumpkin head and a purple hat
Adorned with pink roses, holding out your arms to
Receive birds instead of repelling. Your reward for
Embracing these winged messengers might be
Canticles of cheer sung in your ear,
Refrains of comfort and even celebration as
October dies, again, reminding you, again, it’s only for a
While.

Let there be awe (OLW 2021)

Like many writers I am in the habit of selecting One Little Word (also known as One Word) at the beginning of a new year. It is a lens through which to view the craft of writing and, to me, the craft of living. A well-chosen OLW can guide to deeper meanings, connections, and creativity; it is a reflective tool, a restorative practice, sometimes a call to action. One little word can be a mighty force of reckoning.

In an earlier post, I wrote about not being in the frame of mind to choose a word for 2021 until I stumbled upon this quote in my planner. Surely I saw it there before, this tiny, tiny print, like a microscopic footnote, at the bottom of January 1st:

Experiencing awe (the feeling of being in the presence of something bigger than you) can improve your physical health and make you more altruistic. Intentionally create awe this month by spending time in nature, meditating, volunteering, etc.

It was like a shaft of sunlight through barren, tangled trees, an electric jolt through the settling-winter numbness of my brain.

Awe. It is familiar. One can’t be a writer, a reader, be around children, savor the healing mysteries of nature, have faith in Almighty God, without experiencing it. I’d never thought about awe improving physical health; certainly that stems from its effects on mental, emotional, spiritual health. Never thought about awe as a source of altruism, having the power to shift focus away from self to promoting the well-being of others. I certainly never thought about intentionally creating awe. Inviting awe, yes. I want to fling all the windows and doors of my entire being open for it. But creating it? I mean, isn’t awe a response to encountering the extraordinary, something much bigger than me? Am I capable of intentionally creating it? Seems a curious choice of words for something so spontaneously generated.

I sat looking at my planner, wondering…knowing in that moment awe had chosen me and there was nothing for it but to bow in reverential submission.

Immediately, I began to expect.

I can’t imagine all the ways awe will present itself this year. Trying to imagine kind of defeats the purpose. It’s more of a recognizing in the moment thing. I just know that awe is coming.

Truth of the matter…it’s all around, if I stop, if I am still enough, to sense it. If I let it be the lens through which to view the craft and artistry of being alive.

Awe is a matter of perspective…we can see it, if we try. It is tucked inside the ordinary. It lives in moments and outlasts time. It is tiny as coding in cells, as vast as the universe. The big picture book containing all of our life’s stories, for they are intertwined.

Keeping the heart open for it might even lead to a hand in creating it.

My sketch representing AWE in response to Carol Varsalona’s recent #K12ArtChat.
Can you see the word in the landscape?


I decided to run the sketch through the Deep Art Effects app.
The following were my favorite styles.
Wishing you AWE in 2021.
Be on the lookout for it.
Maybe make it happen.

*******

with thanks to the awesome community at Two Writing Teachers
and to Carol Varsalona for the sketch inspiration
.

My most recent posts on the power of words:

Spiritual Word Journey – reflecting on being chosen by “awe”
When – a poem-prayer lament, composed of one word on each line


More on “awe” to come.

The witch’s flight

Mixed media by Scout, age 4.

One purple Halloween night
the mean old witch took flight
on her broom, headed east
to find her favorite sugary feast.
The sloth is the witch’s pet,
up the tree, as high as he can get,
sleeping under the crescent moon
—”HAHAHAAAA!” cackles the witch,
“I’ll be back soon!”

*******

poem collaboration by Scout and Franna, who wish you a Happy Halloween.
Scout says “Watch out for that witch.”

The portal

Written for Spiritual Journey Thursday.

As COVID restrictions finally began to lift, my husband and I ventured out to a nice restaurant for lunch. We practically had the place to ourselves. Afterward, as the day was bright and breezy, we decided to walk along the outdoor mall’s trendy shops and boutiques. The sidewalks, normally crowded, were empty, perfect for a promenade… I almost felt as if I should be holding a parasol and that my husband should be wearing a striped jacket, a straw hat, and carrying an ornamental cane…on and on we strolled, aimlessly, just drinking in the glorious early-summer afternoon, temperate and rare.

“Let’s cross over here,” said my husband, grasping my hand, when I looked up to see…

on an otherwise blank, unremarkable wall…

a magical door.

“Oooh! Wait!” I said, dropping my husband’s hand to take a picture: I must write about this…

A painted portal. With light fixtures on either side to illuminate it at night. Even though it isn’t really a door.

—Or is it?

It seems straight out of a fantasy novel: A door to another world, a conspicuous portkey, an enchanted painting like that of the Narnian ship Dawn Treader hanging on a bedroom wall, coming to life as Eustace, Edmund, and Lucy rushed at it and fell through into the ocean…

Standing there on the vacant sidewalk, on that bright, ethereal afternoon so strangely devoid of other people, I could almost believe the portal was real, that it led to… something beyond.

I recognized the depiction, of course—a modified version of one of the best-known works of art in the world. Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night. He painted it in his asylum room. It’s the view from his window, facing east, before the sunrise. He would write to his brother that “the morning star was very large.” The scene is dark. It is blue. At the time, van Gogh’s mind was dark and blue; he was a deeply religious man who’d suffered much mental and emotional pain, who’d sacrificed for his art to his own detriment, though most others found little value in his paintings until after his suicide. The full scope of the village can’t be seen here in the portal on the wall, and it wasn’t a village that van Gogh saw as he painted the original; it was in his mind. Those are cypress trees dominating the foreground—funerary trees, symbols of mourning.

I thought: Is this a portal I’d want to pass through? A place where I really want to find myself?

But then… my husband and I had just come out of a dark place. The COVID stay-at-home order. Shadowy, uncertain days swirling with horror and mourning as the worldwide death toll spiked. Refrigerated trucks needed for storing corpses, images of caskets lined up for burial… which of us ever expected to find ourselves here? Public places closed for the sake of public health, at last re-opening, tentatively, with social distancing requirements… we were still (and still are, even now) unable to return to church where my husband pastors…

—The church. Note how large it is, there in the mysterious doorway. Much larger in proportion to the one van Gogh actually painted. He wanted to be a pastor. He failed the exams. He became a missionary, gave up his own comfort on behalf of the impoverished congregation, and slid deeper into psychosis and poverty.

This artwork hits me anew with its unique, transformative force… for that is what art does. It speaks to the spirit. Van Gogh didn’t paint what he saw; he painted his interpretation of it. The tormented man looked through the asylum window and focused on the stars. A hundred and thirty-one years later I stand on a sidewalk before a quasi-reproduction of his famous work, looking at the enlarged church, with the words of C.S. Lewis echoing in my mind: “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

A spiritual portal, leading to something beyond.

The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh (MOMA). Photo: Wouter de Bruijn, 2014. CC BY-NC-SA.

*******

Much gratitude to Margaret Simon for hosting Spiritual Journey Thursday for August on her blog, Reflections on the Teche. Margaret said: “My topic is spiritual art. I often find that art speaks to me in a spiritual way, like poetry.” Sparked by this challenge. my thoughts went straight to the portal, this painting, and van Gogh. Visit Margaret’s post, “Art for the Soul,” for more odysseys.

The C.S. Lewis quote is from The Weight of Glory, a wartime sermon first published in 1941. The title is derived from 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

Life is what you bake it

“‎All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”

-Henry Havelock Ellis

Today I share my golden shovel poem inspired by the Ellis quote, posted this week on Two Writing Teachers‘ Slice of Life Story Challenge along with these questions: What are the moments you’re holding onto? What are you letting go of today?

Here’s to the art of living, to holding on while letting go, to savoring moments spent with children, making every one count.

I hold to all
moments spent with children in the
holy art
of seeing the world with fresh eyes, of
spontaneous embracing, of living
each day in newness. I hold to freedom that lies
in forgiving, that paradoxical self-rising power in
letting go. I hold to a
continuous, necessary cobbling of fine
crystal moments, their pure sanguinity mingling
with, dulcifying, the blood-tart of
a sliced heart. Letting
go of despair, of my shortcomings, letting go
of yesterday, yet believing in tomorrow, letting go and
savoring today in a bluesy canton of confidence, holding
onto the children, always the children, just holding on.

My granddaughter loves to bake. I love symbolism. Here’s our flag cobbler. “Canton” in the poem is the term for the flag’s blue square. Strawberries, heart-shaped, represent love; blueberries, youthfulness and confidence in the future. Bake it well.

The future is calling. I’m listening.

*******

Thanks also to Margaret Simon for hosting Poetry Friday. Visit her blog, Reflections on the Teche, for more poems and magnificent quotes in response to “What is poetry?”