Ian C. Smith – The Movie in My Mind

Ian C. Smith
The Movie in My Mind

Exiting the M6 for Liverpool, January 1984, thankful for the heater in my tin can car bought to stretch travel costs, I felt like a film noir private eye searching for this mysterious disappeared dame, Molly, my aunt who dumped her husband during WWII, with two small children in tow, and a past.

With a twenty-year old address from the Records Office, a marriage of one of her children, surnames unusual, I plodded door-to-door, sky a thin wash, those acrid streets stained by Thatcherism, shuttered shops, rubbish desperately clinging to fences, wind, prospects, bitter, but kind folk listened, my tale, Aussie accent, fogged breath, the idea of a quest, igniting tiny sparks.

About the time of my teenage cousin’s marriage that mirrored my first I quit smoking, but still liked a drink, so pub-crawling together, bursting into swaying song, the bandage of sore people, all smoking, building the screenplay of my imagination in that coarse, hoarse atmosphere where nobody walked alone I pictured myself played by Albert Finney as a bipolar yet cool ambitious wit, not a self-indulgent interloper.

The screenplay stillborn, my research did spawn an episode of a corny TV programme presented by a raucous scouse pop sweetheart my aunt, now a sweet old dame, secret history intact, liked, resulting in a London rendezvous for ageing family members, their struggles glossed over.

Dreams behind me now, hours still, as in a mortuary, a review of a movie set in Liverpool in the 1980s transports me to headstrong days when my cousin slept at his girlfriend’s, vacating his little flat for me, the scald of that land of drama and conflict, a time of big ideas, of hope propelling us into those dreams.

Rosanne Trost – Too Late For Answers

Rosanne Trost
Too Late For Answers

I grew up in an Irish Catholic family. My mother’s maiden name was Murphy. Dad’s mother had the same maiden name. My sister and I used to joke that our parents were cousins.

March 17th was always a big day in our home. Dad had one Kelly green plaid tie, which he wore every St. Patrick’s Day. My sister and I always donned some sort of green attire for school. For several years we would receive half-dead three leaf clovers from Dad’s distant relatives in County Mayo. The box also contained St. Patrick medals.

To celebrate the holiday, my mother always made corned beef and cabbage, and during dinner we listened to Irish music on the radio. Dad would choke up when he heard the sad song, “Danny Boy.” He reminisced about his parents who had emigrated from Ireland to Denver. Back then, I was embarrassed by his tears, but now I think how tender. I can still see his expression as he talked about his family.

Dad was the youngest of five children, and was baptized Philip. Joey, the sister next to him in age, was nine years his senior. His parents were older when he arrived, and both of them died within a year of each other when dad was just a teen. Joey and her new husband took over his care, and moved from Denver to St. Louis. Years later, my dad and Mary Murphy were married. I was their first-born.

As a young child, I was Joey’s favourite niece, and she shared with me how very devoted she was to my dad. I can still see her, cigarette in her mouth, praising dad, “He has been a good brother, and you know he is a loving father. Your dad was happy-go-lucky and he always made us laugh.”

My dad was the last of his siblings to die. It’s been over 40 years. For his funeral Mass, he was “laid out” wearing the green tie. In his hands was the rosary that his sister, the nun, had made for him. When I looked at his tie, memories flooded in from my childhood.

Our family has continued the St. Patrick’s Day traditions. I still see him struggling with the green tie, and my mother straightening it.

Last summer, all the memories of dad took a bit of a detour. Through a second cousin, we learned that my dad was Jewish and had been adopted. He never learned of the adoption.

Aunt Joey had sworn her family to secrecy, saying, “If you tell Philip or his family that he was adopted, I will come back from the grave to haunt you.” Apparently, family members believed her. No one shared the information…until last summer when our second cousin, the only surviving relative, could no longer keep the secret.

As of now, we have had no luck locating records surrounding my dad’s birth.

My sister, brother and I did have DNA tests, each of the results reflected that we are half Jewish.

So many questions, and few, if any, answers. AQ

Bob Ward – Two Signatures

Bob Ward
Two Signatures

John Shepherd’s his name
    but he has no truck with sheep.
1797 Leeds: dressing a raw weave
    into finest woolen cloth a quality
    hand might shed a glove to smooth
    – that’s where the money sits!
A bale is thumped aside, today’s
    document spread out for signature
    and witnessing; three men crowd a boy.
The Master reads his terms, no malice:
    first year – six shillings a week,
    on duty fifteen hours a day
    (no payment due when sick),
    notched up one shilling annually
    through seven dogged years.
“There!” He distorts his finger-tip
    in the blank space bottom right.
So gripping an un-practiced quill,
    the teazel-boy stutters out a cross
    upon the paper, and thereby binds himself
    to the lifelong mystery of cloth.
The merchant deliberates his turn;
    he inscribes ‘Benjamin’ and ‘Gains’
    as escorts either side the mark,
    then after loosening his cuff
    he unfurls his perfect signature
    upheld by sideways loops, drawn surely,
    that swoop to a final twist,
    a lift and two stub strokes.
Conclusion:
    another apprentice trotting at his heels.
Foxed and cracking in the folds
    that paper served a turn tucked
    so securely in the family Bible
    which connects me to Ben’s empty cross,
    while the phantom at my shoulder now
    would commandeer what I write . . .

But I need not let him.

Bob Ward, Two Signatures, photograph, 2005

David Subacchi – Uncles

David Subacchi
Uncles

I have a great uncle I never met, in Italy,
A soldier, killed in action
In the First World War,
The ‘great war to end all wars’
His name is carved in stone,
On a town square memorial,
Many miles from
Where they shot him.

I have an uncle I never met, in Italy,
Murdered by Nazis,
In the Second World War,
Falsely accused
Of hiding resistance fighters,
His name is carved in stone
Right outside the village church,
Where they shot him.

bart plantenga – Happy Birthday Mother, Who Was Disappeared…

bart plantenga
Happy Birthday Mother, Who Was Disappeared by Forces Beyond Her Control

             in memory of Christina Plantenga 14 May 1925 – 22 August 2018
 
The decline of my mother, Christina, 93 on 14 May, had been a slow, long descent since I was a teen. But when does a life suddenly become less a tragic testimony to survival and more of a burden — you are not sitting around waiting or hoping your mother dies. But then again, there is the tick of a clock, and discussions arise about what dignity is, what the purpose of mere longevity is … how heavy is an urn filled with ashes anyway?

In my youngest youth, she was beautiful and loving. When I post a picture of her on Facebook, people usually react something like: “Wow, she’s beautiful.” What they mean is the photo, taken in 1949. I could feel her heart back then was full of noble intent.

Regarding dementia: I wonder, do you forget you forget and thus actually remember diving through a heavy fog with the high beams on and ultimately coming out on the other side without a dent or scratch?

As I turned 13 or so, seven years after we’d emigrated from Amsterdam to New Jersey, her inability to navigate her way though reality became more evident. Things, jokes, music began to bug her — or not reach her or were simply details of life that could not explain what she had experienced. Being from a generation when women in general did not feel it their place, her talent as an artist was never really pursued as expression, as therapy, as a way to make sense of the senseless things she had witnessed in Amsterdam during WWII. It just was not perceived as useful in any way.

Her loving was misplaced, replaced instead by a kind of obsession with the formalities of mothering, the rituals, the cleaning, the forbidding — the mechanics, the maintenance of order. This increased over time and even while me and my brother were growing up, neighbourhood kids would mock and tease my mom and call her “Crazy Tina”.

She wasn’t “crazy” (then), just very other, different, an awkwardness with English that was both charming and, among the neighbour kids, tagged here as weird. I never tried to analyse it until about 10 years ago, when I realized her life had probably been more adversely affected by WWII than we had ever thought. She was a teen in Amsterdam and had had her best years confiscated by circumstance, and any hopes she had for using her artistic inclination toward something more satisfying in life somehow became secondary to survival and recovery. [She did do the suburban thing — hobby painting in her down time as a mother, but they were mostly idyllic nature scenes with no faces on the leaves, no ghostly human-like figures in the background]. I don’t like to use any kind of excuse when it comes to behaviour, but there is a difference between excuse and cause and now after she’s told me so many of her WWII stories and now that I’ve processed them, I realize people were simply expected to bite their lips and go on with life after 1945. There was no civilian equivalent of shell shock, no PTSD.

This is from her journals I asked her to write down. She obediently obliged and, with the onset of dementia, she obliged again and again, rewriting them with slight variations a total of four times. I mean, when had I and ANYone ever really listened to ANYthing she had to say:

Hunger Winter: A terrible cold and nasty winter entire Europe 1943-44: Ice snow no food. No nothing. No heat. Everything was gone. People did go trough [sic] the garbage cans — you were really lucky to find one piece of food or some wood you could burn to warm your hands. I was the kind of person who was very fast cold so at night we left our socks on at least it did help.

My shoese got bad and no shoese in stores. The Krauts took all the shoese out the stores. I did not have a descend pair so going to work barefeet or on socks. It was really very strange to walk Overtoom on the stone sidewalk with no shoese on, cold and unpleasant. The socks where very quick gone on the stonen sidewalks.

Found a pair of sandals from cork material in garbage cans but they were quick gone but better than nothing and my dad did make soles under it and that is what I did wear to work better than nothing for quite some time. Also later on when winter came my ankles were open wounds and hurted. Mom put bandage on it but it was hopeless. Later on dad found old ice skating boots from mom on the attic and he made them to low shoese and put some extra stuf on the soles. They where nice and did holds up quite a long time. 2 years!

Hans Puts’ father did give us bread again. Also we tryed now fryed sugar beets and small tulip bulbs — the aftertaste was terrible but realy filling food. At night in bed you did hear your stomach ronking from hunger. next morning we had cabage soup. It was warm and tasted good. we did get 2 potatos for family also 2 at work. We cooked them up with straw heating and tasted good at work. It was heaven.

Foppe Plantenga, Plantenga Family, New Jersey, 1961, photograph

She became a housewife in 1953, a mother in 1954 and was displaced to a foreign land — the US — where she was never to feel totally at home again. Her inability to deal with these changes went unnoticed — and there were many and probably often more despairing and desperate than parents let on to their kids — as we became not unlike a migrant family, albeit my father was a white collar worker, a metallurgical engineer, a migrant who wore a tie.

She managed to explain it when she was maybe 80-something as: ‘I was a city girl who lived in the suburbs. There was no one to talk to; you never saw neighbours. They ignored you.’ Something like that.

We moved a LOT, so everywhere we landed we had to start over, to prove we weren’t weird as immigrants. Even though my mother had a wicked [embarrassing] accent and a different approach to mothering than my friends’ moms, I stupidly longed for the approach of the other moms, who were seldom around, who let you fix whatever you wanted for dinner.

Her unhingedness or her engagement, her passion with forethought could be quite entertaining, gonzo, uninhibited, unlike other moms. She tried decorum, but it was not her thing. We even joined a church to see if this would help us fit in. I saw no purpose to Bible lessons and my father hated wasting Sunday mornings sitting in a pew. Decorum was just not her thing; she spoke her mind regardless of what that might do for my or her reputation.

All that, plus what I learned from my mother’s [war] stories about privation, angst, traumatic stress, seeing her Jewish friends disappear forever, never knowing for certain, seeing people killed, executed, bombs going off, having almost nothing to eat, probably had a profound effect on her brain.

The last time she came to visit she was curious and we walked into the Legmeerplein, the square where she’d grown up in, and we sat on a bench and suddenly she told the most vivid, cinematic stories about gangs of pro-ally v pro-NSB [the Nazi-supporters], how some NSBers betrayed neighbours to the Nazis for a few guilders or extra food coupons, how one night the Nazis bombed a sand barge on the Schinkel and the house and square were covered in sand. How suddenly someone would no longer be around and you didn’t really talk about it….

She is now suffering advanced dementia and that is mostly bad. Although, I wonder if she also forget all of those haunting WWII memories and so, ironically, is finally left at peace. I sense not, however, since I gather the formative years are forever etched into the walls’s of one’s brain like graffiti scratched onto a bathroom wall, while short-term memories are nothing more than a dandelion’s fluffy plumes whisked away by a brisk wind. That was confirmed by her caretaker in her current nursing facility in Upstate NY, where I would sometimes bring or send her articles about Resistance heroes or pictures of Amsterdam during and after the war… The caretaker begged me kindly to not send her any more memories of those times because she was driving everyone in the house crazy with non-stop memories and insisting others had no idea what the war was like for people like her…. AQ

Jo-Anne Rosen – Family Again

Jo-Anne Rosen
Family Again

The last time I saw my father I was six. He had driven from Miami to Flatbush for Christmas and was sleeping on a mat near the flocked tree. Mama was sleeping with her second husband, Eduardo Aguilar or Daddy Ed, a wiry man who tolerated my mother’s mood swings and visiting ex-husband.

For years afterward I confused my father with Saint Nick. He was round and jolly with a thick blonde beard and suitcase full of gifts. And then he vanished like smoke. We relocated to a hippie commune in northern California. Daddy Ed and Mama had two more children. Eventually they divorced. But Ed raised me, so he’ll always be my real father.

I was a smart-ass boy who rarely sat still. Mama would say I was going to wind up in the nut house like Daddy Jack. ‘He checked into Bellevue for six months,’ she’d say. ‘Watch your step, buster.’

‘Where’s he at now?’ I’d ask.

‘I have no idea. On the moon for all I care.’

Thirty-five years after that Christmas in Flatbush up pops an email from Jack Nelson. Subject: Family Reunion? He’s tracked me through the Internet. My grandmother has left a small bequest for me. (What grandmother? I was told she’d died before I was born.) He’s living in Oakland and would like to drive up to Red Bluff to see me. I reply that he might also like to see his two granddaughters. His next email is signed “Grandpa Jack.”

I phone my mother. She isn’t interested.

‘I’m a little curious,” I say. “Aren’t you?’

‘The SOB thinks he can buy his way back into your life,’ she says in that flat voice that means end of story.

My wife is more excited than I am.

‘I’m not going to work up a lather over this, Anita,’ I tell her.

‘But he’s your natural father!’

I shrug. ‘He abandoned us, remember?’

‘Blood is blood,’ she says.
 
Jack pulls up on schedule in a beat-up VW bug, its back seat piled high with bags and tools. He extracts himself slowly. He has gotten quite fat, his beard and hair white, his cheeks red-veined. He is wearing black pants, a black sweater and beret, and he walks with a cane. The two girls and Anita hang back shyly while we shake hands and eye each other.

I do resemble him physically. I see the ghost of Christmas future, my own belly billowing hugely. He doesn’t seem to be a lunatic though. In fact, he is a genial, witty fellow. There are gifts in one of the bags for the children, who warm up to Grandpa Jack quickly. He watches them through bifocals with a bemused expression. They are thin and dark like their mother.

Anita brings out dish after dish, and our guest eats it all with relish. We learn that he never remarried but has lived with several women and traveled widely.

‘I’m a jack of all trades and master of none,’ he says cheerily.

We stay up late drinking the bottle of cab he brought us and reviewing the past three decades, then on to film, books, politics, art. Our tastes are eerily similar. He likes Italian and French films, Tony Hillerman mysteries. We both have dabbled with painting and sculpture. He plays mouth harp, and I noodle around on a guitar. Even our voices sound alike.

When we are alone, Anita says, ‘So what about that diet, Andrew?’

I’m up early the next morning as usual. Jack is already in the kitchen drinking coffee, his imposing bulk still swathed in black; hair and beard damp, smelling of soap. He’s brought in the newspaper and filled in my crossword puzzle completely, in ink. Everyone else is asleep.

We regard each other cautiously across the table.

‘I should have tried to find you sooner,’ he says. ‘I did try once years ago, but your mother and Eduardo hid their tracks too well.’

‘I could have tried, too. But I assumed you weren’t interested.’

We are quiet, considering our next moves.

‘Were you ever really interested?’ I ask finally.

He looks at me intently. ‘See, I thought you’d be pissed at me.’

‘I never gave it much thought,’ I say.

‘Well, I’m glad I came,” he beams. “We can start fresh.’

I don’t reply.

‘So, you are pissed.’

‘Alright, I’m pissed.’

He chews on that for a while. Then: ‘Don’t you want to know about your grandmother? Do you even know her name?’

I shrug.

‘Louise. I wish you could have met her. She was a marvellous woman, and she never stopped asking about you. You had a grandfather, too, of course. He died when I was 16. You have an aunt and uncle, cousins.’

Upstairs a muted shout, the sounds of my family awakening.

‘The girls will want to know about their family someday,’ he persists.

I stare at him. Maybe there’s no getting away from him now. Or maybe he’ll vanish again, this time forever. Meanwhile, here he is, fat and sassy and in my face, and he’s ruined my Sunday crossword.

‘I was too messed up to be a father,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry it happened that way.’

‘Sorry?’ I repeat. ‘Really? Since when?’

‘Since now. I can’t undo what’s done. It was my bad luck, not yours. You turned out fine, as far as I can tell.’

No thanks to you, I almost say, but he seems so bewildered and downcast, I relent.

‘Do you play chess, Jack?’ I ask, instead.

‘Sure do.’ His face lights up.

I haul out my set. He picks up the ceramic pieces one by one, fingers them.

‘You made these?’

I nod. It’s from my cubist phase. The pieces have sudden sharp angles, clashing colors, weirdly juxtaposed body parts. The one-eyed bishop is a terror.
 
‘Nice work,’ he says. Jack anticipates my every move and vice-versa.

‘Damn,’ he says, looking surprised. ‘I’m sure I taught you how to play.’

‘What’s this, a recovered memory?’

‘I do remember playing chess with you, and by candlelight. A storm knocked out the power. I made all the pieces from wine corks and wire, I swear that’s true. Ask your mother. You were three or four, whip smart.’

‘Uh uh.’ I shake my head. ‘Daddy Ed taught me to play chess.’

‘Maybe he did,’ he says. ‘The second time.’

He stays with us three days. We play several games of chess, without talking much, unless chess is a kind of language. By the time he leaves I’m one game ahead, which seems to please him. Then the bags go back in the VW, despite Anita’s coaxing.

‘After all this time, you could stay a little longer,’ she says. She hugs him, and so do the girls, giggling because they can’t get their arms around his girth.

I offer my hand.

‘Let’s stay in touch,’ he says, pumping my hand, and then hugging me. ‘We’re family again, right?’

I want to believe him. But when I step back, a little dazed from the bear hug, his eyes are focused elsewhere, as if he’s already moving on down the road again and we are fading into memory. So I don’t believe him.

‘Bon voyage’ is all I say.

After he leaves, Anita begs me to stay in touch with him for the sake of the children.

‘Don’t keep them from their grandfather,’ she says, ‘just because your mom kept you from yours.’

I tell her Mom was wrong about a lot of things, but not about Jack. ‘He doesn’t really want a family. He wants another feel-good moment.’

‘How do you know that?’ she demands. ‘You’re not always right, either.’

‘Nor are you.’

She glares at me and stomps out of the room, muttering something about a stubborn asshole.

‘Alright!’ I shout after her. ‘If Jack stays in touch with me, I’ll stay in touch with him.’

I’ll bet that never happens. AQ

Bryan R. Monte – Homecoming

Bryan R. Monte
Homecoming

         On finding my great-great-grandfather’s grave
 
I missed your headstone that first afternoon,
its worn engraving stained by frost roses,
encrusted with yellow-green lichen blooms,
the short, soft, grey marker
wedged into a thin, middle column
of single graves for single men or widowers
who died decades after their wives,
bordered by larger, family and matrimonial plots,
covered with horizontal, polished, pink or gray marble slabs
as big as double beds with round, stone bolsters.
The blazing, blinding sun pounded my head
as daredevil, little grey-green lizards dived
under tombstones or into the cool brush
before my wheels crunching down white gravel aisles.

But now on a cooler, overcast morning,
looking from the side, I recognize your name
below a worn angel etched in the stone,
its bowed head resting in its left hand,
its right on a headstone within your own.
I rub your name, nato and morto, with wax onto paper,
then photograph the shadowy inscription
to obtain a copy of your death certificate
at the town hall down the road
to send to my American cousins.

Outside the cemetery gate, the road north
has a view of the snowy Alps
to the west, the Lago Maggiore laps
lazily at the village’s private beach
where a tanned, thin, middle-aged couple
sunbathe during their two-hour, afternoon riposo.
I sit in a café in the town square
in the shade, drink a hot, frothy coffee,
eat a sweet and tart lemon chicken and avocado sandwich,
feel the cool, glacial-fed, lake breeze caress my face
and finally know where I will rest.

Bryan R. Monte – AQ23 Autumn 2018 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ23 Autumn 2018 Book Reviews

Jennifer Clark, Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman, Shabda Press, ISBN 978-81-930523-2-7, 2018, 139 pages.
Jayne Marek, The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling, Finishing Line Press, ISBN 978-1-63534-363-2, 2018, 67 pages.

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ is certainly a worthy adage to keep one for being deceived by surface appearances that cover underlying flaws. However, sometimes a good book does have an equally good, appealing cover. This is certainly true of Jennifer’s Clark’s Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman, a poetic history of John Chapman and Jayne Marek’s The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling. Both books’ covers feature trees, but these are depicted in ways perhaps not seen before. Clark’s book’s front cover illustration, ‘Colony Farm Orchard Script’ by Ladislav Hanka, is a ‘drawing over hand-tinted paper’ of tree branches reaching upward on a tan, almost light, leather-coloured background. Marek’s front cover (see her photos in the summer 2018 AQ22 issue) includes darker, dense almost thin, vertical brown blocks on a green and blue background reaching up towards a yellow, pink and white speckled light. Both covers include organic growth reaching upwards. And this is what the poems in their books do. They are poetic journeys toward light and growth.

Clark’s book is an exploration of Chapman’s ancestry, his own history, including his travels through the Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana wilderness to plant apples trees for future settlers and even some details about arboreal husbandry. It begins with a ‘Prologue: come with me into the forest,’ in which describes Clark’s motivation and inspiration for writing her book which began with Clark’s then third-grade son asking her: ‘Was he real?’ Clark’s uncertainty about the answer leads her on her own journey of discovery. Her son’s question was further piqued by Clark’s chance find of a book about American folklore, which she later purchased at her local library. She then sifted through this ‘treasure of both truth and historical inaccuracies.’ After reading it, Clark remarked: ‘Even during Chapman’s lifetime, he was already turning into a walking myth’.

For example, Clark found evidence that contradicts the myth that Chapman was a teetotaller and vegetarian. And while she didn’t find direct evidence that Chapman was an abolitionist, his personality, Swedenborgian beliefs, habit of frequenting pioneer homes (including some, which were Quaker), and the conversations she had with Denver Norman, (descendant of the former slave, Mr “Cajoe” Phillips), all lead her to conclude Chapman was, at the very least, an abolitionist at heart. She ends her prologue hoping her poems will help ‘part the forest of time’ to enter a world that is ‘young and old, terrible and beautiful, bountiful and dying, all at once.’

The uplift of Clark’s poems begins with the first phrase of the first line of her first poem, ‘John Chapman (1774-1845)’ with a poem that could be a prologue for the entire collection. ‘To sow hope,’ and his simplicity of his mythic attire and purpose: ‘slip into a burlap sack….With a tin pot/ on head for hat, set bare feet to soil and go forth/ into the wild frontier.’ The poem further describes Chapman’s travel method, ‘following the rivers’ West in his ‘Search for a clearing in the woods’ and ‘Stoop, then furrow soil with a finger, …pull seeds…and one by one press down. Cover lightly with loam.’ The poem also describes Chapman’s diet of ‘cornmeal mush and coffee’ and how he slept ‘on the forest floor.’ It also mentions how he …‘Return(ed) each year to tend the saplings,’ and continued along the Maumee River, ‘leaving a trail or thirsty pioneers, drunk now/on the sweet juice of sermon.’

The following poem ‘Grafting has always been in fashion’ emphasizes Chapman’s preferred mode of planting apple trees from seed instead of the traditional method of ‘grafted shoots/dragging with them the seeds/of old Empire.’ Clark writes how Chapman’s mother delivered him whilst his father fought in the Revolutionary War and then died a year later delivering her third child, which also died.

Further poems discuss Chapman’s “marriage” ‘John meets a woman’, his abolitionism, the Underground Railroad, including one of its conductors, ‘Micajah “Cajoe” Phillips 1736?-1861’, and the voice of one of its enemies, ‘Ten dollars for my woman Siby’. Chapman’s mistake of planting Stinking Chamomile to ‘keep malaria at bay’ is mentioned in ‘Anathemus cotula aka Stinking Chamomile’, as is the extinction of native birds during his lifetime for food and fashion in ‘Wings, The Breast, The Bird’, and ‘Common Tern, 21. Scarlet Tanger, 2.’ respectively. In her poem ‘Ledgers from dry goods stores’ Clark offers a brief glimpse of the real Chapman found preserved in one of his grocery lists: ‘three pairs of “mockasins,”/brandy, whiskey, chocolate,/ sugar, gunpowder, tobacco,/ and pork.’. Through her research, Clark separates the myth from the man, but she also gives readers a good glimpse of both.

Appropriately for this issue on genealogy, Clark’s poems focus not only on John Chapman, but also his relatives. ‘Summer of 1776’ mentions his mother, Elizabeth, near death and his father, Nathaniel, away fighting in the Revolutionary War. Nathaniel is also mentioned later as a tenant farmer in ‘One Tree Orchard’ and he later moves with the rest of the family from Longmeadow, Massachusetts to Marietta, Ohio. Chapman’s visit to his youngest sister, Sally and her husband, John Whitney to their Washington County, Ohio farm is mentioned in ‘Every Strike We are Hewn’. But it is Chapman’s sister Persis and her husband William Broome mentioned in ‘Persis Waiting’, who provided the most support for Chapman’s apple planting. According to Clark, in her well-researched reader’s notes, the Broome’s ‘probably served as an ever-moving base for her brother’s seed operation’. Clark quotes that ‘Robert Morgan notes…(Chapman) employed his brother-in-law to help with the nurseries…the couple moved to Perrysville and Mansfield, Ohio’ … (and that) When around 1834, John expanded into Indiana, Persis and William Broome followed’.

As mentioned above, I found Clark’s historical notes and the illustrations she includes just as interesting as her poems. Her book’s illustrations include sketches of John Chapman from 19th century magazines. There are also maps of the US indicating how far one could travel in a day, of the Underground railroad, of Mount Vernon, Ohio near which Chapman owned land and planted trees, and of the spread of the invasive stink week mentioned above. In addition are illustrations on grafting, a women’s hat decorated with with stuffed birds, the Blennerhassett Mansion, as well as historical photos of Deborah and Enoch Harris, Rosella Rice and the 5 cent US first class Johnny Appleseed commemorative stamp issued in 1966 (a treasure in my own boyscout stamp collection). Johnny Appleseed: The Slice and Times of John Chapman is surely a treasure-trove of information for poets, teachers, historians, etc., and could be used in primary to tertiary schools to teach how history is transformed into folklore and then into art.

Jayne Marek’s The Tree Surgeon Dreams of Bowling, is another outstanding book worthy of mention in these pages. Marek, both a writer and a graphic artist, whose photographic work was featured in the AQ22 this past summer, brings these skills together to create a memorable poetry book. Its fifty-four poems are divided into three sections: ‘Just Out of Reach’, ‘Pacific Rim’, and ‘Of Grace’.

The first section is devoted to grief, loss and regret. The first poem entitled ‘Prognosis’ sets the tone for the rest of the book: ‘Raking and raking/ But the long tines cannot gather up grief/ That waits beyond the fence.’ This physical intervention is not enough to keep the natural world and death at bay. In the next stanza, Marek remarks: ‘Grief is like fear/Seen from another direction. The two hunch over,/ stare like stone monsters guarding a stoop.’ In the next poem, ‘Mistakes’, we see how hard the narrator is on herself regarding loss: ‘I’m unable to do over and find shelter.’ In the prose poem, ‘Drowned Mole’, she describes the discovery and removal of a dead mole from her garden. It is with regret that she moves and discards something so beautiful: ‘your fur sleek as a rich matron’s coat on opening night,…Forgive this stick that lifts at your ribs and hips.’ She meditates further on the meaning of life when she describes a jellyfish in a tank,

as if drifting meant nothing    indecision
a turn in darkness toward an inaccessible shape
the purpose of lives    mine

In ‘Fable’ Marek declares that her poems are not for those ‘who pine for a story that says life is simple/as this scalped green yard’. This poem describes how she sees two birds attacking a third bird as she drives by and wonders if she should intervene. ‘Clay’ is about a potter who dunks her fired pots in the same creek from which Walter, whom she identifies from a silver burn scar on his neck, … ‘is pulled… in the spring.’ ‘Deepest Snow’ is divided into two sections which takes its title from a line by Naomi Shihab Nye: ‘That was the deepest I ever went into the snow.’ Its first section is about the narrator being unexpectedly buried in snow up to her neck after losing her balance from a Norwegian ski path. The second uses ‘Flying snow’ to describe dementia ‘everything slippery and grayish white—’. There are many poems with malevolent winter scenes in this section in which glass shatters from the cold, ‘Cut Glass’ and snow hides tracks and seeds in ‘Winter Ruins’. In ‘So Late Winter’ it finally relents ‘two weeks into spring’ when a child lies in a closed casket. In ‘Elegiac Unsonnet for My Cat’ the poet writes of her cat “lost in the cold of winter, at the foot of a renewed/ Year, in a collapse of snow”. In ‘Would the Good People Please Stop Dying’ she describes the dangerous drive down a barely-visible, ice-and-mist covered road just before dawn.

The second section, ‘Pacific Rim’, is about the poet’s spiritual journey and observations in Asia, especially in Japan, India and China. The first poem, ‘Hands in Temple Smoke’ begins with a sort of purification ritual in an old wooden temple right ‘tucked between concrete walls’ where urban school children and uniforms and gray bicycle riders pass by. She observes how a woman in the temple: ‘reaches into the bitter wisps / of silver and white, waves them / toward her face, her heart’. In ‘Buddha Touch’, the poet enters seeks spiritural contact in the temple. ‘Panda Mania’ describes the ‘sweet smell’ of panda pancakes at the zoo (and all the surrounding merchandising of panda shoes, bags, etc.), which intrudes into the temple. In ‘The Woodturner’s Shop, Itsukushima’, the poet buys a small bowl from a traditional craftsperson. It is the first in a series of craftsperson poems others being ‘Nishijin Textile Center’ about the making of kimonos, ‘Grass Writing’ about traditional, carved Japanese script and landscapes, and ‘The Art of Teeth’ about traditional masks on display in a Tokyo museum.

With the poem, ‘Postcard from Assam’ the poet continues on her Asian travels in India’s Northeast. Here the poet comments on the ‘heat…in the morning dust,’ the ‘orange clouds in endless scarves/ too long to wrap up.’ She describes herself and her fellow travellers as “pale foreigners’ and as plants ‘who need water’ and who need to be ‘Lift(ed)…over the plains, over the spice plants for which the airliners of our escape are named—’. In ‘Lotus Eaters’ she’s in the Punjab; in ‘Her Feet’ at Mother Theresa’s tomb in India. The last four poems in this section, describe her experience and observations of a Ming section of the Great Wall, a ‘Carp Mobile’, ‘Kite-Flyers’, ‘A Coal Spill, Yunnan’, and looking at the flora and fauna in ‘Blue on Cang Shan’. The poet’s attention to detail helps the reader zoom into unforgettable details in each location. The last poem in this section about the mountain is especially poignant due to its description of details both small and large: the shadows created by butterfly wings and ‘a cable car ride / that swung over green/ windy-pine fingers’ and the ineffable: ‘thin air/ scraped by clouds.’

The last section of Marek’s book, ‘Of Grace’ details her removal to the West Coast after a teaching career in the Midwest. She writes about the island ferry, ocean waves, the emptying out of her former home. In ‘Woods Path’ in the Northwest, far from her former life, the poet asks: ‘what is best, what is death, what matters?’ Then by a ‘fallen trunk,’ the poet sees ‘the hollow under its feet filled with mud.’ — perhaps a meditation on ‘from dust to dust’.

Further poems in this section of special interest to this reviewer include ‘Sweet Spots for Owls’ with its syllabic count which captures the bird’s pauses and bursts of energy and which imitate the flow of the poet’s thoughts. ‘Of Grace’, the third section’s title poem describes the regeneration the poet feels as the natural world reaches out to her. In ‘I Miss My Life in Another Dimension’ the poet is transported back in her imagination to a house and a neighbourhood in the Midwest where she’d lived and taught for years. Here, the speaker talks about the house’s familiar ‘scuff marks at the doorway’, its ‘old oak trees in the yard…Deep-rooted in the black farmland earth.’ It was a house with ‘frequent gatherings…Of artists, friends, professors, students…who read my books, have my art photos mounted.’ ‘Of Grace’s’ intimate details show poet’s painful separation from what’s left behind as she moves forward in a new place, ‘six hundred miles from here.’

The title and final poem of the entire collection brings the book’s themes together. The tree surgeon as the poet, has feet planted: ‘one on a limb’. The natural world has its own character and power with a ‘tree-hand…(and) twigs with five leaf fingers…(that)slap…when I lift / the cutting tool and let it bite.’ These branches force the tree surgeon to hold his chainsaw back as if he were ‘standing / at the line, one arm cocked and heavy/gripping my favorite bowling ball.’ His swaying movement in the tree personifying the poet’s thoughts perhaps about the sometimes dangerous reductive art of poetry ‘going nowhere but cutting away/things I wish I didn’t need.’

I highly recommend both of these books due to their artistry, both poetic and visual, and due to their regenerative themes. I’m sure they will keep your lamp of inspiration burning during the shorter days and longer autumn and winter nights ahead.   AQ

AQ23 – Genealogy

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 Wassenaar’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 Voorlinden, 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 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, white and green plastic bottles, and 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 didn’t 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 lined 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 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’). Thiebaud probably got this 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.