It Actually Snowed

in Berlin today, and I wrote this poem. Usually I hold and pair them with paintings. But snow only comes once in late April. (Except yesterday we had hail. Twice.)

***

“April Snow”

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3, KJV

Tell me why
I was not good enough to be loved
I was not worth hearing, much less helping.
You have human beings and then there is the mass,
and I was not one of your people.
Or else you were an ass.

Come up with a reason
it was my fault, it was something
I did, something I said, or didn’t.
Go on, take me to task.
It had to do with the limits
of your capacity and I needed too much.
Or else I did not properly ask.

At the end of the storm
at the end of the life
at the end of the season
everything is different:
there is no I
there is no you
there is no reason.

Sometimes still in spring
the snow comes back and stays.
Even while the sun is shining,
it hails for days.
People think it’s strange,
except some of us understand:
Winter is a refugee,
rapping gently at spring’s fences,
hoping and asking, but knowing
although there is space enough
although she is strong and beautiful
although she holds a lot
Summer won’t hold her
hold her freezings hands
hold her shivering knees
hold her chilly breath.
For everything, a season.
For every season, death.

Spring Flowers, Great Art, and New Publications

Spring is here. Today I took photos of beautiful flowers to paint (or draw other inspiration) from later, at Gärten der Welt—a lovely collection of botanical gardens in Berlin.

Recently, I also saw two great art exhibits at the newly restored Barbarini Museum in Potsdam. Im-Ex (Impressionism and Expressionism) are too often combined in relatively small collections that don’t do either justice. Luckily, neither of those things is true here. The Impressionism exhibit goes back to Boudin and presents his heirs (Monet, Sisley, Signac) in their full glory. The Modern Art Classics show starts with Kandinsky and Nolde on the verge of abstract expressionism, and follows through showcasing fresh experiments from brut to silkscreening.

Speaking of which, Franklin Einspruch, a colleague in art and thought who I’m proud to call a friend, has just launched a fresh experiment in art criticism. My first reviews (1,2) appeared this week at Delicious Line: Art Criticism for the Contemporary Era. Yours can, too.

Home Fire

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

 

“Safe Space”

There is no safe space.
There will be no saving grace.
Wipe the slogan off your face.

The world has viruses in nests.
While one attacks, another rests.
We are evolving plated breasts.

But you have been a sanctuary friend.
Let me tell the story to the end.
Sung over the bones watching them mend.

The Broken Shell

“The Broken Shell,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

 

Have you ever cut up a sheet of paper
to see how far its curls, uncurled, could reach?
The whole sheet’s a canvas,
but the bits can be a ream of ribbon.

Or cracked an egg instead of poking holes
in the ends to make an ornament?
The unbroken shell isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Cracked into little bits, the eggshell reaches farther
than the whole shell ever could.

The Colossus of Hiroshima

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

 

Bring me your despair—but only a bit.
Resistance is a marathon, not a sprint.
Pour out what you must and I’ll sweeten it.

Every day I pour myself out—sometimes by pouring in.
Every day the great works of the ages wear a little thin.
Time ravages everything. No one knows what will happen.

Except in the big picture we’re all doomed, and that’s alright.
Everyone dies. Empires fall. Experts imagine they know what’s right.
Our brains tell us stories, day and night.

If you had seen Rome crumbling, what would you have done?
Written a friend, retired to think, sent away your only son?
Towards the end, it must have been clear to everyone.

At least Caesar’s corruption didn’t kill off all of life.
Our failing family has yet to face off its nuclear strife.

Set a Course with Light

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

 

For Ely J. Sack

Tell me how my granddad took his coffee.
Not how he was blacklisted—that much, the archive said.
He fought Franco and fascism alongside blacks—
and so to America, he was dead.

Tell me where he went after the war,
why he came back with a bum leg and no wife.
Tell me how the communist freedom-fighter
cum accountant, had children—four? five?
How he lived out his quiet life.

Tell me how he talked to my grandma, his only wife.
Did he treat her like a chair to be used, as is fair
when you pay her room and board?
Or did he love her like a songbird
who brightens up the morning with her free and happy voice?

Tell me how they moved in the kitchen
when they thought no one could see.
Tell me why the FBI had destroyed his files
when they got a records request from me.

The university that housed his papers is all that remains.
Someone’s government destroyed another record of his life—
where he went, when, with whom; how he talked and moved,
how he loved; how he took his coffee.

In his archived postcards home, he confesses he was afraid to go—
          but went.
He had trained as an accountant first, with night classes—
          just to pay the rent.
In Spain, they put him in officer school, but he got bored with classes;
returned to machine gun fire, friends, and freezing rain’s lashes.

He was their resident optimist as Teruel fell—
saying without their gear, the fascists couldn’t fight a leaky well.
He missed haircuts. Pictures show his magnificent mane grown out,
my widow’s peak arching over his smile throughout.

He missed ham, so I guess he wasn’t practicing?
He loved learning Spanish, filling his notes with scribbling—
no hay muchachas—no hay nada—el frente popular—no tengo cambio—
mucho malo mucho bueno mucho calor mucho hero.

Tonight I go to night class, learning German in Berlin.
Everything is uncertain, without and within.
Will fascism continue to rise and rise again?
Will I settle down and drink morning coffee again?

How I take my coffee changes with the weather of my soul.
Sometimes it’s black, sometimes white, sometimes I can’t have it—
too much fight or flight. I’m not a soldier and I’ve never been.
I’m not a mother and might not be. Perhaps no one will want to know
how I took my coffee. Still, I like to imagine him sipping with me.

Set a course with light to bring him back to sip and talk.
Like he set a course with courage, going far away to fight.
                              It was a crime. But it was right.
When they came back, they had to ask to be let back in.
No passport stamps or permission for their useful sin.
They set a course that might have failed, and did not balk.

Set a course with light to make me brave like him.
In Germany, before the war, my passport stamped
“USA” no more. If I went back, the lawyers say,
they’d have to let me in.           I take my “Have to” 
          like I take my coffee:                     Black and white—
                              and not at all, depending on the day.

Set A Place

“Set A Place,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). Sort-of a new take on an old song I wrote for my brother back in Boston. 

 

“Set A Place”

I set a place for the child with no place to go.
Set a place for the unloved lover to know.
And a place for the wanderer who’s safer anywhere but home.
I set a place for the explorer who names stars alone.
Set another for my brother who will deny me til he’s dead.
And a place for the answer birds circling over my own head.

They’re going to answer any question, whatever I ask.
Why no home for some, whether the world is ours, or whose, for what task.
Set a place and time, we’ll answer anything.
We’ll answer anything you ask. But which question?
Yes, yes, I said.
Which question. Which?

How do you survive

How do you survive this year,
being so long ago and far away?
Do you steep by night in the same old fear?
Do you read by stale sunlight in the dragging day?
Do your sweaters snag with dogears
like calendars discarded?
Does your head ignite and plunge
like a dogfighter bombarded?
Have your dregs settled into rock formations
battered by the sea?
Half of half the time I’ve thought of you,
have you thought of me?

Sun, Leaves and Hills

Sun, Leaves and Hills

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

Sweet, soft, clean, and hot—
        too tired to remember what I’ve washed,
        too happy to care. This is how we get there.
    Home, into each other, every night.
    Home, still inside you, you still inside me,
        every sweet morning in the early light.

I want to live where this peace flows
        over you from inside me
        and over me from within,
        over and around us like rushing water,
    the impossible stream gushing from the stone.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

 

We’re all running up the hill
that most of us come tumbling down.
One in a million gets caught on the sill,
between over and around.

What do they do there, the rare and unfallen?
Is it any fun to be alone by the gallon?
Then again, we’re all so strange, one way or another.
There are so many human planes to wack out on, brother.

Black Swan

Black Swan

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

“The Swan”

By Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. Robert Bly

This clumsy living that moves lumbering
as if in ropes through what is not done,
reminds us of the awkward way the swan walks.

And to die, which is the letting go
of the ground we stand on and cling to every day,
is like the swan, when he nervously lets himself down

into the water, which receives him gaily
and which flows joyfully under
and after him, wave after wave,
while the swan, unmoving and marvelously calm,
is pleased to be carried, each moment more fully grown,
more like a king, further and further on.

***

“Der Schwan”

RMR

Diese Mühsal, durch noch Ungetanes
schwer und wie gebunden hinzugehen,
gleicht dem ungeschaffnen Gang des Schwanes.

Und das Sterben, dieses Nichtmehrfassen
jenes Grunds, auf dem wir täglich stehen,
seinem ängstlichen Sich-Niederlassen—

in die Wasser, die ihn sanft empfangen
und die sich, wie glücklich und vergangen,
unter ihm zurückziehn, Flut um Flut;
während er unendlich still und sicher
immer mündiger und königlicher
und gelassener zu ziehn geruht.

Sympathy for God

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). Image inspired by Northern Ignorance’s “Deliverance”—which, while it is about whaling, made me think also of  the Biblical stories of Jonah/the whale and Noah/the flood… Parables about God facing the limits of His own wild and free creations. 

 

“Sympathy for God, Who Is Not Angry—Just Disappointed”

I warned you idiots.
I let Hitler do it.
How much clearer could I get?
Six millions Jews, the whole schtick.
An order of magnitude or worse might happen next, and quick—
     between melting ice-caps and this new Fascism shit.

I’m not angry—just disappointed.
I’ll always be your Father—that’s anointed.
When I asked Cain where Abel was, he pointed
          at the murderer asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”—broken,                   disjointed,
                    feeling himself both seen and unseen: marked.
                    That’s why I had him live: to feel known again, remarked.

War started then.
You’ve been at it since.
You’re only human.
You’re only as human as I made you, and My love for you is
          lose and win
          wash and rinse
          Mengele and von Neumann.
You’re only as human as I gave you, and My gift to you was
          the living world
          the kitten curled
          the universal die gently tossed, not hurled.

I could have sent more angels,
     but you hunt everything with wings.
I could have leaked more cables,
     but you didn’t read most of those things.
I so loved the world, I sent My only begotten Son.
You killed Him, as expected—but now, everyone?

And yes, I expect you to keep faith and fight on.
          Even as the last dying pairs stumble blindly for an ark that won’t                float.
          Even as the last billionaires restock their cellar, range, and moat.
          Even as the unfaithful point at history and gloat.
As civilizations fell, they also served who only stood and wrote.
As yours takes much of the world with it, so must you write on,
     as is the task of the small and humble ones.
     Be glad (but not too glad) I only give you so many suns.
     Be glad (but be not proud) I made you love flowers and hate guns.
     Be glad (be very glad) I was never very fond of nuns.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”
After Oliver Sacks’s book by the same name.

was perfectly fine. It was she
who wore her brain on her brim,
multicolor thought waves swirling out
like bonnet ribbons around a May pole
like unfurling flags in strong winds
and like sweaters unraveling before kittens,
the cloth becoming yarn before their flickering eyes,
the cats mistaken for mittens by surprise.

Refugees Welcome

Oils on 40 x 40 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”–Deuteronomy 10:19, NIV Bible.

Refugees are welcome here.
What’s contentious about this?
That people who need shelter
should come where we can offer it?
That boats at sea must aid
other vessels in distress?
That human beings with enough
help others feel safe, be free,
rebuild their lives and happiness?

Kupfer Opening Success

Many thanks to my ridiculously sweet hot man (R), whose logistics masterminding made my art opening at Galerie Kupfer Saturday night a great success. I’ve never seen an opening or gallery packed like this—from 7 p.m. until closing time. Thanks also to Kupfer manager Alex’s masterful PR. I was nearly hoarse from talking with cool people. Thanks to everyone who came to support me, and enjoy good art and good people.

I gave away my poetry book (to the worthiest possible reader) that was on display by the beautiful artist portrait R made, by the artist statement he helped me rewrite so that I am talking about myself properly. A new copy will reappear there as soon as possible. Other than that, the current exhibit continues intact at Oranienburger Straße 65 in Berlin-Mitte.

Throw-away Tuesday

A stack of failed paintings heading to the trash, including one with a dude carrying a lantern towards the stormy sea through a red vineyard. Sometimes called the most valuable painting in the world, its referent “The Red Vineyard” is famous as the only painting Van Gogh sold. 

“Red Vineyards Near Arles”

Carrying a torch over red vineyards near Arles
for the boat tossing in the wild sea below,
I realize I must be here before Van Gogh.
Sometimes dream-time gets caught in the snarls.

The Romans made a canal link to the Mediterranean.
But that, too, would be calmer than this. Try again?
These vineyards became the only painting Van Gogh sold.
Taken by this storm, he wouldn’t grow old.

Carry a torch for the despairing sailors lost at sea.
I offer my light to you. Will you offer your light to me?

The Feeler

The Feeler

Oils on 40 x 50 stretched canvas (web store). 

 

She’s not the chiseled thinker
with his head on his hand,
staring down as if to tinker
with the future on demand—
or as if to undo what has already been done.
The race of the feeler can never be won.

She’s feeling her whole body.
She’s feeling her whole heart.
She’s feeling for somebody.
She’s feeling every art.
She feels as if to be here now—nothing more or less.
She feels from her deepest core. She feels happiness.

Birth of Athena

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

Come to my opening tomorrow, Sat. 4 Feb at 20:00 at Galerie Kupfer in Berlin Mitte (event page, Facebook event page) to see this new painting and more!

“Birth of Athena”

You know how it is when you lay with the goddess of lulz and wisdom,
and have second thoughts. So you swallow the bitch—the available plan B
being homicide. But it doesn’t kill her. Eventually you figure the headache will kill you.
So you have your closest friends split open your skull with an axe.
We’ve all been there. The fully armored, battle-crying woman leaping out.
The mind of god becoming a full-grown woman with a shout.

Proper Lighting and Proper Boxes for Proper Art

In two days, I have a solo show of new work beginning at Galerie Kupfer in Berlin Mitte (event page, Facebook event page). Last weekend my ridiculously hot sweet man R made these beautiful flyers for the opening Saturday night. This week, we spent an afternoon installing proper gallery lighting in the venue, Kupfer Bar, with the wonderful owner Alex who is busy bringing in artists from the comedy, visual arts, tattoo arts—every corner of the local creative community.

Because R is a logistics mastermind, I learned a lot about how to do lighting. And because it turned out so well, Alex said I can book the next few shows in the space. I want to make them political, and at least one should be a refugee art show. Please get in touch with me if you want to talk about that.

Then we made these beautiful wooden boxes to transport and ship my work. First we calculated sizes, and then scavenged sufficient unbent pieces from among the ski poles at the supply store. Then R drove a large vehicle with these materials back to our place in the freezing cold, laughing at me because I thought it was a terrifying large vehicle to drive—remembering that time I chain-smoked and played loud rap to feel tough enough to drive a flat-bed truck that was smaller. (He has driven a double-decker bus.) Power tools and friendly help using them followed (h/t Jeremie). Then making the box structures with wood, tape, glue, and staples. And finally packaging the work with moving blankets and packing tape in the beautiful wooden boxes. Overall I thought it was a lot of work—so many steps—specialized equipment—and R thought it was little. I guess I’ll learn and then it will seem like less.

So now Kupfer has proper lighting and I have proper boxes for my proper art. It never would have occurred to me to make them myself. I used to put on shows with a car—no packaging required, although some damage to the work seemed unavoidable. And I used to buy bulk cardboard boxes and ship my standard sizes that way. This is so much better for the art—it’s safer in transport to shows. It’s so much nicer for clients—buy proper art, get a proper box! And it’s the sweetest thing to have a partner who spends all this time and effort helping me do my work better. I feel madly loved and supported in doing what I need.