I saw this field of winter cover crop, with a line of thaw, and some remnant of corn stubble. Thousands of rye seedlings -> one powerful color.
Sister Mary and I walked Saturday through a savanna near the Kankakee River watershed. The ground there is already softening. These clumps of wintered grass dotted a patch of ground between the savanna and a railroad bed. They are as powerful as stumps, little plant mammoths.
Rhinoceroses are big, the second largest land mammal after elephants. They have very small eyes, and their eyesight is poor; still, no one says they are not powerful. There are two southern white rhinos at the Detroit Zoo. Will I ever see them as they are?
I put a rhino in the treeline of the rye field sketch. If we live with them well, this gives power, yes?
This Red-breasted Nuthatch did not give up his place at the feeder while I made noises nearby, amazing bird. During the day I noticed a lot of bird activity: a Flicker had returned, not seen since October, and was eating ants in the grass. Canadian geese had returned, and a pair of mallards flew over the thawing lake. Many Tufted Titmouses were around for the first time this year. All were busy and making fine trills and tweets, Americans all.
I've returned to Ai-jane because the birds prompt me to do what I do, busily, not giving up, with tweet-song-joy.
Gruff is a part of Mary Oliver's tone in her recent poem, "Blueberries."
I’m living in a warm place now, where you can purchase fresh blueberries all year long. Labor free. From various countries in South America. They’re as sweet as any, and compared with the berries I used to pick in the fields outside Provincetown, they’re enormous. But berries are berries. They don’t speak any language I can’t understand. Neither do I find ticks or small spiders crawling among them. So, generally speaking, I’m very satisfied. There are limits, however. What they don’t have is the field. The field they belonged to and through the years I began to feel I belonged to. Well, there’s life, and then there’s later. Maybe it’s myself that I miss. The field, and the sparrow singing at the edge of the woods. And the doe that one morning came upon me unaware, all tense and gorgeous. She stamped her hoof as you would to any intruder. Then gave me a long look, as if to say, Okay, you stay in your patch, I’ll stay in mine. Which is what we did. Try packing that up, South America.
- Mary Oliver
(this poem appear in the recent issue of Orion.)
I just returned from visiting my getting-old mother in Florida, and last month M and I were in Cape Cod. Florida is much different than Cape Cod. Mary Oliver probably did not want to move south, away from Cape Cod. But getting old trumps what we want, often. We all wish her well in having to be away from where she lived for so long as a younger woman.
This two-page spread is in the middle of Sunday Review, in the middle of the Sunday New York Times (February 23 2014).
I'd been reading about the last day of the Sochi Olympics, El Chapo's arrest, Yanukovch's presidential residence, poop DNA collectors in Naples, an obit of James Cahill, whose books on Chinese art enlightened me, transgender soldiers, and then I turned the page to this spread: WOW.
I like Guy Trebay's writing whenever I see it (usually about fashion, his writing often becomes a wide romp about culture), so deft and funny (e.g. about the American uniforms for the Olympics opening ceremony that they reminded him of bad Christmas sweaters, oh gosh yes). Here he's writing about the Elms of Fifth Avenue, 2.5 miles of them, and amid the wonderful essay is the phrase "tabernacle of the air," glorious. (Trebay cites Henry Ward Beecher for this phrase; however did he come across it!)
Thank you Mr. Trebay and the NY Times. I so love coming across news/ an essay and photo (by Craig Blankenhorn) not about us but about trees.
I have taken this phrase--where we venture forth-- from a wonderful book, Hunger Mountain, by David Hinton, a long-time translator of Chinese poets and philosophers. In this book, subtitled "A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape," Hinton merges his walks and thoughts with the thought and culture of classical Chinese. And he makes poems of his own: assemblages with phrases from his translations, with pregnant spaces around the fluttering-like words. It's a remarkable book.
Edouard Manet's "Roses in a Champagne Glass," 12"x9", oil/canvas
During the year Manet was dying, he started doing small paintings of flowers. This is one. Though small, still it shows Manet's dashing brushstrokes and Velasquez-like Spanish coloring--blacks and deep greys mixed with bright color punctuations. There is a lovely book of the sixteen flower paintings done before his death in the spring of 1883, The Last Flowers of Manet, text by Andrew Forge. Mr. Forge points out that the tabletop here is the same one that the barmaid leans upon in "A Bar at the Folies-Gergere," his last major painting, completed a year before his death in the spring of 1883. In that complicated picture, there are two roses in a champagne glass in front of the barmaid.
I did a small flower painting yesterday, thinking of Manet. Grey winter is all around us here. The quick painting obviously nods to the one above, but has more paint and more inter-ference with the space around it, brighter color, less darkness.
Three roses in December, 12"x9," oil and pigment/board
Here's another poem by Mary Oliver, that comes as an Afterword in her book Owls and Other Fantasies:
I had no time to haul out all
the dead stuff so it hung, limp
or dry, wherever the wind swung it
over or down or across. All summer
it stayed that way, untrimmed, and
thickened. The paths grew
damp and uncomfortable and mossy until
nobody could get through but a mouse or a
shadow. Blackberries, ferns, leaves, litter
totally without direction management
supervision. The birds loved it.
I like to say this poem out loud. "haul out all": the words move with difficulty, slowly and each word discreetly. "shadow" slips into a spot on a new line/ new stanza. "management supervision" is a mess of language/ meaning!
I have been painting woods that are on the edge of yards and gardens, images a little bit messy, in and out of light and shadow, and I hope suggestive of birds just out of view.
that is nothing but light--scalding, aortal light--
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.
I like Mary Oliver's poems because they give me a wonderful path that I can follow through the wild, and when she writes about the human world I like that she is so matter-of-fact. This poem is from Owls and Other Fantasies, published by Beacon Press in 2003.
Ai-jen is my other name. Ai is a word for a flower, a kind of artemisia, pronounced "eye". Jen sounds like Jane, my given name, and it means truly. I am a painter living in the Midwest, more west than east, more north than south, and beautiful, and having, still, some wild places.