art and poetry

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It’s a no-brainer really, this collaboration.  It comes out of a partnership that began nearly 30 years ago, when I still thought that I was a visual artist.  Back then it seemed that he and I would be able to pair our techniques somehow.

We found lots of other ways to collaborate, building our lives, raising our children, holding hands to face the weirdnesses the world threw at us, but the art thing never worked out.  Maybe it was because all of the art I’d done my whole life was really waiting for me to discover that it was only training for this painting-with-words thing that I do now.

Maybe.  Whatever it is, I look at his work, at his colors and compositions filled at once with whimsy and seriousness, look at the wondrous spaces he creates on a random piece of cardboard, or the back of a supermarket sign, and my words. just. flow.

And it turns out that I’m not alone.  Our collaboration has been joined by another poet who sees things in Gordon’s work that even I don’t, whose words are filled with clear insight and beautiful description that comes from his love of nature, his search for his spiritual self, and his deep practice of t’ai chi.   Ramakrishna hails from England but the digital universe has given us a way to span the geography, bringing his unique voice together with ours into this presentation of art and poetry.

Our fledgling flight will happen on Saturday August 31st in the shadow of the Huajatollas in southern Colorado.  These twin mountain peaks appear in nearly every piece that Gordon does and the amphitheater at Lathrop State Park is the perfect place to launch the tour of our performance as we take Gordon’s show “Unrehearsed” and interpret it through my poetry and Ramakrishna’s in “by the seat of our pants”.

If you’re in Colorado, we’d love to see you in our audience this weekend!  Otherwise, stay tuned…

…later tour dates to follow and we’ll be releasing a full color collaborative book in the very near future.

Night Chores

She hears the creek,
It’s voice burbling
In the darkness
Just as it does this time
Every year,
The heavy snows
Melting
To run down the mountain sides
Promise flowing,
Flooding
Within cold water,

And she wonders
If it will wash away
The bleakness
That has been the winter too
Or if that will persist
Even through the sprouting
Of green grasses,
The blooming of jonquils
Of tulips.

And she cradles the cold pans,
Metal clanking on metal
As her head lamp casts
Its beam
Back and forth,
Back and forth,
Searching,
While she calls,
She calls,
She calls…

And she waits,
The stars not shining,
Through heavy clouds
That she knows
No longer hold white flakes.
From the smell on the air
She can tell they hold nothing at all,
Not for her,
Not on this night,
Their purpose only
To block the celestial light
To emphasize the suspense,
To keep her guessing,

And then there’s the rumbling whicker,
The two pairs of glowing lights
That reflect her searching beam,
Pinpricks of life from out of shadows,
Jewels in velvet,

And, with the soft thudding
Of enormous feet
Dark shapes
Hulk out of the gloom,

And she touches each one
As they nose into the pans,
Their shaggy coats coming away
By the handsful,
Covering her fingers with hair
That is no longer needed
In this warming season.

And she pats,
Though she really shouldn’t,
Giving them her best whicker back,

And the creaking of the gate latch
Says to her once again
That they are well,
They are safe,

And running water
In the background of night
Declares the spring.

©2019 Annette Meserve

Yard Light

“Do you want the light?”  Anne asks as we push chairs back from her table.

Her elder hand hovers at the wall switch.  Yard utility lights are as much part of rural life as rutted dirt roads and weekly grocery trips.  The sun goes down and they blink on, forty-foot circles glowing in nearly every driveway and barnyard.  I find them really annoying.

Most are automatic, operating on timers or light sensors, Anne has a switch.

“No, I’ve got my headlight.” I reply tapping the rounded plastic lens on my forehead.

“Oh?”  With a worried look her hand drops.  The switch stays unswitched and I don’t tell her that I’m unlikely to turn my headlight on, walking the quarter mile down the road.

I don’t know if it’s because she comes from a time when the night needed to be pushed back, as if the glowing yard light could keep dangerous things at bay, or simply because she is, in her ninety-somethingth year, more cautious than she was.  For whatever reason, she forgets that, every night, we have this conversation when I look in on her after horse chores; her asking and me declining.

No, it’s not what you think, she’s still firmly in this world.  Truthfully, she forgets fewer things than I do.  She just doesn’t understand this one odd thing among many of her daughter-in-law’s quirks.

Some nights, she turns the light on anyway, not out of spite or stubbornness, but only out of a mother’s desire to keep me safe.  On those nights, the cursed thing shoots its rays after me, spoiling my quiet as if the light is made of sound, a filmy barrier of static between me and the stars, keeping my sight small.  So much is missed in its reach far beyond the bright yard pool.

On the nights Anne can be convinced though, on the nights that the half-globe at the top of the pole stays sleeping, there are the shadows of the scrub oak bending over the road; a trotting dog’s dark silhouette, his ears alert for danger; the ghostly stalks of the drying mullein shafts in the field.  Without the light, the contours of road and ditch, of rock and washout come clear.

In the unmarred darkness, I can make note of the phase of the moon, a crescent sliver just over the western horizon; of the scattered clouds, their blank ragged voids overlaid on the canopy of stars.  My eyes can stretch up and up to the misty band of the Milky Way, lying east to west in summer, north to south in winter and I become part of the cosmos here on the border between Earth and Heaven.

And on the upside bank, there’s a rustling in the leaves but I know it’s not Bear or Lion, the dog would tell me if it was.  Likely it’s a vole or rabbit or some other nocturnal creature doing its part in the business of the universe, unseen by even my night eyes but still blessing my safety on my way home.

©2019 Annette Meserve

Orcharding

An old woman I never met
gave me her trees,
the trees of her heart,
the trees of her home,
trees that were, themselves,
Elders
at the time of the giving,

a time that was long after
the old woman
had used the apples
to feed her children,
her grandchildren,

a long time after
her tired feet no longer
walked the ancient orchard,
when only her ghost
collected the wind-falls
into her apron for safe keeping.

And now,
these apples
have fed my children too,
her great, great grandchildren,
and it’s down to me
to save her trees,
oh, not from dying,
for these old tree people
are surely on their way,
following after her.

But, if I am clever,
if I am worthy,
tiny slips of the Old Ones
will survive
and grow into a new
Ancient Orchard
for me to give away

Perhaps to someone
I’ll never meet,
To a new future grandmother,
My trees given again
After I am an old woman.

©2019 Annette Meserve

Flashlight Eyes

It was so very long ago when he said it, and he was so very small.  I didn’t understand exactly what he meant but I thought it might be his super power; the ability to see in the night, to be able to anticipate the uneven spots in the dirt, to be calm about the dark forms moving around us, dark forms that inevitably turned out to be the dogs.

He was unconcerned about what might be lurking in the rocks up the hillside or what could be following along, undetected in the field.  Sometimes he would say it with a touch of annoyance as I switched on the high powered torch to show us our way to evening chores.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe him.  Secretly, I envied him in fact, to have such a super power, but I needed the bright beam of light to feel confident that I was protecting my children from the prowling wild creatures.

He isn’t so very small anymore, and he no longer accompanies me on my evening walk.  The hand-held torch is also a thing of the past; instead a light rides on my forehead like a peculiar third-eye, illuminating my way no matter where I turn.

But tonight, I can feel his super power with me and I reach up to switch the beam off.

Suddenly, I’m more aware of the crunching sound my feet make in the pitch black of the gravel road.  Then, gradually, shapes emerge, distinguishing themselves from the shadows of the horizon; bush and tree and rock and dog surprisingly detailed in the moonless night.

I look up to the stars, billions and billions of them dancing and winking, the cloud of the Milky Way a little off center, bisecting the sky, and I think how very much there is to see without the imposed perspective of civilization, when one has a super power inherited from a child.

©2019 Annette Meserve

When the Circus Comes to Town

I have this strange tendency to run away and join the circus.  I do it once a year or more.  Well, it’s not the circus exactly but still I pack up camp stove and sleeping bag, fold in skirts and corsets, tuck away jokes and stories until my truck is fairly bursting with the various pieces of my portable life.  Together my old 4Runner and I trundle off, near or far, to join my other family working the Renaissance Festivals.  I’ve been doing it for more than a decade now and, though I love my quiet little life on our valley ranch, there always comes a time when my feet itch to travel, when I long to lie in my tent and listen to the wind sighing in the tarp overhead, when I want nothing more than to dress up in costume, to put on my Scottish brogue, and to live among the gypsies for a while.  Like a character from an old story, I’m lured away from my humble cottage-home by the possibility of adventure, by a life lived backstage and front, by the call of magic.

It’s this tendency that might have been the reason that The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern captured my interest and held me spellbound from cover to cover.  While we ‘Rennies’ are simply everyday people working hard to treat our patrons to a world of pretend magic, the Cirque de Rev in this lovely story takes things to a whole new level.  With its many black-and-white striped tents, its cast of talented performers, its wonder of a clock, and its bonfire that burns with an eternal, bright-white flame, the magic is real.  Not even the circus family fully understands the nature of the mysterious traveling show in which they live, a nature that takes its own toll on the participants as a duel is played out behind the scenes between two powerful magic workers.

Nothing so dramatic happens in my Rennie life, of course.  We are all just people doing a peculiar thing for a living.  But if the author of this captivating tale has never spent time in a festival’s backrooms and shadows, her imagination has somehow captured the sense of what it is to be a part of this very strange way of life.

You don’t need to be a Rennie to enjoy The Night Circus though because, even more than the description of a favorite and familiar world for me, it was the story-building and the extraordinarily descriptive writing that captured me and wouldn’t let me go until well after the very last word.  Most authors work their whole lives to write with such craftsmanship and Morgenstern’s craft displays itself from beginning to end without missing a beat in between, weaving an intensely complex story of relationship and suspense that kept me guessing at every turn.

I can’t recommend this story highly enough.  It danced its enchantment into this Rennie’s eyes, spoke its inspiration into this writer’s fingers, and whispered its magic into this reader’s heart.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
published Anchor Books 2012 / isbn#  978-0307744432

The Tarp

The wind spirits come
Racing down the valley,
Filling the spaces between mountains
Dancing through ancient pine tops,
Tickling the thick forests
That ring the bottom pastures,

The currents,
And flows,
And eddies,
Set conifer ranks to waving,
Those trees standing at attention
On steep inclines,
A grand gathering of enthusiastic spectators,
Witness to the athletic prowess
Of empty air,
The roar in their branches
Rivaling any stadium crowd

And then the spirits,
The duendes of the wind,
Find the sheet of brown and silver
That stretches above the trailer,
Woven plastic held by ropes,
And bungees,
And liberal applications
Of fluttering duct tape.

And those airy speed demons
Slide underneath it,
Whooshing between it and the painted metal roof,
That metal that has seen years of weather,
Decades of disuse,
Of misuse,
Unable now to perform its task unaided,

The duendes blow up
Between that tired roof
And its younger care-giver
Making the tarp lift
And billow
Like the sails of a great clipper ship

And supported by them,
The sheet feels
Weightless.

It stretches against its ties
Pulling and ruffling
Within the freedom that’s promised,

And the spirits say to it,
“Come,
Leave this place
Soar with us among the clouds.”

And the tarp is tempted,
Its every shiny fiber
Longing within torn grommets
And frayed edges,
For the untethered life,

But this isn’t its first wind-race,
The call isn’t new,
And the tarp knows where that future leads,
Painfully aware
Of its luminous blue cousin,
The one who took hold of the wind,
Who was seduced by the call,
Who sailed away,
Only to be caught
By the barbs nearby,
Now trapped,
Left by the duendes to forever ripple
Against the harsh wires of the fence,
Never again to be useful in this world.

The tarp knows
That the spirits are not to blame,
It is their nature,
Their promise is well-meant
But fleeting,
Like themselves.

And, making its decision,
The tarp descends
Releasing its hold on the wind’s fickle gusts,
Once again caressing the roof,
Feeling the pleasant tension of ropes,
The the pull and give of bungees,
The gentle swaying of anchor trees,

And it says to the wind,
“No,
This is my place,
I am of service here.”

And, once again,
As always happens
When the wind-races are run,
The tarp turns from the spirits,
Laying itself across the aging roof,
Protecting the old girl,
In all the ways she can no longer
Protect herself.

And, as the duendes move on,
To dance in some other valley,
To entertain some other forest spectators,
To tempt some other leaf,
Or grocery bag,
Or strip of corrugated tin,
The tarp gazes
At the surrounding pine trees
Now as placid as the ancient wisdom they hold,

And,
Like them,
The tarp is still,
And it is happy.

©2019 Annette Meserve