Bryan R. Monte – AQ22 Summer 2018 Art Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ22 Summer 2018 Art Reviews

Günther Förg, a Fragile Beauty, Amsterdam Stedelijke Museum, 24 May to 14 October 2018
Wayne Thiebaud, Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar, 10 June to 16 September 2018.

It was if the gods themselves were listening when I chose Texture as the theme for AQ’s 2018 summer issue. Amsterdam’s Stedelijk and The Hague’s Museum Voorlinden have both recently opened retrospective exhibitions by artists, whose primary focus is texture: the Stedelijk featuring work by Günther Förg and the Van Linden, work by Wayne Thiebaud. It’s truly an embarrassment of riches for texture art devotees.

How the view changed

The Stedelijk’s Günther Förg, a Fragile Beauty, runs through 14 October 2018. The Stedelijk’s collection, the largest in world, curated by Veit Loers, includes work from his entire oeuvre including a variety of mediums such sculptures and photographs, and materials such as bronze, lead, lead and plaster in addition to more traditional paintings on canvas. The exhibition is organized thematically, starting with a gallery of black and white photos of Bauhaus buildings. Most of these photos are of exteriors, but a few are of interiors, taken through the regularly-ordered blocks of the window frames. It’s this raamwerk leitmotif that is used by Loers throughout the exhibition to provide thematic unity. It is also reinforced by a series of four framed photographs entitled Wall Painting, Vienna Succession, 1990. These include four slightly different landscape views from windows in a house in which the exterior is dark forcing the viewer to look outwards.

A second unifying element or motif is, of course, colour. Some of Förg’s paintings are in fact wall-sized panels of single colours that were originally viewed singly or placed next to each other for contrast. This contrast is even more apparent in a gallery filled with dozens of paintings, which have two or more contrasting colour panels on one canvas but which frequently share a common, grey underlayer. Many of these paintings remind me of Abtract Expressionist Mark Rothko’s horizontal bar paintings where two or more bars create a tension and a unity with each other based upon their surface and underlying colours.

As the visitor continues from one gallery to the next in this exhibition, the window motif begins to morph from a cross-hatch to more of a cross motif and it is combined on canvases with the colour tensions. One gallery, the fourth or so from the beginning contains a collection of nothing but crosshatches on somewhat monochromatic backgrounds. These cross motif and colour tensions are exploited later in what seems like landscape paintings. This two elements come together in Förg’s, Untitled, 1995 in which light green, light, earth-tone orange and white are mixed together with brown, fence-like crosses. It’s a painting that reminds one of Piet Mondriaan’s Impressionistic, Zealand seascapes with tidal barriers from the late 1910s.

Some of the best and darkest pieces in this exhibition are towards the end. In the same a gallery as Untitled, 1995, are a series of dark, hung, large, canvas-sized bronzes. These bronzes include three works with large, deep slashes (all Untitled, 1988) and two with seemingly semi-buried, fossil-like shelled creatures (both Untitled, 1990). A smaller gallery on the right, which dead-ends, includes work from the 1970s and 1990s. This gallery includes one dark brown, almost monochromatic painted canvas, (Untitled, 1974), which, in this reviewer’s opinion, seems to include ghostly torsos looking outwards in a layer just under the surface.

Beyond this gallery and the next is a collection of Förg’s photographs including close-ups of women reminiscent of 1950s glamour photos and a photo of a young man sprawled at the bottom of a staircase either from a fall or another reason from a true crime magazine. These noir images while interesting (as are the photos of ancient mosaics and modern architecture from Italy from a few galleries before) seem, however, to detract from overall trajectory of Förg’s art.

In contrast to the gallery with the dark, hanging bronzes, is the last, very large gallery with what seem like giant, jagged, up-and-down, trial, pastel-coloured pencil markings on white canvases Untitled 2007 and 2008 and mixed-media, untitled white plaster sculptures from 2001. His mixed media white plaster sculptures include objects such as a blue torch or photographer’s flash, a white and green plastic bottles, a fluorescent lamp and copper wiring. These pieces are in stark contrast from the work that has preceded it and obviously an attempt by the artist, in the last decade of his life, to continue to re-invent himself. Perhaps if Förg had lived longer, these new, wall-size practice palettes and smaller, playful plaster sculptures might have enabled him to continue to create work in new directions.

Have your cake and eat it too?

Wayne Thiebaud’s mouth-watering pie slices, cakes, sundaes and donuts are known to almost any Art 101 college student. He is probably the most famous, living American artist and the reason this writer travelled from his usual Amsterdam museum beat to Wassenaar’s Museum Voorlinden to see and interview the great man on the opening of his first European retrospective. Unfortunately, due to an illness and his advanced age (97) Thiebaud did make it to his opening, but museum director Suzanne Swarts ensured that the show went on, providing rolling commentary for the press as she took them through the Voorlinden’s galleries featuring Thiebaud’s work.

Museum Voorlinden has collected approximately 60 of Thiebaud’s works from the 1960s to the present from both public and private collections. The exhibition is curated in such a way that it fortunately seems to answer some of the questions I was going to ask the artist himself. For example, one of my questions was: ‘The room reflections in Two Paint Cans (1987) reminds me of the reflections in silver, glass, and mirrors in some 17th century Dutch still lifes and interior paintings. Were you consciously aware of this tradition as you painted these objects?’

This seemed to be immediately answered in the first gallery where Two Paint Cans (1987) hangs just to the right of Robed Woman with Letter, (1976-2013), who has the same facial gesture (albeit from the front) of bracing herself for bad news as does the woman evocative of Vermeer’s Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1663-64). So right from the beginning, this exhibition places Thiebaud’s oeuvre firmly in the realm of high-art, although Thiebaud insists, as Swarts reminded the press, of calling himself a painter and not an artist. Another unifying technique in the same gallery that is used to present Thiebaud’s work, is chromaticism. At the opposite end of the gallery are two paintings that use similar green colours. The first is Green Dress (1966-2017) of a seated woman in a green dress and the other is White Shoe (1995), the title shoe painted on a green glass table. On the facing wall between these two sets of paintings are paintings of a lipstick (Lipstick, 1964), a portrait of a seated man wearing a red tie and a woman wearing a pink dress, red shoes and a red hairbow, both figures arms crossed, looking opposite directions, and their cheeks flushed (Two Seated Figures, 1965), and a candy counter (Peppermint Counter, 1963) with its 5 and 25 cent striped peppermint sticks and its 10 cent, red, candy apples, the unifying colour between of these three paintings being different shades of red. Thiebaud’s people or figures, as he calls them, seem to come straight out of Edward Hopper, but their boredom or anger is painted in the much brighter California light with its blue and green shadows.

It is these paintings of everyday American images that made Thiebaud, one of the first and most original of the Pop Artists (a term he continues to disavow). Unlike Warhol and the other Pop Artists, however, Thiebaud doesn’t appropriate others’ commercial or comic designs or celebrity photographs for his art. Yet, he does paint common objects from everyday American life: for example, platoons of pie and cake slices lines up for sale in a canteen. And he paints these objects the way he sees them and in his own style with thick slathers of paint, similar to icing strokes. This is not realism. It is an artistic reinvention of what’s before him, giving it texture and thus more visual and mouth-watering appeal such as in Pie Counter, 1963 and Cakes and Pies 1994-1995.

If these beautiful, delicious objects and subjects are perhaps too saccharine or tame for some art aficionados, then they may focus their attention on room 5, which contains Thiebaud’s landscapes, especially his cityscapes which are sure to shake them up. These include aerial views of the agricultural Central Valley, near Thiebaud’s home in Sacramento, or the vertiginous cityscapes with people and cars hurtling down rollercoaster hills painted in his San Francisco Potrero Hill studio. Thiebaud’s somewhat naively-painted, Diebenkornesque, rural landscapes have a feel of God looking down on his/her green creation on a good day, one with one tree lit in golden twilight in Reservoir 1999 fit for Blake’s or Swedenborg’s angels. The perspective in these paintings also sometimes folds out in a somewhat M. C. Escheresque manner to create a new area, expanding the painting’s three traditional planes Fall Fields 2017, or to include the mirage of the reflection of lights in a body of water from a city or large factory that isn’t there. In contrast to these pretty rural landscapes are the monstrously hilly San Francisco cityscapes, filled with skyscrapers Intersection Buildings 2000-2014 (which I believe is a composite painting of California Street) roller coaster motorways, empty urban areas under or around the motorways or in construction areas Towards 280, 2000 and steep hills, such Bluff 2013 which seem to only be climbed at your own peril.

These two very different types of landscapes answer another question I had: Do your two contrasting types of rural and urban landscapes express the order, security and perhaps boredom of Thiebaud’s candied-appled, suburban home in Sacramento vs. the artistic exhilaration and intrepidness you felt working in San Francisco? I think the answer to that question is another resounding: ‘Yes’.

A final question I had for Thiebaud which would have probably come at the beginning of the interview after How are you feeling today at your first European respective? It would have been: What influence did your southwestern Mormon origins and Southern Californian upbringing have on your painting? I think the first obvious answer to this question can be found in Thiebaud’s work ethic: at 97, according to director Swarts, he still paints everyday. It’s also found in his pastel colour palette, the fully lit figures or objects, whether on display or under the California sun, with their blue and green shadows. In addition, it can found in Thiebaud’s humility and his service to others. Even after Thiebaud found fame in the ‘60s, he continued to teach and mentor undergraduates out West at college and university rather than surround himself with a coterie of admirers, trying to climb the greasy pole of fame and fortune, and move back East. Thiebaud’s art has a simplicity to it, in its subjects and its technique, which continues the credo of ‘less is more.’ (Not Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s but Robert Browning’s in ‘Andrea del Sarto’). This, Thiebaud probably gleaned from his work in commercial art. It helped him focus on his subjects—at least the human and edible ones—and find the extraordinary in the ordinary, which has made and sustained his long career.

Liz Robbins – The Good and Terrible Stars

Liz Robbins
The Good and Terrible Stars

On a night, strong, like the bright scent of lemon: how wrong-headed
my obsessions, the need to be alone.

And how utterly necessary, otherwise, why live in a divided country?

I’m the detective and the thief: pulling in people, then hoarding space.

Standing, squinting at the distance: how much to acquiesce? To defend?

Standing in a burning field that’s also a tiny room. Even explaining
the conflict’s a rabbit trap, an ungrateful alibi.

Everyone’s tired, in different ways.

Everyone, driving in loops.

On a night, you might find yourself outside, away from the brightly-lit
party for a time. Inside, a door

about to shut. What clears your brittle path: looking back to the group,
or up?

Michael Mingo – Qualia

Michael Mingo
Qualia

The eye-searing saturation
of IKB, a liquid blue paint
that’s pigment-intense, spread
over my whole visual plane;

my head throbbing in the absence
of Advil, or a heartache turned
into a panic attack; just what
your lips on mine stimulate:

such qualities have no equal.
Would such squalls of sensation
never cease. My only wish
is for the aesthete’s existence,

though some may judge me
as a hedonist, an uncured
Epicurean. I would take
their derision as medicine.

Most mornings, I get up
so beset with depression
I sense less than that woman
raised in a monochrome room,

who studied nothing but color
as told by textbooks, data sets
from spectrometers. No one
is certain, no one agrees, what

she learned when she emerged.
Were I in Mary’s shoes, or rather,
in Mary’s mind, could I even
begin to tell the difference?

Samuel W. James – Above the Tobacconist

Samuel W. James
Above the Tobacconist

White blinds, defined by dark mould spots in the corners,
ran back and forth on hollow wire insulator. Selby
town centre, where he moved after the divorce,
above the tobacconist, in his second-storey flat; I woke

to see dawn set to work, followed by the early risers.
The pet-food factory by the bridge, we passed it
on entering and leaving the town, and I guessed
it must be where these weekend workers were going.

When the wind blew a certain way, I could smell it
in summer through the window, like off milk and vinegar,
as I watched the cobbled carpark around which the centre
was built, noting the characters who came into the dingy
early opening shop; the faint ring of the bell below.

Meryl Stratford – October, Sailing the English Channel

Meryl Stratford
October, Sailing the English Channel

I watched it again today,
a grainy, black and white movie
filmed almost four decades ago.
Like a ghost ship she sails along.
The camera focuses on self-steering gear:
a wind vane and a tiller that steers
without the help of human hands.
A long line, drifting astern,
measures speed in nautical miles.
The camera looks up at the sails, forward
over the life raft and coils of rope.
It observes waves rushing toward us,
surging away in foam. It studies
lightships in the channel
and the famous white cliffs.
It lingers on the sheen of light.
It goes below to show us galley,
bunks, bins where sails are stowed.
It suggests someone is there,
but no one is seen.
Only a wisp of windblown hair.

Keith Perkins – The Graveyard Man

Keith Perkins
The Graveyard Man

It is a misty November morning and Danny Brennan has already consumed two shots of Irish whiskey. He approaches four graves in the centre of the Kilcrohane Burial Ground to begin his day’s work and is attired in sturdy, knee-length mud boots and a hooded raincoat. His sole adornment is a large plastic bucket with assorted tools. The cap on his whiskey flask peeks out from one of his pockets.

His first grave of the morning bears the name ‘addy O’Mara’. On tender, aching knees and with arthritic hands, he begins by scraping and brushing the moss and dirt to allow the ‘P’ to gain its rightful place. Wilted flowers still bathe Paddy’s tomb in a carpet of muted reds, yellows, and blues. The small plot has only just begun to sprout grass. It was a brief illness. The few dozen family and friends who attended his recent internment spoke of a warm, vibrant, and loyal family man. His widow Mary chose the epitaph now etched on his freshly-restored tomb:

Paddy O’Mara
A loving father, husband, grandfather and farmer
Tender nurturer of both the Irish soil and our hearts
1907-1984

Danny turns and winces mildly.

‘Blasted choices,’ he declares irritably.

He drags his bucket to a second mud-covered grave adjacent to Paddy’s. The words continue their mild echo:

‘Father, husband, grandfather and farmer’.

As Danny’s brush makes contact with the tomb, he whispers:

‘And best friend.’

For Paddy and he were unofficial village twins and classmates some fifty years earlier at the Kilcrohane National School, only a scant kilometre or so up a lonely Irish lane from where he now toils on moist, ruined knees.

They sat next to each other in this intimate schoolhouse, a nondescript, one-story building that opens to the village church. They chuckled in unison and sometimes earned an angry rebuke or stern glare from the imperious schoolmaster. On Saturday, they took to the pitch with a stable of locals followed by a game of road bowling in the village center. And in the waning light of a Saturday evening, exhausted from the day’s sport, they would sink to the damp grass bordering the rocky edge of Dunmanus Bay, still laughing and panting while recounting a missed shot or friendly tussle.

Before returning home, they often shared a pint of Guinness carefully lifted from a forgotten crate behind one of the two village pubs. Bounty in hand, they would run with a wild, reckless abandon that only youth can inspire until they arrived breathless in the cover of a small patch of nearby woods.

‘That was a close one,’ Paddy said, exuding a youthful giddiness that saturated those carefree Saturdays.

‘Too close,’ Danny shot back.

He wore a mischievous smile and stood slightly bent, his hands resting on his long, nimble legs.

Those same long, yet aching, spiritless limbs now carry him to his third grave of the morning. Danny meditates on that brotherhood, that easy laughter, that youthful innocence. His meditation includes a third generous gulp of whiskey from his weathered flask.

‘Blasted choices,’ he spits out angrily.

At 18, Paddy’s eyes bent towards America. With farm jobs scarce in Kilcrohane, he turned to New York’s Hudson Valley for work. The peninsula, already a remote, windswept, forgotten place with Paddy on it, became more oppressive, more dark, more lonely in his absence.

A fourth sip of whiskey does little to erode the ache of that vacancy.

‘See you Danny,’ Paddy said solemnly on his final day in Kilcrohane as the two fiercely embraced outside the general store.

‘It’s your last chance to join me,’ Paddy said, his fair, curly hair whirling rebelliously in the gusty winds off Dunmanus Bay.

Leaves pranced across the empty street in the village center. A light, early autumn rain fell.

‘The Kilcrohane lads in America?’ Paddy added, smiling meekly.

‘I can’t…I just can’t,’ Danny said. ‘Good-bye Paddy…Slainte.’

Danny’s eyes moistened. Taller and thinner, he bent slightly in order to better meet Paddy’s embrace. His three-day growth of whiskers pinched Paddy’s smooth, crimson cheeks. There were hasty pledges to write, a few final best wishes, and then, the ‘twins of Kilcrohane’ were separated.

Now tending to his final grave of the morning, Danny still feels the raw, steady wind off Dunmanus Bay as it blew across the village street on Paddy’s final day in Kilcrohane.

‘Ah, blasted choices,’ he says forlornly.

He reaches for his flask, twists off the cap and takes another quick sip. It is barely mid-morning.

A steady flow of letters from Paddy trickled to a rare Christmas greeting. What Danny did learn before news became scarce was that Paddy had found a farm job in New York. He also met an Irish girl named Mary and after a brief courtship and marriage, a brood of five O’Mara’s swiftly followed.

Danny remained alone. He was bestowed by locals with the title of graveyard man. A friendless, isolated bachelor, his only companion on those long, solitary nights in his tiny flat was his cheap Irish whiskey and a frayed, tired copy of Mary Shelley’s The Last Man.

After eight years without news, a brief letter arrived from Paddy. Danny retrieved it one early afternoon upon returning from the burial ground, his mud-splattered bucket in hand and flask of whiskey in his side pocket. Exiting the post office, he rushed up a nearby lane and sat down on a boulder under a small cover of woods. He ripped the seam impatiently, took a sip of whiskey, and read its contents with alacrity:

Dear Danny:

I hope this letter finds you well. I just recently returned to Ireland and have settled with my family outside the village of Clifden. The lads and Mary are all thriving. We’ve purchased a farm near Mary’s childhood home and are quite busy tending to all the daily tasks. We feel blessed.

Impatient for some news.

Warm regards,

Paddy

Danny rallied his stunned faculties. He never expected that Paddy would ever return to Ireland, yet now that he was securely on Irish soil again, he might just as well still be living in America. The distance to Clifden was nearly as unbridgeable. Danny didn’t have the resources or the time for that multi-day journey to the far west of Ireland. He earned only a Sunday reprieve from his daily work and his meager stipend gave him scarcely enough money to pay the rent on his dreary, one-room flat and to buy basic food supplies. What little remained he spent on cheap Irish whiskey.

Disconsolate, Danny tucked the letter back in his pocket, the sole unsullied corner of his muddy, damp clothing.

In the glow of a cozy fire later that evening, a heavy rain buffeting his window, he sat and lingered over the final line in Paddy’s letter:

‘Impatient for some news’.

He understood why. For Danny had never written to Paddy with any consistency. A few times he sent a missive with vague news touching on life in the village or a failed romance with a local girl. The few Kilcrohane girls that he did briefly court soon tired of his drinking and couldn’t foresee a future with the village graveyard man.

He still held the same job at the burial ground that he had secured shortly after Paddy left. It was a favor granted by the town postmaster, who, seeing the directionless youth, put in a good word with the village vicar. The few local lads who he did befriend soon married, started families and became heavily cloaked in all the variegated fibers of Irish domesticity.

His only surviving relative was an aunt who raised him from childhood after both of his parents were struck down by pneumonia within a year of each other. He rose each morning in the pre-dawn blackness and quaffed a shot of whiskey with breakfast. He then worked until early afternoon at the burial ground before stopping by the village church to tidy up the small yard and sweep the front steps. If he could spare a few coins, he would stop by the village pub to sulk over a whiskey by the fire. His evenings were passed in perfect solitude consuming a small dinner at a worn, uneven wooden table. He would linger over a whiskey, or perhaps drift through a few pages of The Last Man before falling into a fitful slumber in a corner cot.

Danny’s thinning, greying hair, advancing arthritis and a slight bending of his once tall, supple frame were the only evidence of time’s imperial march. The daily whiskey and the exposure to the winds of Dunmanus Bay had conspired to form deep lines across his red, hardened face. To dress in the morning became increasingly arduous. Decades of brushing and scraping on the damp burial ground grass had reduced his hands to a throbbing mass of misery. His fingernails wore a permanent inky black coating after a lifetime of labour in the mud and muck. His bucket also bore the stamp of time. A long, thin crack ran down one side and a thoroughly rusted handle flirted with annihilation.

Danny rises to his feet and turns for home. It’s a short walk up the gravel lane, across the village street and up another brief path to his flat. As he approaches the sparse lighting of the village, he sees the ‘Open’ sign affixed to the door of the general store. Paddy’s absence was always felt most acutely when passing that place. He very often turned to his whiskey here.

As he neared that same village road just a few months ago while returning home, he saw a bespectacled, grey-haired man. His hair was neatly cut and he was standing before the door of the general store. Unlike Danny’s filthy clothes, he wore clean slacks and a yellow sweater over a button-down shirt. Black shoes completed his casual, yet dignified outfit. Such a refined–almost regal–presence was a rare sight in these parts. His countenance gained clarity with each step Danny took until the ‘twins of Kilcrohane’, stripped of youth’s fair brush, were standing before each other.

‘So nice to see you,’ Danny said, as the two embraced warmly in the shadow of where they bid farewell 58 years earlier.

‘Likewise, my friend,’ Paddy responded, flinching slightly over Danny’s shoulder as the penetrating odour of liquor filled the space around their merged bodies.

Later, under the soft glow of Danny’s fire, each bearing a glass of Irish whiskey, they reminisced about Kilcrohane and their childhood. They also shared details of their lives since that bleak, windy autumn day in 1925.

‘You should have joined me,’ Paddy said softly, dredging up the open invitation he extended to Danny in 1925 as the two mulled their respective futures.

‘You know Paddy, I, uh, couldn’t leave my aunt on the peninsula,’ he responded solemnly. ‘She begged me to stay. It’s a choice I, uh,’ he said somberly while shaking his head slowly.

‘It’s a choice I,’ he repeated falteringly, his voice dwindling into a pained silence.

‘It would have been nice to have you nearby,’ Paddy said, his yellow sweater emitting an ethereal glow before the crackling flame. ‘The lads never got to properly know their Uncle Danny.’

That same flame cast a soft orange glow over Danny’s copy of The Last Man, which tilted precariously against a vase on the table.

‘It hasn’t been easy,’ Danny muttered. ‘The peninsula can drive even the strongest man to, well…’

Paddy offered an acquiescing nod.

Danny glanced forlornly down at his half-empty glass of Irish whiskey.

His crimson cheeks gained an added fervour before the dancing flames as he told Paddy of the unstirred monotony of the last half-century. It was a quotidian routine made more oppressive in the wake of his aunt’s death in 1935. His drinking intensified, leading to his permanent expulsion from one of the two pubs in the village after the owner found him lifting a pint of Guinness from a crate in the rear. It was an act he had pulled off many times with Paddy under more nimble legs, but his arthritic limbs betrayed him. He tripped, noisily tumbling into a collection of discarded beer bottles. Locals began to avoid the graveyard man–a development that only tightened his noose of isolation.

An extended silence hung over the flat. The greying, wrinkled, fragile pair sat opposite each other, whiskies in hand, as the final cracks and whistles of the fire expired. A few months later, Danny received a letter from Paddy’s wife Mary:

Dear Danny:

It is with great sadness that I must inform you of the death of our dear Paddy. He passed away last night surrounded by his loving children, grandchildren and me.
He spoke often of you in the most affectionate terms–both in America and here in Clifden. His interment at the Kilcrohane Burial Ground will take place next Thursday morning.

With love,

Mary

Danny crosses the village street, bucket in hand, and heads home. Later that evening after supper, his whiskey on a side table and the fire bathing the room in a gentle orange, Danny marks the two-month anniversary of Paddy’s death in the same fashion he’s spent nearly every night since 1925–alone with his whiskey.

A heavy squall erupts. Fierce winds rattle the windows. Danny settles in his chair, mulling the vestiges of Mary’s final letter announcing Paddy’s death:

‘He passed away last night surrounded by all his loving children, grandchildren and me’.

As he scans his vacant flat, the only object Danny’s heart can warmly bend towards is his volume of Shelley’s The Last Man. It was the sole item of any value bequeathed to him by his aunt after her death.

‘Blasted choices,’ he mutters testily.

Suddenly, a powerful urge wills him–almost lifts him–out of his chair. He heads to the old wooden table near the door. Never has he moved with such a singular purpose after a day’s work at the burial ground. He picks up the half-empty bottle of Irish whiskey and walks resolutely to the kitchen sink. Slowly, he unscrews the cap and empties the contents of the bottle down the drain. He watches with avidity as the last drops of that demonic liquid swirl into nothingness. He walks to the front door of the flat and opens it briskly. He braces himself against nature’s wild riot and places the empty bottle outside.

‘Free,’ he sighs wearily.

Face now aglow before his modest fire, the words return:

‘He spoke of you in the most affectionate terms…’

He crosses his legs and eases his head back against a small pillow.

The storm rages into the night. His breathing softens.

‘He spoke of you in the most affectionate terms…’

Then, with fading images of Paddy clinging to the narrowing corridors of his mind, the peninsula relaxes its grip on Danny, the fire withers, and darkness settles over the village of Kilcrohane.

***

Simon Brod – Stadionkade, Amsterdam

Simon Brod
Stadionkade, Amsterdam

I.  15 July 2015, 7.45 a.m.

Today, right in the gap between breakfast and duty,
where stern-faced houses loom on either side,
a patch of sun emerges to embrace me
as I walk a narrow bridge across deep waters
whose face, dark and glassy as a mirror,
beckons, lets me peek through open windows,
glimpsing into life on upper floors

where a bird perched on the windowsill observes,
with an eye that pierces the skin of things and sees,
below on the water’s surface, the sky floating,
beyond it, looped in shadows and tangled weeds,
fish swim heedless circles, and here, lost
in reflection, stopping, turning, turning back,
in a garland of sunlight and, grinning stupidly, me.

II.  2 December 2016, 3:45 p.m.

Today the water’s murky, sediment-laden.
Detritus rises, floats, makes lazy circles.

Ripples criss-cross. Reflections are disturbed,
the world reduced to jagged broken lines.

There have been times the eye saw clear and deep.
Stilled, the surface mirrored trees and street signs,

showed cloudless days, people side by side,
friendly faces shining, mine among them.

But now I only see a restless churning,
angry mud stirred up, fallen leaves,

and faces twisted, crooked, pulled apart.
Mine must be there too, sunless, birdless,

somewhere. A hard rain starts. I turn to go.
The picture quakes. A shiver shakes my bones.

Jennifer L. Freed – The Dog and I

Jennifer L. Freed
The Dog and I

It is only for a moment that we stand
on the weed-ruffled shoulder of the narrow road
while the driver whips past,

but when we are safe again
I see, locked in the dog’s quick clamp,
a throb of velvet grey,
dangling paws.

I am already too late.
There is nothing to do but continue
walking with the mystery
beating in the warm, oblivious jaw
that trots beside me.

Jennifer L. Freed – While My Brother is Having an MRI

Jennifer L. Freed
While My Brother is Having an MRI

                            to see whether the cancer
has also leapt to his brain,
my husband drives wintery roads,
bringing one daughter
to a gymnastics meet,
and the other gets ready for a party
of teenage girls soon to fill this quiet
house. The dog wags
at the door, eager
for his walk, and the plow
leaves another ridge of icy snow
at the end of the driveway.

Carol Parris Krauss – The Fabric of the Heart

Carol Parris Krauss
The Fabric of the Heart

If you peel back the pericardium, snap the thick sac, tear
the heart from the ligaments binding it to the spinal cord
and diaphragm, lift the pulsing machine in your hand, and move
to the light for closer inspection, would you find that the fabric
of the heart is parallel to the texture of the owner’s personality?

Would mother be a sensible calico, father burlap knobby like tree bark,
sister cords of corduroy discontent, and the lone duck who sits
in my front yard without his mate, the one he has proudly waddled
around with for a month, his plump mottled gold beauty,
who has suddenly gone missing, would his heart be shredded satin
similar to the material that lines a coffin and blankets a lifeless body?

Or if you peel back the pericardium, snap the thick sac, tear
the heart from the ligaments binding it to the spinal cord
and diaphragm, lift the pulsing machine in your hand, and move
to the light for closer inspection, would you find that you have
simply stopped the heart from beating and it suddenly sits smooth
like the satin grass the lonely male duck rests in waiting for his
missing mate?