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.

Sunday Reading

 

“Lilies on Black,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

 

As performed live tonight at the inimitable Sunday Slips—my favorite open mic in Berlin. 

 

“Sunday Reading”


“He said to David, ‘You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you.’ ” —1 Samuel 24:17


In the blindness of
          what is a blindness if you can name it?
     how bad can the pain be if you know where it is?

Anger, then. Bleeding like a fire
          in my brain through time, and my heart out-pacing
     itself, like the minds of the powerless outpace the powerful.

Nothing to be done. Everything destroyed
          by evil men who loved the pain they caused.
     Before or after, in the timelessness of panic, I am lost.

Stumbling through darkness, directionless, cold,
          I come to a long line of foreign men with suitcases
     who want to know if I’m looking for work.

I go back the way I came, less and less able to tell right
          from left, to tell right from might, to tell right from
     wrong things have happened so quickly all week,

some of them outside my head. Yesterday the border patrol
          told legislators they were working for the President,
     and hung up. It will do no good to say I tried to tell you.

Besides, the woman sent back from the airport to anywhere else
          even though she had her Congresswomen there
     even though she had her papers
                    show me your papers
                    stay in the car
                    step outside the car
                    step outside your body
                    this is not your body
                    this is not your life
                    you are no longer real, you are no longer human
                    and I myself should have died long ago,
                    who am I to bear witness?

Sometimes then a silence overtakes me
          in which the whole world seems stilled
     and all is well because I am a child of God.

And I wonder, is this a trick? My brain was bathed
          so deeply in anger, and I was lost, as we are lost.
     Do I need like my ancestors to tell stories just to stay alive?

To rest in some kind of certainty that,
          although we lose, we lose with love.
     In that damn desert in that damn time, there was no other solace

to be found in powerlessness. There was no comfort
          no hope for justice, no hope for change.
     So we made one up. That kind of faith got us through.

It’s a different time. Still, any peace will do.

February Art Opening Flyer

In one week, I have a solo show of new work beginning at Galerie Kupfer in Berlin Mitte (event page, Facebook event page). Today my ridiculously hot sweet man made this lovely flyer for the opening on Sat. Feb. 4 at 20:00.

V: These are the most beautiful flyers I’ve ever seen.

R: Nah. The more I look at them, the more I see things I could’ve done better.

V: Just because you’re working in a class all your own, doesn’t mean you’re not kicking ass.

Please join us then for art, drinks, and merriment. Bring your friends… See my new art in person… Talk, meet more artists/expats/hackers/friends, and have a good time.

Dictator for a Day

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). After Henry Moore. h/t Thomas Hasel for poetic inspiration and Meghan McAteer for painting inspiration.

Are we having dictators now?
I want to play!
If I could be dictator for a day—
All would be fed.
All well-rested and clean.
Or covered with paint or flour, happy,
making art and meals for families.
I’d dictate clean water and air for all.
Demand education and peace,
not build a new wall.

You! Need to lose weight,
quit your job, have that kid.
You! Need to be outside more,
walk it off, talk it out, get rid
of the cobwebs but remember:
What were your dreams?
Pursue them.
What were your plans?
Do them.

I’ll brook no excuses
nor harbor dissent.
Anyone who’s unhappy
can leave or get bent.
Anyone who’s happy
must get happier still.
For tomorrow,
someone else will be dictator.
They will.

 

(h/t Thomas Hasel)

Tube Shelter During The Siege Of Aleppo

Tube Shelter During The Siege Of Aleppo

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

 

Empty shelters in this latest Blitz
point the finger at us, but for this:
ordinary people don’t know what to do.
Some keep their heads down. Others are blue.
Write letters, march marches, try to be true
to the idea people matter. But that won’t save you.
Empty shelters in this latest Blitz
point the finger at us, hit or miss.

Wild Geese

Wild Geese

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

 

“Wild Geese”

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

The Federal Week in Review

Armchair Scream

“Armchair Scream,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). After Munch

 

This is a public service announcement.
There is no cause for alarm. No one is in danger.
Please proceed to your next life immediately.
You may pack your baggage, but it’s better to leave it.
Leave it all behind, and don’t look back.
Stop reading the news and start learning a new language.
Languages don’t make sense, but at least they are useful.
The grammar of bread and milk holds from week to week,
Although their substance, too, falls apart.

Danaïd Meets Danaë

Danaïd Meets Danaë

After Rodin’s Danaïd and Klimt’s Danaë (after the lady to whom Zeus came as a golden rain). Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). 

Danaïd meets Danaë. Golden showers ensue.
But the barrel has no bottom—so the girls continue.
No more Zeus comes barging through,
no more father’s tower trapping.
But on and on the golden flow comes wrapping, lapping, slapping.

One Hour

“The Tree of Desire Grows Out of Her Chest,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). With thanks to KN and RG. 

As Walt Whitman says…

O something unprov’d! something in a trance!
O madness amorous! O trembling!
O to escape utterly from others’ anchors and holds!
To drive free! to love free! to dash reckless and dangerous!
To court destruction with taunts—with invitations!
To ascend—to leap to the heavens of the love indicated to me!
To rise thither with my inebriate Soul!
To be lost, if it must be so!
To feed the remainder of life with one hour of fulness and freedom!
With one brief hour of madness and joy.

Or, as I say…

“The Tree of Desire Grows Out of Her Chest”

The tree of desire grows out of her chest.
The door of light overflows without rest.
The well of healing draws you better and best.
And I am just learning to laugh and let laugh.

The shadows of mountains grow out of the sea.
The smell of honey wafts from the buzz of the bee.
The length of the days from the earth whirling free.
And I am still picking the paths off the path.

The fire of love is consuming the moon.
Dawn’s own birds are still singing at noon.
The radio of now is still searching for its tune.
And I’m sinking and smiling with friends in the bath.

Where there is no planning, only now.
When you cannot sow, only plow on and plow.
Why we cast faces in bronze—and not math.
And I have nothing left but this love-flashing wrath.

For the Consideration of Poets

“The Muses Visit Hesiod,” oils on 40 x 40 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“For the Consideration of Poets”

By Haki Madhubuti, h/t B.R. Cohen

where is the poetry of resistance,
the poetry of honorable defiance
unafraid of lies from career politicians and business men,
not respectful of journalist who write
official speak void of educated thought
without double search or sub surface questions
that war talk demands?
where is the poetry of doubt and suspicion
not in the service of the state, bishops and priests,
not in the service of beautiful people and late night promises,
not in the service of influence, incompetence and academic
clown talk?

Prayer

“Laurel Staff in Bliss,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Prayer”

By Francisco X. Alarcon, trans. Francisco Aragon, h/t B.R. Cohen

I want a god
as my accomplice
who spends nights
in houses
of ill repute
and gets up late
on Saturdays

a god
who whistles
through the streets
and trembles
before the lips
of his lover

a god
who waits in line
at the entrance
of movie houses
and likes to drink
café au lait

a god
who spits
blood from
tuberculosis and
doesn’t even have
enough for bus fare

a god
knocked
unconscious
by the billy club
of a policeman
at a demonstration

a god
who pisses
out of fear
before the flaring
electrodes
of torture

a god
who hurts
to the last
bone and
bites the air
in pain

a jobless god
a striking god
a hungry god
a fugitive god
an exiled god
an enraged god

a god
who longs
from jail
for a change
in the order
of things

I want a
more godlike
god