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Blue Pulsar

2 Jan

Lothar Quinte’s “Blue Pulsar”, Joan Miró’s “Bleu III”, and Yves Klein’s “Sponge Forest” – all have the same inward pull, the same mesmerizing blue. Quinte’s painting, which I saw at the MALBA in Buenos Aires this past August, forms a blue orb on a blue plain, sitting atop a thin red line that thickens, slightly, as it touches the orb’s bottom curve. And in Paris’s Centre Pompidou, Miró’s piece is for falling in, one of three panes of blue with the tiniest red dot and ever so slightly larger black dot, each flung toward the side, becoming swallowed up. Klein, whose work is on view at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, created his own peculiarly intense shade of blue, patented as International Klein Blue. He wanted immaterial art – paintings made with fire, cities of air. He was preoccupied with voids. Yet his shade of blue throbbed.

Elsewhere, at the Knoxville Art Museum, there is an exhibit more tangible. David Bates, an artist from Texas, did a series of monumental portraits documenting the aftermath of Katrina. Here there is no calm immaterial blue, but charred gray and red-yellow eyes and furrowed brows – devastation reflected in muddled flood waters. He began the series while watching the storm unravel on television and then travelled to New Orleans when it became possible to do so.

Both exhibits compel in their own ways. Bates focuses intently on pain while Klein tried to evaporate raw nerves. Both exhibits continue until February 13, if you find yourself in Knoxville or Minneapolis.

In Loving Memory of S

13 Aug

My beloved cousin S passed away one week ago today. She’d been a girlhood idol of mine– beautiful, vivacious, kind, complex. A dancer, a shiatsu masseuse, a certified psychoanalyst. A descendant of Freud. I remember her belly dancing solo at Town Hall in New York. I remember her dancing at my wedding, hand-in-hand in a circle with all the little girls and then salsa-ing with my brother. I remember her this past March, the last time I saw her, telling me how she’d danced for three hours at a New Year’s party and that night had never slept better. She left us much too soon. Dear S, we miss and love you.

“Seder, 2008”

Mom passed the haroset around. “We bought a pound of it at D’vine,” she said.

S asked, “Are they even Jewish there?”

“Nah. Syrian Christians.”

“Not Lebanese?”

“I don’t know. Maybe Lebanese.”

“I saw the owner there. Poor woman has a full beard. Has to shave.”

“Electrolysis is expensive.”

“Take some haroset,” Mom said.

“No, I can’t,” S said. “The stuff is like mortar.”

“That’s the point.”

“It’s from Israel,” interjected Dad. “Taste the figs. Delicious.”

“We bought a whole pound,” said Mom. “Eat more.”

“No really,” S said. “I can’t.”

Later, after getting drunk on whipped cream (S does not drink wine), she explained how in the 1970s she contracted dysentery in India.

“Well, it was four months, and we were trying to stretch $600. Because the man I thought I loved was very frugal. He’d planned to ‘find’ himself before we met–”

“And did he?”

“Well, he wasn’t in India. He wasn’t anywhere. Anyway, he wrote to say how he couldn’t stand to be without me and I couldn’t stand to be without him. So I followed him there. And we travelled to ashrams and ate roadside food and drank chai out of desperation at places that owned two cups that they washed in the same dirty water. We weren’t careful. We slept in ruins, in the off season. June in southern India, too hot for Indians but we’re there, in this dry, horrible heat, until the sky turned black for the monsoons. Sometimes I had to put my foot down and say no to some of these places. A black mattress and no sheets? Once we were at a restaurant and after a few bites of food my head felt heavy.” She lolled her head down and swayed it side to side. “And I felt like I’d been knocked in the head with a hammer, and I said, ‘I have to lie down.’ Luckily, in every restaurant there is a hotel, so we took a room. And I couldn’t stop going to the restroom. Luckily, I was 26 with a lithe Achilles tendon, but I had to hold onto the wall. It was horrible.

“He had grown up in the Dominican Republic, so his intestinal track was built differently than mine.”

Then, for contrast, Guatemala.

“I went to Guatemala with my friend J to help her adopt a child. The husband didn’t go because he couldn’t get off work. But I went, because J didn’t speak Spanish. Five days, with a day trip to Antigua. We were so careful about food—only cooked meat and vegetables. We walked through the markets and there was beautiful fruit and we were thirsty, but we held out. Every day, J would spend a bit more time with the baby, an enormous nine-month old, and the foster mother was there too. And then finally, this enormous baby fell asleep in her arms. And they’re in love with the kid, nine years later.”

Later, after the cognac Mom had doused on the fruit salad got to us, we got silly, playing hand tricks that old uncles use to scare small children (got your nose!) and school children imitate in the school yard, giggling, giggling, giggling…

And E told us how, living in the ghetto in a basement apartment once, at age 12, she’d woken up with a little frog in her palm.


29 Jun

It’s a balmy 59 degrees in late June Seattle, about nine degrees warmer than the average temperature in January, February, March, etc…And yet, I love this cool weather, and how every evening the clouds pattern differently. Last night, a giant paw streaked pale pink, blue, gray-white across the sky.

My reading list for the summer was ridiculously unrealistic, then I changed it and it is still ridiculously unrealistic, so there’s no point in putting it here. But I will say that I’m reading War and Peace and Suite Française and they make for interesting companion pieces. There’s a scene in the latter that refers to a scene in the former, about troops and villagers crossing a bridge (and Suite Française, in case you don’t know, is about Parisians trying to leave Paris in World War II), and I got a certain twinge of readerly satisfaction from having so recently read the scene the more contemporary characters were talking about. The same sort of intersection gave me a similar twinge a couple of years ago when I was reading The Travels of Marco Polo (which I still haven’t finished) and The Decameron (…also unfinished, for shame…) and both mentioned the same story of an old monk in a cave, this time without making direct reference to predecessors. I love picking up two books, supposedly at random, and finding those connections across centuries. Seeing the reference in the more contemporary World War II novel somehow made the wartime scene in Tolstoy more powerful, for being still relevant, and also had an ironic effect on the character speaking about the scene, who didn’t yet experience fleeing Paris and didn’t seem to take that prospect seriously.

On that intertextual note, here’s another little piece I wrote this past quarter extending the myth of Prosperine. (The extension part begins with “In Hades…” and everything that precedes it is just to refresh your memory about what went down in that story.)

Ceres implored Jove to return Proserpine to her. Jove replied that Proserpine may return, so long as she has not eaten anything in the underworld. But Pluto had given Proserpine seeds of the pomegranate, and she had eaten those glistening seeds, so she was bound to spend part of the year in Hades and part of the year on Earth.

So, the months she spent in Hades became our autumn and winter, full of thistles and bramble and numbing snow. And the months she returned allowed us spring and summer– cherry blossoms and dogwoods, blackberries and huckleberries and rosy-hued nectarines and black plums.

In Hades Proserpine was dulled by dark winter. Pomegranates, with their juicy red-jeweled, bitter-centered seeds, were still on offer. Pluto sliced open this fruit and offered her a further wedge. Proserpine hesitated, tempted by this momentary distraction from underworld tedium.

“I want you to enjoy your time here,” Pluto said, still struck by Cupid’s quiver, still enraptured by Proserpine. “Please enjoy this fruit.”

“I can’t,” said Proserpine. “I know I’ll be further bound to this place. I know what will happen.”

“I’ll use my powers to prevent it. Longer summers, more lush vegetation. I promise.”

Proserpine knew that Pluto, struck by Cupid’s quiver, would keep his promise. She ate another wedge of pomegranate seeds.

Above, a confused Ceres watched the oceans rise.

Some Hunger Artists

8 Apr

I’m taking a fabulous “show and tell” class that demands thoughtful imitation and analysis of a range of prose, ancient to post-modern. This week, I wrote a short-short in response to Franz Kafka’s “A Hunger Artist” and thought I’d share it here.

Some Hunger Artists Go to Coney Island

Every July 4, across the street from Nathan’s on Neptune Avenue, three emaciated demonstrators sat on the corner in protest of the annual hot dog eating competition. They held hand-painted signs that read “wasteful”, “capitalist sludge”, “cruel”. But they were only three and they sat silently with grim expressions, so it was easy for the boisterous crowd to dismiss them or simply overlook them as the contestants dipped buns into water for ease of swallowing and gobbled them down with dog upon dog.

As their protests were unsuccessful, the competition continuing each year, the demonstrators thought of other ways to show the crowd that their lauding of excess was morally repugnant. They agreed upon an action for the next year’s demonstration that went beyond the previous year’s silent hunger strikes.

“Something spectacular, because the crowd only understands spectacle,” said one.

“Something that also shows our true devotion to the cause, an ultimate self-sacrifice,” said the second. The third, devoted to silence, said nothing. They hoped to permanently mar the spectacle of excess with their spectacle of sacrifice.

The next year, they each arrived on Neptune Avenue with a freshly sharpened cleaver and set up their old hand-painted signs beside them. They’d agreed with one another to be as swift as possible. Shock would be their friend (on a number of levels). At the start of the competition, as the contestants began their gorging, the protesters stood and swiftly lopped off of one another those limbs they’d previously agreed would be sacrificed to the cause. Taking turns, they hurled at the gulping contestants their severed limbs.

Nearby police, who’d always stood guard in case of such displays, whisked away the protesters. And the crowd, though at first aghast, thought it some outrageous joke and clamored for more.

Northwest Spring

17 Mar

It came early this year. Earlier than the East, but also a month earlier than normal for Seattle. Cherry blossoms budding in late January and bursting in February. Then dogwoods. Then magnolias. The storm clouds were consistently inconsistent, but in them now instead of grays and blues there was also the reflected pink. On my birthday a tsunami warning. Then the fluffy white blossoms turned streets bridal. In early March, it was sunny and warm. M and I rented a canoe and paddled about Portage Bay, lightly buzzed from margaritas shared with friends earlier in the afternoon. We diligently avoided the Montlake shipping canal, the only instructions given by the boat rental place. Of course, even with my life vest on I was nervous of toppling over, every time a motor boat or yacht made waves and we bounced and I heard a faint trickling of water (was there a hole in the canoe?). Eventually I relaxed and we paddled proficiently and enjoyed the near-crisp views of the Cascades and Mount Rainier and contemplated life in Laurelhurst and Sandpoint across the water.

Driving to Portland this past weekend we caught even more spring. So much pink with occasional bursts of yellow forsythia. I couldn’t remember a time I’d seen so many blossoms along the highway. Wandering the neighborhoods of Portland, we didn’t need to stoop to smell the flowers, their fragrances wafted up to us. The friend we were visiting rasped with seasonal allergies. All the pollen, he explained, was stuck in Portland. The geography did not allow it to blow away. He told us it used to be called the sick place. Too much spring. I was relieved my own eyes weren’t bursting with stinging moisture. We saw a play there at the Imago Theater, an “opera beyond words” about an authoratarian typing school, in which the task master (a bit like a business-y, malevolent bride of Frankenstein) skewered out one eye from each typist and hung the ball from its red cords above that typist as he or she sullenly tapped away. We brunched at Screen Door, where M spotted Catherine O’Hara, and then took the streetcar from Nob Hill to the waterfront. Of course we stopped at Powell’s; M picked up Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends and I finally got Irene Nemirovksy’s Suite Francaise, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time.

Now spring break is upon us. We’re heading back East to visit friends and family, where their own spring should be just emerging.

House of Monsters

24 Jan

I had a lovely Sunday: brunch in the Pike/Pine area followed by coffee and a pink-frosted cupcake (sitting in Pepto Bismol chairs, listening to the Pixies and Radiohead) and stumbling through the rain into random shops. One shop on Pike, Snowmonkey’s House of Monsters, tucked away above an ice cream and sandwich spot, is full of odd little toys, books, and art. Currently in the shop is the art of Xavier Lopez Jr, whose illustrations of toothy-grinned, bulgy-eyed children made my afternoon. Now to round out the day with some Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Not If, But When

19 Dec

My parents are visiting. We went to the Henry Art Gallery yesterday, the oldest art museum in Washington State and also currently my favorite. It seemed similar to (though a smidgen smaller than) the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which is sort of funny (but not really) in that the founder was an art collector from Minneapolis (more funny huh than funny ha ha, I suppose). Currently on until Jan. 31, 2010 are two photography exhibits: Mappelthorpe’s early polaroids, and Eirik Johnson‘s large-scale photographs of northwest logging, fisheries, and the like. One piece from the permanent collection that has stuck in my mind is a 1990 sculpture entitled “Not If But When”: four gray cuckoo clocks with no numbers or hands each ticking away as below them hefty hammers and sickles swing frantically.

Ebb and Flow

18 Nov

The Fall 2009 issue of Yellow Medicine Review is now available: a hefty 350+ page book of stories, essays, and poems, including an opening essay by Andrei Codrescu exploring the four visits he made back to Romania since the fall of communism. Also, my story “Ebb and Flow” is tucked away in there. This themed issue has got me thinking about a number of stories that are now in various larval states.


29 Sep

A week from tonight, I’ll be reading at the Castalia reading series, at Hugo House. The readings feature UW MFA faculty, students, and alumni. Fun!

Middle of Nowhere

16 Sep

A very short story of mine appears in The Middle of Nowhere: Horror in Rural America, an anthology out from Pill Hill Press this month.

In other news, M. and I have explored and fallen in love with Georgetown, an artsy former industrial area south of downtown, chock full of studios in rickety old brick buildings (former bottling plants, iron and brass works). It felt like a combination of the Wild West and Red Hook. Their Art Attack (when studios are open to the wandering public) is every second Saturday of the month.

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