Paintings and Poems: City on a Hill

“You are the light
of the world.
A city
set upon a hill
cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14).

Not to mention something you’ve put up online. What’s posted online can’t be deleted or hidden. That is the poet’s dilemma, who craves publication but still has changes, or will have. But that is only a matter or problem of print. Oral poetry, or song, allows, invites, indeed wants variations. Covers. Over time, cities get covered up. The earth rises, and falls.

I assumed the Queen Mob’s Teahouse poetry editor position back in April, taking over from Erik Kennedy, Queen Mob’s second poetry editor, from May, 2015, who followed Laura A. Warman. The gig is volunteer work, of course, as befits any true poetic enterprise.

I first put up, on April 19, three poems by Jax NTP. It was then the idea came to me to use my own paintings as the header images over the poet’s work. I was struck by Jax NTP’s atmospheric, impressionistic poetry. The poems are packed with energetic images changing with the speed of “Highway 61 Revisited”:

“there’s a giant temple on hazard and new hope street
blue reptile and green mazing skeletons, keepers of time
how long can you sit there with the pain before you try to fix it?”

from “how to pivot when you’re paralyzed,” by Jax NTP

And I had just finished a painting, the impressions of which, the symbols within, the colors, the shapes, I thought might complement Jax NTP’s poetry. I don’t mean to suggest any of the paintings necessarily align with the poetry in any literal way. In any case, I continued to look for images within my collection of painting pic selfies for complementary impressions.

Reading and reflecting on Jessica Sequeira’s poems, and later looking for a painting to go with the posting on QMT, I again felt the suggestion with impressions that seems the essence of poetry, particularly of poetical delight:

“The heavens have promised rain for so many days.
I think of waiting for torrents from the white sky.
But it might be a long time. Or this could be a dream.
Taking your hand, I guide it below, to my cloud.”

from “Eastern Variations, style of Ikkyū Sōjun,” by Jessica Sequeira

I selected for Jessica’s poems a painting from last year, “City on a Hill,” a large painting that had taken some time to complete. Again, the setting of the poems and the painting seemed harmonious:

“lakes shine like mirrors
reflecting tall mountains

rainfalls are unpredictable
innocent changes in the divine mood

birds sing into great holy spaces
the wind whistles its reply

icy glaciers plunge towards sky
green valleys dive into earth”

from “My South,” by Jessica Sequeira

I had taken numerous pics of “City on a Hill” when a work in progress in the basement studio:

And I used an early draft of “City on a Hill” to go with Ashen Venema’s poetry:

I sit still, watch him thin the oil
and restore his long gone love
on canvas, standing in
as the young skin
by the window, sunlit among
lilies, fresh cut, and Persian rugs
casually flung across seats.

from “My Painter,” by Ashen Venema

Well, the setting of Ashen’s “My Painter,” “sunlit among / lilies,” doesn’t quite align with the basement studio, though things are there too “casually flung.”

All my paintings I eventually give away, to family, friends, colleagues, who show an interest and enthusiasm. “City on a Hill” is hanging in my daughter’s den, looking out upon the backyard. The light in the room is perfect. I just want or hope the paintings have a life outside my basement, where, as Ashen puts it in “My Painter”:

“A blaze of light rims his white hair
from under his thick swirl of brows
black humour hides, and surprise”

After all the work on a painting, which isn’t really work, of course, but play, like the work of much poetry, we just might find a true work of art in what we’ve mostly ignored, in the mess we left behind. That tablecloth, for example, now that’s a work of art!

Horny Theology

A rufous whistled
and hummed
at my open door.

She flew at my heart
picked and snatched
hairs from my chest
for her nest.

Me flat on my back on the floor
while she sits on my face
hooked to my lips
slicing my eyes
like an ophthalmologist.

Her every winged flush
as sweet and powerful
as a rush of butterflies

falling
filling
my coughing joy.

To and fro
true and from
until

‘harumph’! 

she blurted out
and bolted off
as quickly as she came.

I thought she was a unicorn
or a rhinoceros with wings.

She left me
without a prayer.

At the Intersection of Above and Below Ground

Geomicrobiologists now claim life underground exceeds in size, diversity, and span life above ground. What is life? It might be easier to simply say Earth is alive, all of it, including the rocks. And does extraterrestrial life exist? Well, we exist, we think. It now appears planets are living beings. Universe is alive. And that’s not counting the ghosts.

According to scientist Karen Lloyd, quoted in The Guardian: “The strangest thing for me is that some organisms can exist for millennia. They are metabolically active but in stasis, with less energy than we thought possible of supporting life.” That describes a teacher I had in high school.

Meanwhile, in the basement studio, located at the intersection of above and below ground, I’ve continued to work on cutout paintings. The photos below detail the evolution of a recent graffito work:

Sitting Out: Painting in Progress

Portlanders love to sit out. At sidewalk cafes, outside pubs, in their yards or drives. On porches, decks, balconies. In parks. On special occasions, neighbors will close their street to cars so they can sit out in the middle of the block at improvised tables in whatever chairs seem to turn up. The atmosphere of a street closed to cars turns surreal in these times. Maybe because it rains six months out of the year, Portlanders don’t take the perfect evening for a sit out for granted, but they’ll even sit out in the rain, huddled beneath coats and blankets around a fire pit or under overhead standing outdoor electric heaters.

The current painting in progress is tentatively titled, “Sitting Out.” It’s 3 feet by 5 feet, stretched canvas. I’ve used acrylics, oils, and oil pastels, applied with brush, palette knife, or directly out of the tube. The grandgirls have been involved in this painting as well. Chloe is responsible for the bottom left, raspberries at the top of a green hill, ZZ for the sky and bottom right umbrella and blue chair seated with a red figure. Layer upon layer. Things get covered up. Sometimes it’s a mistake to cover something over, but you keep working. A canvas of this size is not inexpensive, but we got this one used at a garage sale for $5. We painted over the old painting, but ZZ wanted to keep some existing red roses in the bottom right hand corner, so we tried to preserve those.

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Our studio, such as it is, is located in the basement:

The grandgirls are back in school now, and I’m working on the sit out painting in the basement alone. Last night I added the black umbrella outline with the broken stretchers pointing upward in the middle left. Had the girls been there, they would have booed this change. I need to figure out a way to cover it up without ruining the horizon line below it, which tops Chloe’s field.

Below are two pics of Portlanders sitting out on the sidewalk and in the street corral of a corner restaurant:

And we’ll close with this pic of a sit out zone in an unused portion of a driveway, Ollie waiting patiently to be taken for a ride:

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Inflation

a simple moon
once worth two bits
now a bucket of silver dollars
won’t buy a room with a hotplate
view of the polluted lake.

when all universe
was still local
we slept in the sky
now moving stairs
carry off the awful.

the moon we have lights
a dark gold daylily closed
the mope maroon dragon snapped
June dropped apples in grassy shade
a few listening pray.

the moon lost recedes
we can no longer even point to it
a pearl moon our best friend
the moon we want grows cold
our bare feet burning.

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A Cool Cat’s Spring

City park a bench come Spring
passersby doing their thing
King slips into Queen being
antique clown bums a smoke
everybody doing something
and those have nothing at all
nothing their thing this Spring.

Cool cat gesticulated crouch
down by the empty reservoir
live on social media channel
pothole posts and midnight tweets
comic flickers flower round the pole
breaking beaks on noisy bedspring
like every Spring that’s ever been.

Now Jack and Jill dressed to kill
over the hill they spring and sing
shall Jack hath Jill and nought go ill?
or doth not Jill make a good Jack?
spring seeds put to bed then will time
Summer rest before work begins earnest
August and lugubrious September.

The ambiguities of Spring befuddle
tulip mania in all this muddle the old
let the thistledown grow those
with little to increase shall not spray
the unwanted children free to roam and play
the glow of a new Pentecost settles
over a movable East and festive West.

The Age of Privacy is over
all must now show their hands
still the war the weather the constant worry
but another night passes in local peace
and the coffee house on the corner
open as usual still a few things
we might rely on not to our detriment.