Thursday, October 6, 2016

Italian Flag Fingers

Italian Flag Fingers

The brushes I dumped in a pail of water
So intent with moving colors
I waited far too long to scrub
the fresh paint from my hands.

Red paint speckles my left palm
the cuticles of six fingers
the red was thick, it makes perfect sense
it stuck where it dried

The green was deposited on the
knuckles and up and down
my right arm, more stain
than paint dying skin

There wasn’t white paint anyplace
other than under the fingernails
I wiggled my fingers
Italian flags on the ends of my arms

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Red When Green

While most of the year their tangled arcs
Studded in thorns
May snag and tear at the flesh
Of those who get too close

For a few short weeks these bushes
Reward with sweet berries

These brambleberries

I might try to describe the flavor
A moonbeam on your taste buds

When not yet ripe they bite the tongue
With a tartness,
Taste bitter

The promise of wild black berry pie
Comes with the gathering of feral fruit

Daring to be pricked,
Tangled in thorny arms

Blackberries are green when they are red
Or red when green
Get close and you will be scratched.

A fair exchange, after all.

The same rings true with love.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Discovery of a World Beyond Home

The World Outside

The world outside Port Huron was mysterious, at best, scary in its
unknowable vastness.  For all a little boy knew, the world away from
Lake Huron and the St Clair river was invented for others and might not
really exist.  They were like television, something you might accept,
but didn't have experience with.  The world could all be an elaborate hoax.

Detroit was one of the places beyond town, said to be as real as the great
big town he would visit with his grandmother.  Port Huron was as large
a town as he needed. It even had two butcher shops, two shoe stores,
and two stores that had soda fountains. His grandmother sat him on one
of those tall red stools at Kresge's that spun around and would order up
a tin roof sundae for him when he came along on her shopping trip. 
The tin roof sundae was topped with Spanish peanuts and there was
never a rotten peanut, ever.  Kitty corner was the department store
that sponsored a Christmas parade each year.  He never wondered
at the coincidence that Santa Claus had a throne in the basement,
surrounded by decorated artificial trees, not far from the toy department.

He was content with the size of his world. It was just right, so long
as he had apple sauce, tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwiches
on grandma's baked bread, and from time to time a tin roof sundae.

Whether this was the entirety of the world didn't matter and he had
no curiosity about whether what he saw flicker in black and white
was real or not.  On Sunday mornings he watched silent cartoons
accompanied by light classical music. 

He didn't know the name Offenbach or that the tunes were more
often than not from Orpheus in the Underworld.  Before the cartoons,
he sat with his father quietly and watched Victory At Sea, accompanied
by heavier orchestral music.  His dad was especially quiet. 
The boy watched how the shifting grey reflections from the television
screen played across his father's face.   He didn't talk about it all that much,
except that this weekly television show let him travel backward in time. 
As the boy had not been born during the time his father was revisiting,
the boy never saw his father go away or come back from beyond the town.
Dad always was home before dinner, cold coffee in his thermos and a
leftover windmill cookie or mackintosh apple.  The smell of the lunch box
tasted as good as the treat, and the warmth of the thought his dad left
something for him.  The boy was more interested in the love inside the
lunch box than whether or not his father had ever crossed beyond
the city limits.

His aunt Margaret was the first person he knew to venture into the
outside world. She made it real in a couple ways.  Margaret had gone
to college. But, the boy didn't know anything about that.  He wouldn't
have known what a master's degree in education meant.  All he knew
was he got to ride in the car when she was taken to the airport. 
He had never seen an airplane, other than in the sky.  He rode through
a place that had tall buildings, so tall he looked up and couldn't see the tops. 
These buildings were much taller than the department store where he sat
on Santa's lap.

The big city had a name: Detroit.  The airport was called Willow Run
and he watched Margaret climb steps onto the silver plane.  It was at
that moment he understood that he was already beyond his hometown.
He wondered about her two suitcases and why she hadn't taken them
onto the airplane. That may have been one of the first times he wondered
about anything.  Obviously, her bags were in the belly of the plane. 
There were other people flying, but he saw only his aunt Margaret. 
It was akin to the feeling he had years later when the first astronaut,
Alan Shepard, shot into space.  By then he understood there were other
places one might go than downtown to see Santa or get a tin roof sundae.

Margaret did more than fly away and eventually return. She sent postcards
and envelopes with coins and paper money. She returned with gifts.
She was the first real explorer he knew.  She returned with chunks of Paris
and Rome, London and Venice, Istanbul, Athens, Prague, Moscow, Tokyo,
Cairo, Lisbon, Madrid, and more.  It was if each time she returned the world
became more real.  Still, the boy understood these places were real and they
truly existed, yet had no need to leave home to see them himself.

Then, one day, many years later, a girl with long dark hair took him
by the hand, kissed his lips and said, let's go there together. She had already been. 
Gale finished the introduction that Margaret had begun.
The world outside is real and everything is colorful, not black and white.

He now knows where the baggage goes and how much the weight limit is
before they have to pay for an extra bag.

His aunt Margaret visited them in Paris and stayed for a week in their apartment.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Brilliant Yellow Paint Taking An Agonizingly Slow Time

 A Good Day In The Studio

It must be a good day of painting
if my lunch break is a Tootsie Roll

Brilliant Yellow Paint
Taking An Agonizingly
Slow Time

To Dry

I hope it dried overnight
or I will pull out
my remaining hair!

 The Not Up and Down

These yellow and purple
which perchance look
black and gold
are wet and flat on the floor
like carpet just now washed

when the colors set
the canvas will be hung
for the photographer and
we can all judge
them as up and not down


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

No Fork No Knife On The Way To Meet The Elephant

No Fork No Knife

Airplanes were being hijacked in this era for any number of reasons; greed, political statements, etc.  Signs were not yet posted warning of possible consequences for making jokes or comments.  I don’t know if it was common practice at the time, but  airline security was at the gate, as I boarded this particular flight, and not at the head of the concourse.

Irv, my supervisor on the art handling crew at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and I were flying to Los Angeles to pack  J. Paul Getty’s collection for an exhibition at our museum. After we had both gone through the metal detector and were on the jet-way,  Irv tapped me on the shoulder and showed me something he had forgotten to leave at home; a fist full of keys.  He said he was surprised that the metal detector hadn’t sounded an alarm.  I stared at this wad of keys and mentioned that someone could have a derringer smaller than that. Oh, me and my big mouth!  We were about to file  into the plane and a stewardess must have heard my remark.  I didn’t know anyone else heard what I said, but she did.  No sooner was I settled  in my seat and thumbing through the in-flight magazine when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a group of people stopped in the aisle next to me and an outstretched finger pointed directly at me.  “He’s the one! He’s the one who said he had a gun!”

Oh, my lord!  I gathered my belongings was escorted off the plane.   One federal marshal took notes about my responses to his questions, while his partner rifled through my stuff.  Both could see that I had nothing to threaten the flight crew or passengers with.  So, I was allowed to go back on the plane and start my journey to the land of the palm trees. Fortunately I was detained only a few minutes and the departure slightly delayed. I sat down. No one was in my row. The plane took off and after a while a meal was served to everyone but me.  Eventually, a stewardess brought a meal and leaned over to tell me that the captain would have police  meet me at the gate if I gave the crew any trouble.  I tried to assure her that this was all a misunderstanding.   She wanted me to be have no misunderstanding of their intentions.  I tried to smile and eat this meal I has just so warmly presented.  Something was odd about the tray and its contents.  The napkin was rolled but not shrink wrapped.  The food was all crackers and bread.  Inside the napkin was a plastic spoon. Nothing hard, sharp, or hot. No fork. No knife.  Nothing to use as a weapon if I attempted to take over the plane.  You have to be on your guard against people how make unnecessary comments about the size of a set of keys!  I probably even looked like a trouble maker.  I had on a jacket and tie, after all I was going to J. Paul Getty’s estate upon landing.

Midway through the flight a guy came over and sat next to me. I think he said his name was Peter, but I can’t be sure.  He and his friends had been watching the entire incident with increasing curiosity and wondered what was going on.  So, I told him about the keys and my off hand remark and what had happened to that point.  I even showed him a page in the in-flight magazine with an advertisement for derringers, which are actually hats. (The firearm known as a derringer was a personal defense weapon capable of firing one shot and designed to fit inside a derringer hat.) We spent a pleasant time and he said he and his friends knew what it was like to be hassled.   He said he was with a band called Chicago and they had performed in St. Paul the night before.  I didn’t know at the time to get his autograph for my little sister, who was a big fan of the group.  As he got up to leave he noticed the meal tray , “So, they gave you a plastic spoon, too?”

In two more weeks I would save both of  J. Paul Getty's Elephants.