Midnight May 31, 2020
If a poem could keep
the world from exploding,
other lives from imploding
I’d never put down my pen.
I’d ink blank pages
until fingers cramped, blistered,
and bled, until the marks
of artistic suffering smeared
the alphabet of good intentions.
I’d write until compelled
to stop and look upon
the streaked mess
I’d made of creation.
Forced to cease
my frenetic struggle
I’d rub a tired hand
across my neck
and just breathe in and out
because I can
live in the present moment.
I’d see tears of privilege
smear my careful pages
forming corona bursts
that spread like wildfire
consuming poetic constructs.
Ink seeping into blood
bleeding into grief that overflows
its banks surging with despair
that were supposed to protect
our fragility but crumble
under the weight of oppression.
Exposing the rotten materials
upon which we’ve built
systems that promise
to uphold everyone
but never could
support the weight of equality
and that fail all of us now
as illusions of protection
and safety collapse.
The walls tumble down
and we are broken, shattered
scattered along the streets
cowering in quarantined homes
victims of an unseen virus,
supremacy, and privilege.
Barely masked vitriol
is such flimsy covering
against what we truly need to face.
I should be standing
alongside those destroyed
by the shadow side
we once tried to hide
but are now parading and tweeting.
Our naked underbelly celebrated
our worst selves shined up
our deepest fears inflicted
upon others we dehumanize
in order to keep our motives
unexamined our wounds unhealed.
My voice is so easily spoken
my words so easily heard
my views so easily accepted
my pen so easily plied.
But you who’ve been silenced
you who’ve been ignored
you who’ve been shunned--
protest. Riot if you must.
Burn your truth into my skin
and may your cries
haunt me to the grave.
Tarah Trueblood, one of my dearest friends, has interpreted my poem "For Our Hunger" as a 36" x 48" oil painting for her fine arts studies at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It's a privilege to have a talented artist and thoughtful human engage so deeply with my poetry. Reading about the creative process Tarah engaged in as she visually represented her meditation on the words and structure of the poem enriched my understanding of my own work. It's also nice to know that visual artists, like writers, compose in drafts, returning to the work and changing it.
Enjoy the poem as well as Tarah's painting "For Our Hunger" (above), and her artist statement below, which provides a fascinating a glimpse into the role of creativity in her life, as well as detailing the creative choices she made for this painting.
For Our Hunger
will be taken
by the neck
in the end
but not before
our little morsel
to this world
Tarah Trueblood’s Artist’s Statement
About three years into my decade of practicing law in Sacramento, California, I realized I had cut myself off from the act of creating—of giving birth. I needed a creative outlet. One autumn I signed up for training to become a docent of the Crocker Art Museum. Every Monday morning for an entire academic year I slipped out of the law office and into the magic of the Crocker. There I was immersed in color, texture, landscapes, portraits, sculptures, abstractions, history, culture, artists, and meaning-making. My favorite room became the modern art gallery where I would sit for long periods of time--entering a canvas, dialoguing with the artist, creating meaning and story.
Then, my sister was diagnosed with a life-threatening blood disease that destroyed her liver. While she was on the liver transplant waiting list, I created my first watercolor painting—more like a meditation really. Today, that is one of my favorite paintings and I named it after the name of the blood disease, Polysythemia—meaning too many red blood cells. The painting is dominated by chaotic forms and bloody shades of red. Yet, in its chaos, there is a large form that strongly resembles a fetus. My sister is still living and so is her daughter who was born shortly after Polysythemia was painted.
My sister’s illness inspired me to quit the practice of law in pursuit of something more meaningful. I chose to attend seminary in Berkeley to study theology, social justice, the arts, and meaning-making. That led to a career in higher education working with students to engage in the existential questions of life. Therefore, it is probably no surprise that for my painting class at Miami University, I chose to make a work that creates an experience of beyond, transcendence of the psychological consciousness of Same.
The content is drawn from the poem “For Our Hunger.” My first draft attempted to preserve the short lines and stanzas of the poem which resulted in a rigid visual grid. I began to eliminate the stanzas and line breaks to shift the focus to the visual content.
Ultimately, the goal was to communicate through content the poem’s meaning: life is full of hardship and yet we may discover ways to forge our suffering into beauty that nourishes our souls. Here are the choices I made to that end:
See more of Tarah's art at her Facebook page Trueblood Art Studio.
Ars Poetica is in its ninth year here on the west side of Puget Sound. Poets living in Kitsap, Jefferson, and Mason (that's me) Counties submit up to three poems to a jury of local artists who choose one or more poems to interpret in their chosen medium.
When complete, the art is displayed in participating galleries, and usually culminates in author-artist events at the galleries, where the poets read their poems standing alongside the artwork inspired by their poems, and the artist speaks about his or her creation, and how the poem inspired it.
This year, of course, everything is different and the displays as well as events have been canceled.
Fortunately members of the Bainbridge Island Photography club have been connecting via email with the poets whose words they interpreted. Here is the beautiful digital photograph created by Chuck Eklund in response to my poem, "Drifting to Sleep."
Drifting to Sleep
We gather behind the curtain of imagination
waiting in the wings as the orchestra
conducts its overture before crimson velvet
All our cares flutter toward the sky
as our dreamtime ballet begins
How quickly the fantastic takes shape
beneath our star-fused eyelids
galaxies glide through our minds
like ballroom dancers spinning
tales across the glittering floor
and the universe bursts into story
Here's what Chuck Eklund has to say about his art:
This photo is set in Lake Brienz, in Switzerland. We hiked around the lake and spent the night in the village of Brienz. Even though it was summer, during the day it rained on the lake and snowed on the mountains. Amazing. The building, mountains, and growth are all around Brienz. The stars were beautiful that night. However, I didn’t have a tripod and could take only a limited exposure with camera balanced on a towel on a wall. No way to get the stars. The stars and Milky Way are from Idaho. I have always regretted not getting the stars in Brienz. Your poem made me think that I would combine the two images.
Thank you, Chuck, for making such a beautiful photo. I definitely feel the flight into the dream realm as my eye is drawn to the upper edge of the photo. I'm glad we could share this virtually.
In German, they call today Karfreitag (Sorrowful Friday).
Here's a poem I wrote in response:
Bowl of Sorrows
On Good Friday 2020
This morning I place an empty bowl atop my coffee table
a vessel in which to pour our suffering and sorrows --
our beloved dead we cannot mourn together
our ill and dying lying in isolation
our elders in lockdown waved to from windows
our incarcerated overcrowded and incited to riot
our perilous pre-existing conditions
our harrowed healthcare providers working in horror
our first responders risking their families
our homeless without a place to call or stay home
our immigrants and refugees who can’t find refuge
our fear of black men wearing masks
our fear of everyone unmasked
everyone who lacks the privilege to shelter in place
the classrooms closed field trips furloughed
the commencement ceremonies unscheduled
the valedictory addresses vanished
the college tours cancelled libraries locked
the athletic seasons suspended
the wedding festivities forgotten
the dissolutions of marriage delayed
the tempers flared the doors slammed
the abuse behind curtains closed ever tighter
the mutual understandings unraveling
the first loves by distance fractured
the workplace identity whittled away
the blurred boundaries between work and home
the emptying pantries and pocketbooks
the layoffs and lost jobs
the indecipherable applications for assistance
the travel plans terminated border barricaded
the birthday parties banished
the beaches bunkered campgrounds closed
the worship services via wi-fi
the hugs held hostage smiles masked
the stress-snacking and viral insomnia
the gray roots exposed the ends splitting
the things I cannot even think of
The heartbreak of being healthy and happy
the shame of sacrificing nothing for my safety
No grief is too insignificant to acknowledge
or too monstrous to mourn
When Jesus suffered the unspeakable
he pleaded for our pardon
Before it was finished
he fashioned a family
Together we carry this bowl of sorrows
I began blogging about "This or Something Better" in 2011 when my husband and I were discerning what came next in our lives, which turned out to be relocating to Puget Sound from our Native California. My older posts can be found here.