Door of Light

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

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

—William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell — inspiration for Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (and the 1960s cultural revolution it helped spark) and Jim Morrison’s Doors.

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“You must change your life”

Archaïscher Torso Apollos
By Rainer Maria Rilke

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,
sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

 

Archaic Torso of Apollo
Rilke/trans. Stephen Mitchell

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Graphite and goache on A3 paper.

To the validation of hypergraphics everywhere, Rilke saw letter-writing as part of his poetic practice. One of his most famous books is his Letters to a Young Poet. His advice to younger artists originated in the advice he himself had gotten as a young artist from Rodin, a friendship that began when—too burned out and broke to do his own work—he landed a commission to write about the aging sculptor. Although they ultimately fell out, both men found inspiration in each other’s art forms and in seeing the world around them anew. And both vacillated between total commitment to art at the expense of life, and an understanding that creating is just one way to live.

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Where’s Olaf?

i sing of Olaf glad and big, from is 5 (1926)
by e. e. cummings

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but–though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments–
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
“I will not kiss your fucking flag”

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but–though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation’s blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat–
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
“there is some shit I will not eat”

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

Graphite and goache on A3 paper.

You could say the CIA Torture Report is here, archived on DocumentCloud (although such websites can be hacked). You could also say it’s not there, because a previous CIA torture report—the Panetta Review—allegedly proves the CIA lied to Congress, the Bush and Obama White Houses, and the public. That internal CIA torture report does something the CIA does not do: Acknowledges wrongdoing. But that CIA torture report was covered up. First by the CIA Director (John Brennan) who came after the one who oversaw it (Leon Panetta). Then, in a sense, by the Senate Intelligence Committee that refrained from leaking the report to the public through the press—keeping it in a safe for their investigative oversight work instead. And then by the Obama White House that thought it made the President look bad. The ACLU sought it, to no avail. Vice is also suing for both the Panetta Review and a less redacted version of the executive summary of the Senate Torture Report.

These ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits are racing the clock of evidence destruction. If the CIA torture reports are not leaked, they are likely to be destroyed—along with the hope of future accountability for collaborators responsible for the war crimes they document—forever. The CIA repeatedly removed documents relevant to the Senate’s oversight work while the Committee was still investigating as it wrote and rewrote the report. It destroyed videotapes of torture, and no one was prosecuted for obstruction of justice in spite of ample evidence. Instead the torture program architects have been promoted—in one case to be second-in-command in the Trump Administration’s CIA. The cover-up would be worse than the crime, were the crime not so horrific.

If the available, heavily redacted declassified version of the official Senate CIA Torture Report that followed the Panetta Review is tame by comparison, its findings remain shocking: A cash award to the officer who had recently supervised an inmate’s freezing to death, rectal feeding without documented medical necessity, the use of supposedly lethal insects in confinement boxes that parallels Big Brother’s use of rats in a face box in 1984. When the Senate committee charged with exercising oversight got closer to documenting and exercising accountability regarding the full extent of CIA torture, the Agency hacked the Senators, surveilled sitting Senators and their staff, and effectively asked the Department of Justice to ruin their lives. (The Obama DOJ—which refrained from going after CIA torturers even in cases of detainee deaths—complied.)

Senate Republicans at the time opposed the Democrat-led investigation into CIA torture. Now they’re in control of the Executive branch and both houses of Congress. Earlier this month, the GOP chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee announced his staff is collecting copies of the watered-down torture report. The Trump Administration supports torture, and has begun returning copies of the report. President Trump’s support for torture sets the stage for future atrocities and he continues to make Bush-era torture program architects powerful in his Administration. The risk of the pro-torture Trump Administration returning Executive branch copies of the torture reports to the Senate Intelligence Committee is that FOIA obligations do not apply to Congress. If all the Executive branch copies are returned to the Senate, then it is possible that they may be legally destroyed. Leaking the documents to a publisher with a good source protection track record, such as WikiLeaks, is the best way to preserve the remaining war crimes evidence chain.

The Constitutional crisis of the United States running a global network of secret prisons free of due process, transparency, or oversight has passed. So too has the Constitutional crisis of the agency responsible for these black sites successfully retaliating against those charged with overseeing it. Now the U.S. finds itself in another brewing Constitutional crisis. Something glittery and sexy involving Russians and hookers. The newest train wrecks seem to make people forget the older ones. Forgive me if I yawn as the President and his staff are investigated for obstruction of justice—the same charge his predecessor’s staff, and the one before him, could have been investigated for if the political will had existed to prosecute torture and its cover-up. It did not.

Torture is out of the current news cycle. If the President and his men go to jail next week for obstruction of justice, it won’t be for covering up torture. But do Constitutional crises really pass? Or, if the government does not uphold due process, does it lose legitimacy under the Constitution? When checks and balances fail to work as designed, but the status quo grinds on—because the government is above the law—it implies that the Constitution’s meaning is aspirational at best. At worst, it provides the narrative frame for an actively evil regime to better exercise soft power as it dominates the world. Without Olaf—a brave, lone voice of reason, resistance, and the love for our common humanity that rejects war and its crimes from the inside—it’s impossible to know the difference.

Graphite and goache on A3 paper.

“where’s Olaf?”

i search for Olaf who has balls
whose clearest call rang out the truth:
a whistleblowing inside sleuth

his dearest colleagues heard his calls
(we tortured folks, and now must pay)
and hid his work from light of day;
but—though a snowglobe full of shit
did fall(first waking him with threats
and then his coms directing slant),
gaslit so ask for help he can’t
and everyone who knew him jets
to get out of the way the hit
and further under buses throw,
while courts and scammers steal his dough
to keep him locked into some grind—
Olaf(seeing his country find
the greater part of justice won
in push and kick from up above)
responds, without returning shove
“I will not hide what you have done”

White House Chief of Staff and all his ilk
cursed and steamed the lines out of their silk

but—though all kinds of special force
(and pride in showing no remorse)
interrogated, hacked, and showed
him pictures of his own brains blowed
until his family was sure
the man they loved had died before
this puzzled person who sings on
“the truth is its own clarion”
but everyone who lives has lied
and so they drove into his side
a thousand shivs of his own fibs
“no one believes a liar’s song”

our hero,feeling himself trapped
although by the humanity
that led him first alone to see
what’s right from wrong,felt his spine snapped

Christ(if you kept a copy safe)
i pray to hear;and Olaf,too

come out into the light and tell
the story of your living hell
unless you died:like troubles do.

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“Child. We are done for in the most remarkable ways.”

Graphite, ink, and goache on A3 paper. 

From “Dead Doe: I,” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly—

From the Kenyon Review, New Series, Summer 1991, Vol. XIII, No. 3

for Huck

The doe lay dead on her back in a field of asters: no.

The doe lay dead on her back beside the school bus stop: yes.

Where we waited.
Her belly white as a cut pear. Where we waited: no: off

from where we waited: yes:

at a distance: making a distance
we kept,
as we kept her dead run in sight, that we might see if she chose
to go skyward;
that we might run, too, turn tail
if she came near
and troubled our fear with presence: with ghostly blossoming: with the
fountain’s
unstoppable blossoming
and the black stain the algae makes when the water
stays near.
We can take the gilt-edged strolling of the clouds: yes.
But the risen from the dead: no!

The haloey trouble shooting of the goldfinches in the bush:
yes: but in season:

kept within bounds,
not in the pirated rows of corn,
not above winter’s pittance of river.

The doe lay dead: she lent
her deadness to the morning, that the morning might have weight, that
our waiting might matter: be upheld by significance: by light
on the rhododendron, by the ribbons the sucked mint loosed
on the air,
by the treasonous gold-leaved passage of season, and you

from me/child/from me/

from . . . not mother: no:
but the weather that would hold you: yes:

hothouse you to fattest blooms: keep you in mild unceasing rain, and the fixed
stations of heat: like a pedalled note: or the held
breath: sucked in, and stay: yes:
stay

but: no: not done: can’t be:

the doe lay dead: she could
do nothing:

the dead can mother nothing . . . nothing
but our sight: they mother that, whether they will or no:

they mother our looking, the gap the tongue prods when the tooth is missing, when
fancy seeks the space.

The doe lay dead: yes: and at a distance, with her legs up and frozen, she tricked
our vision: at a distance she was
for a moment no deer
at all

but two swans: we saw two swans
and they were fighting
or they were coupling
or they were stabbing the ground for some prize
worth nothing, but fought over, so worth that, worth
the fought-over glossiness: the morning’s fragile-tubed glory.

And this is the soul: like it or not. Yes: the soul comes down: yes: comes
into the deer: yes: who dies: yes: and in her death twins herself into swans:
fools us with mist and accident into believing her newfound finery

and we are not afraid
though we should be

and we are not afraid as we watch her soul fly on: paired

as the soul always is: with itself:
with others.
Two swans . . .

Child. We are done for
in the most remarkable ways.

 

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“Those blue remembered hills”

Pencils and goache on A3. Rarely I try to recreate older work that I still hope to bring over to my new Continent someday, and this is one of those times. 

From “Into my heart an air that kills…” in A Shropshire Ladby A. E. Housman, not yet one of the Housman poems from this collection that’s been turned into opera (and expertly sung)—

 
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

 

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There was always a “but”

Graphite, ink, goache, and gold flake on A3 paper. 

… when they come as outcasts, made doubly paupers by physical and moral oppression in their native land, and thrown upon the long suffering generosity of a more favored community, their immigration lacks the essential conditions which make alien immigration either acceptable or beneficial. So well is this appreciated on the Continent that, even in the countries where anti-Semitism has no foothold, it is difficult for these fleeing Jews to obtain any lodgment. America is their only goal.
          The United States offers asylum to the oppressed of all lands. But its sympathy with them in no wise impairs its just liberty and right to weigh the acts of the oppressor in the light of their effects upon this country and to judge accordingly.

—from then -U.S. Secretary of State John Hay‘s The Roumanian Note, reprinted in Call Her Blessed by Juliene Berk, my long-lost great-aunt’s historical novelized account of my great-grandmother Lara Berkovitz (née Lore Moscovici)’s life as a Romanian Jew who fled anti-Semitism for America in 1907 (italics mine). She immigrated 34 years before 1/3 of the Jewish population in her hometown of Jassy was massacred or deported in a pogrom that was considered brutal during the Holocaust—before the full extent of the Final Solution became widely known. And it was a little over a hundred years before I migrated back to Europe fleeing rising fascism in the States. Some people in similar circumstances have access to European citizenship repatriation—but most Romanian Jews don’t, since they were overwhelmingly denied citizenship in the first place.
          In spite of John Hay’s apparent (measured) sympathies, Lara’s mother-in-law Beila got sick on a later boat over to the States. She was denied entry as a result, and died—blinded from the then-incurable disease she had contracted in the dirty ship’s hold, and despondent from the death of her dream of being reunited with her family in a safe place—back in Romania. It is impossible to count the number of migrants fleeing violence today who attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, and then try—or try and fail—to make it back due either to lack of access to safe and legal routes, or to lack of acceptable living and working conditions where they seek asylum.


There was always a “but”
for kike, gyp, or slut.
Home was a conditional
for the poor and liminal.
For a million Irish who got there,
a million were left starving and bare.
And if you were a Hebrew Kraut,
America often could do without
your poor and huddled mass—
with the World Wars on its ass.

Unless you’re one of a luckier few,
I’m the product just like you
of a long line of people who knew
when it was time—and up and flew.
Wherever they could go, they went.
Where the doors were closed, they spent
untold dark and hopeless nights and days
knocking until going (back) their ways.
Now and again we live in a time
when human life ain’t worth a dime.

 

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“i am accused of tending to the past”

Graphite, goache, and ink on A3 paper. 

i am accused of tending to the past
By Lucille Clifton

i am accused of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
with my own hands. i did not.
this past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my mother’s itch
took it to breast
and named it
History.
she is more human now,
learning languages everyday,
remembering faces, names and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will.

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“Love like a burning city in the breast”

From “Women Have Loved Before As I Love Now
By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Women have loved before as I love now;
At least, in lively chronicles of the past—
Of Irish waters by a Cornish prow
Or Trojan waters by a Spartan mast
Much to their cost invaded—here and there,
Hunting the amorous line, skimming the rest,
I find some woman bearing as I bear
Love like a burning city in the breast.
I think however that of all alive
I only in such utter, ancient way
Do suffer love; in me alone survive
The unregenerate passions of a day
When treacherous queens, with death upon the tread,
Heedless and willful, took their knights to bed.

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“A shark is not a shark if you cannot prove he is”

a shark is not a shark
If you cannot prove he is.

ein Haifisch ist kein Haifisch
Wenn man’s nicht beweisen kann
.

—Bertold Brecht, trans. Walter Kaufmann, “Mack the Knife/Der Moritat von Mackie Messer”


Graphite and goache on A3 paper. Select musical iterations: Louis Armstrong’s version, Frank Sinatra’s, Ella Fitzgerald’s. A degenerate poem-song illustration for degenerate times.

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“Black milk of morning we drink you at night”

A series of six paintings (goache, charcoal, graphite, ink and mixed media on A3 paper) and a recording of what Walter Kaufmann called probably the greatest German poem since World War  II. Article 2 and the first few lines of Article 3 of the Paris Agreement appear in #4. The poem line “Black milk of morning we drink you at night” (“Schwarze Milch der Frühe trinken dich nachts”) appears in all but the last painting in the series, which reads instead: “Black shore of fact we reach you but in wreck.”

Already I can no longer remember which came first: the Kaufmann reading that sent me looking for the poem (he couldn’t get a reply from the widow to publish it in his bilingual collection of German poetry), the discovery of many lovely Anselm Kiefer paintings dealing with it, or the itch to make more poem-paintings like I used to, years ago… An itch that has been growing stronger since seeing Sharka Hyland’s Textzeichnungen (text drawings) at Galerie Dittmar (Berlin) on the heels of reviewing the Schirn’s ongoing Magritte exhibit (Frankfurt). Some artists and philosophers (e.g., Magritte and Plato) have wanted to put primary on images or words, but they go together like sustainable civilization and a habitable planet.

After President Trump’s withdrawal last week of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, positivists can more or less agree that civilization as we know it is doomed from climate change. Its use as a marker is heuristic; we were already pretty much there. Paris was widely criticized as too weak (and unenforceable), but the Overton window remains too far right for that discussion to be widespread right now. Like Hegel’s owl of Minerva flying at dusk, we drink the black milk of the knowledge of our demise when it is too late to do much more than hope to later have the political power and technological capacity to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change and poverty—particularly their joint, vastly disproportionate impacts on the global south, which are likely to kill at least an order of magnitude more people than Hitler did.

“Death Fugue/Todesfuge
By Paul Celan, trans. Jerome Rothenberg

Black milk of morning we drink you at dusktime
we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at night
we drink and drink
we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and walks from the house and the stars all start flashing he whistles his
dogs to draw near
whistles his Jews to appear starts us scooping a grave out of sand
he commands us to play for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at dawntime and noontime we drink you at dusktime
we drink and drink
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
He calls jab it deep in the soil you lot there you other men sing and play
he tugs at the sword in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you men you other men you others play up again for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at dusktime
we drink and drink
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite he cultivates snakes

He calls play that death thing more sweetly Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
he calls scrape that fiddle more darkly then hover like smoke in the air
then scoop out a grave in the clouds where it’s roomy to lie

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
we drink you at dusktime and dawntime we drink and drink
Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland his eye is blue
he shoots you with leaden bullets his aim is true
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
he sets his dogs on our trail he gives us a grave in the sky
he cultivates snakes and he dreams Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland

your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite

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“A conversation about trees is almost a crime”

“What times are these when
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
Because it entails silence about so many wrongs.—

Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!”

—Brecht, “To Those Born After,” trans. Walter Kaufmann
Full text/different translation.

(Goache and graphite on A3 paper.)

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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”

A few paintings (goache, charcoal and mixed media on A3 paper) and a recording of the ever-relevant Robert Frost poem.

Mending Wall
By Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

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The Tree of Life

“The Tree of Life,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Take This Life”

The previous owner barely used it,
only took it weekly to the grocery store for years.
It will run for miles; all the records are legit.
The upholstery is clean, and undamaged by tears.
The windshield-wipers stick a little, just a little bit.
It runs a little hot when you give it unleaded fears.
But it will run for miles more, with drivers’ hands that fit.
And take the turns that come—bends and brakes and veers.

Take this life and drive it hard, coast to coast.
Take it on the ferry, and to the furthest desert outpost.
Share it with a friend in need, but always take it back.
Paint it anyway you want—polka-dotted, rainbow, black.
Just use it well, without neglect; that’s what it needs the most.
To be driven all it can, to be used to the utmost.
Not to live in a garage, or on one boring track.
To be used for all it can, despite a little clunk and clack.

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A Flame

Oils on 60 x 90 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Playing in the woods with friends”

Together we stumble, laughing, getting dirty
and sometimes hurt—brambles, poison ivy, strange bites.
My mother warned me about this, but she was wrong.
Every time I run into the woods with new friends,
instead of losing a piece of my soul, I gain—

maybe it is a hollow after all, this place
where loves grows,
laughter echoes,
something is lost
to make room
for yet more joy.

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Sunday Rilke and Writing

Walter Kaufmann so spoiled me with his excellent Goethe translation, I’m struggling to get back into my Oxford World Classics Rilke. The translations (Susan Ranson and Marielle Sutherland) are not comparable. The meter is missing. Plus, when I read the German and then the side-by-side English to Deutsch lernen, and then check what I’ve written cribbing from the Rilke, my own poetry doesn’t mean what I thought it meant! How am I supposed to steal from the best with bad translations? So much for authorial intent…

Here are a few Rilke poems from that collection, and my crib thereof. Happy Sunday—and please don’t hesitate to correct my German.

Aus: Larenopfer

 

Der Träumer (II)

Träume scheinen mir wie Orchideen.—
So wie jene sind sie bunt und reich.
Aus dem Riesenstamm der Lebenssäfte
ziehn sie just wie jene ihre Kräfte,
brüsten sich mit dem ersaugten Blute,
freuen in der flüchtigen Minute,
in der nächsten sind sie tot und bleich.—
Und wenn Welten oben leise gehen,
fühlst du’s dann nicht wie von Düften wehen?
Träume scheinen mir wie Orchideen.—

From Offerings to the Lares

The Dreamer (II)

Dreams: as vivid in my eyes as orchids.—
Like them brilliant and opulent, 
like them drawing through the giant stem
of living sap the juices of their strength, 
like them flaunting an absorbed life-blood, 
[sic] revelling in the fleetness of the minute, 
then, in the next, pallid as the dead.—
And when, softly, worlds pass overhead, 
do you not feel their winds, flower-scented?
Dreams: as vivid in my eyes as orchids.—

And Aus: Advent (from Advent):

Das ist mein Streit:
Sehnsuchtgeweiht
durch alle Tage schweifen.
Dann, stark und breit,
mit tausend Wurzelstreifen
tief in das Leben greifen—
und durch das Leid
weit aus dem Leben reifen,
weit aus der Zeit!

This is my struggle:
dedicated to longing,
to wander the paths of days.
Then sturdied, strong,
with thousand rootlets grasping
deep into the terrain
of life, through pain
to ripen far beyond life and
far beyond time! 

So much Romantic poetry can be read through lenses of despair. I love how Rilke can go darker than the darkest, but still end up saying (as above): Here I am, I am vagabonding but not fleeing, and I am going to take root when it is time, and endure beyond limits.

The word choices are interesting even to me, knowing so little German as yet. Of course Hitler would have chosen a harsher word for struggle than Rilke’s Streit in his Mein Kampf. Kampf sounds more like it could mean punch—while Streit sounds like it could mean straight or street, or a bright light in your eyes. Perhaps uncomfortable in the distinct “Str,” long I of “ei,” and definitive ending “t.” But not aggressive like “K,” and almost flatulent or uncaring (imagine a sighing person saying it) like “ampf.” They’re synonyms, but I wonder if their sense is exactly the same, and only the sound differs? If that’s even possible in language, as far as connotation and felt sense can be separated.

Here’s mine (or maybe my German poetry will be Felicia Faust’s)— blatantly stealing, as poets do, from my friend Rilke:

Bunt und reich,
stark und breit—
mitleiden,
neue Kleiden—
tragen Tageseiden.

Colorful and rich,
strong and broad—
fellow-feeling,
wearing new clothes—
wearing days of silk.

Mitleiden is more precisely co-suffering (mit + leiden) than fellow-feeling, but poets will be poets… I suppose I could argue the co-suffering in the German is sarcastic, and sarcasm doesn’t always translate? Oy. I mean it though, in a way, even while it’s sarcastic. Part of a beautiful life, of wearing days of silk, is having community and empathizing with others’ struggles.

I shall call it: “Thinking of Shopping for a Sundress while Sunbathing without and Butchering the Pronunciation and Probably the Sense Also of Rilke”… (Title to be used while wearing a beret, smoking a cigarette, and trying out a new stand-up bit on being a poet, if I ever get around to it.)

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Goethe Before Carroll

Goethe writes (Faust, 1808, trans. Walter Kaufmann):

Seht, da kommt der Dudelsack!
Es ist die Seifenblase.
Hört den Schneckeschnickeschnack
Durch seine strumpfe Nase.

Now the bagpipe’s joining in,
A soap bubble it blows;
Hear the snicker-snacking din
Come through his blunted nose.


Carroll follows (Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1871):

Jabberwocky

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Goethe was writing well before Carroll, raising the questions: Is snicker-snack onomatopoeia? Was Carroll referencing Goethe? Or are both possible?

 

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Red Flower, April in Berlin

“Red Flower, April in Berlin,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). From this spring flower photo series from Gärten der Welt. 

“Spring Art”

Everywhere in spring, you can see the painters run amok.
The tulip leaves’ brushstrokes bend like canvas in the wind.
The cold, white sun is cutting golden angles on tree tops,
measuring and marking halo after halo, ray on top of ray.

Some people say the colors are too bright—unrealistic.
But the artists of the earth and air, water and sky, insist:
There is no limit to the vibrance.
The sweet softness will continue to shimmer and overflow.
If you get up close, every bloom is a perfect paper swan.
Every fold in blossom and bend in branch offers its art to the sky.

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Reviews, Trips, and Sketches

Lots of art, little blogging! It’s a good life. Here’s a brief bloggular update on the reviews, trips, and sketches I’ve been up to lately.

Cornelia Schleime, Female Kingfisher,” 2016, acrylic, asphalt, and shellac on canvas. 

My next half dozen art reviews appeared on the new art criticism website The Delicious Line:
– #
3/Cornelia Schleime at Berlinische Galerie,
– #4/John Bock at Berlinische Galerie,
– #5/Fleischeslust: George Grosz in dialogue with others at Galerie Deschler,
– #6/The Field Has Eyes: Images of the Surveillant State at the Museum of Photography,
– #7/Watching You, Watching Me: A Photographic Response to Surveillance at the Museum of Photography, and
– #8/Adrian Piper’s Probable Trust Registry at the Hamburger Banhof. 

A few people have said they saw exhibits I reviewed, didn’t get them at the time, and so really enjoyed my criticism because it shed light on the substance of the art. That makes me really happy. One of the best feelings in the world is making art or writing or doing activism, and hearing that “ping!” somewhere in the world, where you had an impact, however small, although you were sort-of minding your own business attending to truth or watching the sun set, which sometimes feels like the same thing.

Sunny, art-filled Frankfurt. 

Since I moved to Berlin in Nov. 2015, I’ve been asking gallery owners and artists how to make a living here as an artist. Everyone says you live here—”poor but sexy” Berlin—and sell elsewhere. So last winter I visited Munich and talked to some wonderful people, but didn’t find the art scene there bustling. I continued remaking my oeuvre from scratch after having to leave all my art in the U.S. when I immigrated. My ridiculously supportive and talented partner helped me make a proper portfolio book showcasing my new art, and this-here beautiful new website filled with proper, high-quality photographs in its beautiful, working webstore. Then last week and this, I finally took the proper portfolio book to pitch galleries my paintings. I’ll probably blog next week in the format of my old gratitude lists (e.g., CCCLisbon, Amsterdam/Berlin, Hack 42…)—about this recent trip to Nuremberg/Frankfurt. I also need to schedule next pitching trips to Hamburg and Cologne/Düsseldorf, if anyone knows nice artsy people there…

Finally, the past few months I’ve been accidentally accumulating sketches of ridiculously beautiful women to paint from. But I’m greedy and I want to sketch more (and better) before developing a painting series out of these… Some of the sketches reflect motion, the fast movements of subjects who are enjoying conversation or life rather than posing. In some, I was able to begin instead to capture the beauty of the woman, which always feels like a magic trick and a privilege. As always in art, I want to do more/better before sharing what I have—but that’s not what working artists do.

So maybe next week I’ll also start blogging a selection of those sketches, along with short poems inspired by my ridiculously kind, smart, sweet model-friends… Like this one.


“Although you won’t listen, I will say it again as if to myself”

Run away from your fiancé.
Run away from your boss.
Sit on the dock of the bay.
Don’t worry about the cost.

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Poetry Brothel Berlin Launch Success

Photo: Philipp Bögle.

Poetry Brothel Berlin launched last week, thanks to writer and Madame Nathalie Dewalhens‘ years-long masterminding, show shepherdess Jos Porath’s careful herding, and a whole lot of creativity and effort from a whole lot of other talented people. I had so much fun. Friends are still thanking me for the invite, some saying it was the best party they’d been to—combining high art (e.g., opera, naked cello, classical piano) with intimate poetry readings and a generally informal atmosphere, with fancy costumes and lots of moving around, different things going on… We imagined it might be what the theater was like in Shakespeare’s day, when what we now consider high art was actually mass entertainment and people moved around being social (eating, drinking, talking, flirting) while enjoying it. It had that vibe of “something special is happening and I am here for it—and damn, is it fun.”

Photo: @ucalelelady.

There were too many remarkable artists to name. Among others, I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing singer and harpist, and experiencing her perform. If you don’t know Gillian Grassie—you will. She plays the harp like a jazz pianist plays the keyboard. And sings her own stuff with the voice to match. She made me wish we already had in place the technology that will be common in 10 years, where LED screens form a sort of a word threshold over live performers so you can read the lyrics (coming on the left, current above, just done on the right) as they sing. So as you’re gobsmacked by the beauty of the music and the performance, you can also get every word. It also made me grateful we didn’t have time for my own singing…

Although I prepared my two current favorite poem-songs (Raggedy Thing and Stain Louis) to sing with the pianist, I didn’t sing during the Brothel performance. My wonderful singer friend and vocal coach Ines Theileis helped me be sure I was ready the day before… With her guidance, I can hear my voice get where it can get, and feel I could carry a room like that with my back open, the right bits relaxed and tensed in turns, swell where it needs swell and soft where soft goes. Or, as Zadie Smith as Lady Day says in The New Yorker this week:

something in the modulation of your throat leaps up, like a kid reaching for a rising balloon, except most kids miss while you catch it—yes, you catch it almost without expecting to—landing on an incidental note, a perfect addition, one you never put in that phrase before, and never heard anyone else do, and yet you can hear at once that it is perfection. Perfection!

But the evening as a whole was unrehearsed, and I didn’t get a chance in the flow of it to do that thing among my things. It might bear mentioning here that I attempted to do everything I could conceivably get away with doing: I came early and left late, washed windowsills before, tried to get the very drunk girl home safe after, and brought my sweet hot man for sound engineering in-between. One artist was sketching, so I brought a pad and pencil, and sketched. Poets were reciting, so I prepared a performance manuscript and recited. When I learned at the planning meeting there would be music, I tried collaborating with the pianist to join in that, too. I am a greedy, hungry artist, and I want all the things.

Photo: Nathalie Dewalhens. This is btw how amazing the Tangoloft normally looks. 

So I came home and (after sleeping something like 12 hours?!) started learning Noteflight, a program that does many music things I’ve dreamed of for years. It closes the loop between hearing something that sounds right, and writing it in proper music notation to play with rewriting and then learning it. It closes the loop between hearing something and transcribing it for a different instrument or key (like I’ve been dying to do Tori Amos-style with a few Rage Against the Machine songs). And it closes the loop between my chicken scratch music notation that I like to draft stuff in, and the proper staff notation that I like to learn/read music in. I’m hoping my song binder that I left in Boston when I left the U.S. will get here someday, and then I can properly notate and revise/relearn some old favorites I wanted to work on some more (e.g., “Warm Tidings,” a Christmas song about climate change, and my song version of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope“).

It will be better to perform these poem-songs when I have my own, proper piano accompaniment written, rewritten, and learned, with the help of Noteflight, to play myself while I sing. And at that, probably at an open mic, where I can play with my performance anxiety among other people who are afraid they’ll manage to light themselves on fire while choking at the same time. (After hearing me laugh out loud at myself imagining this outcome in vivid detail while attempting to take a much-needed nap, my ridiculously sweet boyfriend developed a two-tier plan for what he would do if that happened… ) There are performers who are consummate musicians first. And then there are performers who are poets, and some of their songs happen to have melody and need to go through the whole process of coming out that way; and I am the latter. But I still need to do it and do it right.

I did a lot of preparation like that, that was probably more for me as an artist than for this one night. Like printing out and reading through a performance manuscript of the best of my old and new poetry, so I could perform it not off-book but with a felt sense of it, fresh. This all resulted in me having a short introductory poem (“Raggedy Thing”) memorized to perform at the beginning of the Brothel, as the Madames introduced their Poetry Whores. Some “customers” wanted my website to find what I had read them and see more of my work. One group made my night returning at the end to tell me that my performance was the highlight of their evening. Maybe it was just for this one night, but maybe the Brothel will have other performances… Plus, now I have a performance poetry book to take to open mics, that looks nicer than sheets of paper.

Also, I managed to not light myself on fire while choking in front of 100+ people.

Photo: Philipp Bögle.

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Behind the Moon

“Behind the Moon,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Behind the moon and under the sea”

Behind the moon and under the sea,
the seasons change quite differently.
The currents run quick with no light to bend.
The leaves don’t fall and the blooms don’t end.
How does the rose know when it’s been a year?
Or the hunter when it’s time to seek the deer?

Under the sea and behind the moon,
the dish runs away with the fork and spoon.
Some things are different, but some are the same.
Dishes and spoons still play their old game.
Singers take songs from the water, and sing.
Artists take in and pour out everything.

Builders make houses and homes and walls.
Farmers make food, and crow-scaring dolls.
People make friends and babies and foes.
Friends share friends and stories and woes.
Behind the moon and under the sea,
when we choose we can live quite happily.

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Poetry Brothel Berlin Launches Next Week

Next Thursday, May 4 at 19:00, Poetry Brothel Berlin launches (Facebook group, Facebook event, EventBrite for tickets). Poetry Brothel brings together internationally renowned and locally infamous bards for a night of poetry, performance—and payment. After great success in New York, Chicago, and London, the Brothel is opening in Berlin. The steampunk-themed launch will feature characters, costumes, intimate readings, vintage photography (complete with tint), musicians, performers, and merriment.

My friend Felicia will also be there. Felicia Faust. This is her story:

Found on the library doorstep swaddled in lingerie, Felicia was raised by a pack of wild scholars. She grew up writing poetry and painting commissions at the behest of the Devil, who was dean of the college of arts and sciences at the time. At 12, she discovered red lipstick and black fishnets, and began composing piano accompaniment for her favorite literary influences — Plato, Goethe, and Rage Against the Machine. When she was 16, she ran away to college, where – sadly – she had no other option but to obtain a Ph.D., as she was young and needed the money.

Burned out on grant proposals and her affairs with Marxists in silk turtlenecks, at 20 she left all her books and papers in an abandoned art silo in Saxony, stole a horse heading to France, and hopped a boat to England under a blue moon. In London she learned the arts of jazz dance from Josephine Baker and drinking from Zelda Fitzgerald. Eventually the flappers’ strict morals proved too much for her, and she returned to her natural habitat: the whorehouse in Berlin.

Felicia enjoys absinthe while drawing liquid poems from a well that reaches directly to Hell, thanks to a joint appointment at Our Lady of the Screaming Banshee. Sometimes she also digs small poetry shards out of her skin, after bathing in brimstone. It takes years off the eyes.

When she’s not writing poetry, songs and essays, or painting her various lovers’ genitalia, Felicia sneaks psychedelics into church water supplies. She prefers clients who have engaged in risky behavior such as whistleblowing, truth-telling, and making peace with their parents; those who prefer life without protection should be warned that her courage is contagious. Her favorite flower is the black Dutch tulip, long prized by anarchists for its aphrodisiac qualities. Her prrrr is unrelated to her relationship with the Devil, but has everything to do with the state of her soul.

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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.

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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.

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