So much is wrong So much is sad So much cannot be fixed The detritus of the past lies all about But I find also diaphanous angel wings filled with eternal sunshine Bright smiling eyes of faerie flowers Reflecting the tranquil blue of the sky’s protective arch The old daffodil has stories to tell And joy appears in the most common of things Beauty, good, exist in every moment Like the stars in daylight Always shining But only seen in the darkest hour.
Winter is finally is beginning to give over to spring after a few false starts, and I am finding flowers in my yard. We all walk through difficult times and feel as if spring as a metaphor for relief, healing, rest, or morning after a long night will never come, but it does because in fact is always there hidden by what we expect to see. Sometimes all we need to do is look around us, and there it is.
The words came to me inspired by the beauty in a humble spring morning in 2015. At that time this was a poem in progress, but now it’s graduated to a finished poem. Below is a slideshow of other photos that inspired these words.
Please feel free to download and share this graphic I made for social networking.
In this sepia scene of late-winter twigs and matted leaves I found the small tattered orb she had built that lasted the winter, this tiny creature no larger than a grain of sand now curled in the center, her spirit long
gone from her desiccated body, yet her tiny children, awakened by a warming spring sun, will emerge from all the crevices in the plant she chose as their birthplace and find that her final creation helps provide their first meal, delicate strands catch the earliest gnats, though these too be the children of other mothers
full of hope for the generation of children
they will never meet; and so the returning songbirds will catch the tiny spiders as they leave their web of safety and find sustenance to begin their families all life toiling through the year to grow and thrive to prepare for the dark of winter and to come, again, in spring.
As the spring unfolds with longer days and milder temperatures, we remember what has passed.
It was the tiny spider in the delicate, worn web that inspired this slideshow from 2009 and poem from 2011.
Each year I leave the plants in my garden standing for the birds, insects and other residents of my garden to use for winter accommodations. In spring of 2009 I began preparing the garden section by section and happened to see this spider and her delicate web outlined in the spring sunshine. She had died long before but continued to cling there all winter long, and her web held up against any number of storms.
Her eggs would have been laid on the stem adjacent to her web which would catch the first insects in spring, and when they hatched the little spiders could have their first meal of the insects caught in the web and use her web as a launching pad. I found it so moving that on that bright early March afternoon I went through my garden looking for other such images.
All the other native plants had left behind their skeletons, and the effect of these was haunting, like finding a ghost town or an unknown world.
I had to let them say their last goodbye. I photographed each desolate construction with attention to extreme details you might never notice to show the intrinsic, transient beauty of these empty shells. The sepia tones are the natural coloring of the plants in the stark spring sunlight, that interim color palette between the blues of winter and the greens of spring. Here is a link to the original slideshow of photos taken that day; when you view it, you’ll see that many of the plants I’ve photographed are criss-crossed with tattered little webs.
I read this poem at my 2011 poetry reading at Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, but did not set up a web page for that reading, and it is not included in my poetry book.
I like them both. Who says I can’t find two inspirations in one moment? So I have two new poems.
It’s an empty seed cluster from monarda, or bee balm, just happened to be touched by late afternoon sun while the snow beneath it was in shadow, its bent stem a blur beneath it. This is what it looks like in summer.
You can find these poems, together for the moment, in my Poetry Archive.
I also designed a graphic to share on social media. Feel free to download and share.
The illustration above is a sampler of all the shades of pastel I’ve used while painting portraits and sketches of people of all different “colors”, skin tones and ethnicities. Tell me, who is “black” and who is “white”? And what does “colored” mean?
In truth, we are all “colored”. Each of our faces has the darkest and lightest tones and all those in between, and even some colors we’d be surprised to find in skin tones. I can tell you that all the colors I smudged there have appeared in the highlights and shadows and mid-tones of every face. It largely depends on where you are standing in relation to the light.
Some people have suggested that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream of black children and white children going forward hand in hand, the ideal of seeing a person not for the color of their skin but for the content of their character, had the goal of a “colorblind” society. That’s a noble ideal on one hand, where we just don’t notice the color of a person’s skin in any situation and go on from there.
But does that truly bring justice to wrongdoing and change society in a way that makes the injustice people have suffered because of that color unacceptable? To suddenly begin to ignore the color of a person’s skin and jump immediately to integration is to jump right over the injustices done to people because of the color of their skin. It’s also ignoring an essential part of another person, shutting the door on a section of their life, a part that makes them distinctive. King did not use the term “colorblind” in any speech or written document, but his point is described by historians as a more “color aware” society where we recognize our differences, celebrate them and thereby heal through those very differences among ourselves.
When I create a piece of visual artwork I look for what makes the subject inspiring to me, what makes it distinctive, what makes me excited to share it with you. I like contrasts, I find what makes my subject different in its class, what makes it stand out from its surroundings. It’s my joy to find and share “the extraordinary in the ordinary”. If everything I painted looked the same, what need would there be for artwork?
Looking at people has always been like looking at a field of flowers for me—I find it hard to settle on one before I skip to another while I enjoy the visually exciting effect of all those different colors and shapes and heights and structures. Then I can can pause on each one and get to know each in its own unique detail.
When I rode the bus, long before I painted anything let alone a human portrait, I quietly studied all the faces around me for color and shape and texture, eye color, the hair that framed it, accessories and jewelry, and was often started by a stern expression of someone who didn’t understand why I studied them so intently. I was just looking for the things that made them unique and beautiful—not in the classic sense of beauty but in the classical sense, in that beauty is truth, in being true to who we are inside showing that on the outside, like the flower in the field that can’t help but be what it is.
If we are colorblind, we intentionally ignore some of the fundamental differences that make each of us irreplaceable. That denies a basic part of our personal existence and of human existence as a species; it denies a portion of our very identity as an individual.
That takes an awful lot of effort. Why not admit to our differences and get to know each other in full, and find the beauty in each of us. We have always been and will always be different from each other and might as well get used to it.