The Golden Muse

The September issue of Haibun Today has now been published. As always, there are many fine examples of haibun and tanka prose, as well as excellent reviews and articles, including Melissa Allen’s review of Jeffrey Woodward’s recently published Evening in the Plaza: Haibun and Haiku and David Cobb’s article, “Transmissions of Haibun”.


Here is my tanka prose from the June issue (7:2):

The Golden Muse

“O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.”

—Shakespeare, Henry V

Seated by the window, you stare into that space where all times are now. There you are, little more than a child, at the Galeries Lafayette, just about to catch Picasso’s eye. You’re buying a col claudine when he stops to tell you that you have an interesting face. He drops his name like a calling card. You’ve never heard of him— but he’d love to paint you! There you are again, brazen and bright as a beach ball, bouncing along the Plage de l’Ecluse with the key to his cabana. Did you ever walk as tall as he portrayed you: a giantess born of love’s palette, your head lost to the endless sky? And there you are, as the self-made noose tightens around your throat. Only you know the truth: are you slipping loose from your shackles, or tethering yourself to him in the hereafter? Oh, to wave my hand across your vacant expression! In another time, another place, who might you have been?

I

paying no heed to
the gently proffered bouquet
Manet’s Victorine
glassy-eyed queen
of the unmade bed

He said you saved his life, Marie-Thérèse. You, the unseen shadow, the secret code. Every curve, every saturated hue betrayed him. Brushstroke by brushstroke, his mouth was on your graceful neck, his arm was encircling your waist and you were the guitar waiting to be played; you were pitcher and fruit bowl, your very initials bifurcated by his. Fecund and sinuous, you were the black line that defined him, the sun through stained glass. Until, at last, he captured you while you slept naked in your armchair, head tilted toward the light, an open book in your lap. The truth now undeniable as the lyrical colours, the odour of the oils. But in another life, who might you have been?

II

the perfumes
of golden Byzantium
the mosaics
of Venice and Ravenna . . .
all eyes on Klimt’s Adele

Cast your mind back and find yourself returned to that hall of mirrors; in each glass, adjusted to his vision, do you see yourself as Picasso saw you, at one time or another? Which—if any—pleases you? The moon-white nude, bathing in her own light beneath the luxuriant foliage of the philodendron? or by the sea, that other nude, a strange coalescence of monster and seductress, all at once statuesque and vulnerable, sensual, yet clinically cold? . . . Perhaps it’s the tide that whispers, poor, poor Olga . . . Linger in reflection amid the still lifes; there is something of your smile in those red tulips. And there you are, wrought from wire and welded iron, his Daphne among the leaves in the chateau glade. Go deeper. Look closer. The hall has become a mirrorball and memory has set it spinning. In a blur of colour the Marne swirls you in its water-glass, spits you out in grisaille in Guernica, as the girl frantically running from left to right; the girl with a lamp at an upstairs window; the mother wailing for her dead child. So many lives that might have been yours. Canvas might liberate you, Marie-Thérèse, but flesh? Never. At least, not until—don’t think of that now . . . think of the dove, breasting her eggs. Were you not glad that was you? Your fellow captive, black as night, clawing and squawking inside the cage might have been you, in another life. Dora? War? Who might you have been, otherwise?

III

“Gala, it is
your blood with which I paint . . .
you are my bread”—
the woven arms and bared breast
of Dali’s la fornarina

IV

brushed into her braids
the soft spill of her hair
in darkness
the almost parted lips
of Wyeth’s Helga

And if Time, the greatest artist of all, could take one moment of your life and sculpt it from marble, or bronze, render it in oils or gouache, frame it with gold, or place it under glass, which would you choose? When were you happiest? Would you sit for him at Le Tremblay, with Maya on your lap, sometime during that sweet hour of eternity amidst the candles, the cut flowers, the fruit bowls, when Pic was the attentive lover, the devoted father? Or would you be on your bicycle, flashing through sunlight and shadow on your way to Boisgeloup to be mistress for the week while Olga was in Paris? Perhaps you’d wish to remain forever on the brink of womanhood, shopping at the Galeries Lafayette, your fingers about to brush that col claudine, the Master’s sleeve, the hem of immortality . . .

V

softly
from that Minoan shore
to the whetstone
of Phidias’ dream
and the fire of his blade

a patina
of coiled, breathing bangles
scale by scale
the snake goddess stripped
of her livery

and re-cast
from the patriarchal mould
the sloughed-off layers
of her sensual skin
trimmings for her aegis

a She-tower
of chryselephantine
commanding
swift allegiance
of the brave, the bold

graven image
robed in motionless gold
granite-eyed
and deathly cold as
the Gorgon at her breast

triumphantly
the glistening spear
and Winged Victory . . .
clandestine, at her feet
the limping smith-god’s child

a pedestal fit
for the Brightly-Crowned
Bringer of Strife:
the birth of Pandora
carved ivory relief

Golden Ages . . .
flowers from the garden
in a cobalt vase . . .
from the ray of a petal
pollen in the press of time


Author’s Notes

Images of Paintings cited in Tanka:

Dali’s la fornarina
Klimt’s Adele
Manet’s Victorine
Wyeth’s Helga

Prose:

Femme Assiss Pres D’une Fenetre (Woman Sitting Near A Window, 1932) by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is a portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, the artist’s “golden muse.” It sold at auction in February 2013 for £28,601,250. Marie-Thérèse (1909-1977) was Picasso’s French mistress and model from 1927 to around 1935. She was mother to his daughter, Maya. The affair began when Marie-Thérèse was 17 and Picasso was 45. He was still married to Olga (see below). Four years after Picasso’s death, 50 years after the couple first met, Marie-Thérèse committed suicide by hanging herself.

1) Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955), Picasso’s first wife.

2) Dora Maar (1907-1977), said to be Picasso’s “dark muse.” A skilled photographer, she recorded every stage in the development of Guernica (1937), arguably Picasso’s greatest masterpiece. Dora and Marie-Thérèse, rivals for the artist’s affections, are reputed to have wrestled each other, allegedly in front of Guernica, after Picasso told them to fight it out for themselves. In his painting Birds in a Cage (1937), Marie-Thérèse is depicted as the gentle, white dove, so Picasso’s preference appears to be clear.

3) Château de Boisgeloup: the country estate of which Olga was mistress at weekends while Marie-Thérèse resided there during the week.

4) col claudine, a Peter Pan collar.

Tanka:

(I) Victorine Meurent (1844-1927),the favourite model of Edouard Manet(1832-1883), inspiration for such works as Olympia (1863) and Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (1862-3).

(II) Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted by Gustav Klimt(1862-1918)in 1907.

(III) Gala Dalí, wife of Salvador Dalí(1904-1989). The Portrait of Galerina (1940-45) is a tribute to La Fornarina by Renaissance painter Raphael (1483-1520).

(IV) The Helga Pictures, a series of more than 240 paintings and drawings of German model Helga Testorf, (born c.1939), created by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) over the course of 15 years. The sittings were a secret even to the artist and model’s spouses. Braids was painted in 1979.

(V) Mycenaean culture flourished between 1600 BC when Helladic culture in mainland Greece was transformed under the influence of Minoan Crete, until around 1100 BC and the collapse of Bronze Age civilization. Long before the heyday of Athens, the northern patriarchal Hellenic tribes subverted the feminine, matriarchal Cretan goddesses (such as the Minoan snake goddess, protectress of hearth and home) whom they gave a new, masculine origin, making her acceptable to their patriarchal culture by clothing her in armour and making her subsidiary to an exalted Zeus (formerly a minor ‘year spirit,’ or consort to the goddess in Minoan culture). Athena Parthenos(Athena the Virgin), sculpted by Phidias (c.480-430 BC) and his assistants, and housed in the Parthenon. A massive gold and ivory sculpture of the city’s patron goddess, deemed the most renowned cult image of Athens.

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The Best of May

 

the small brown birds
wisely reiterating endlessly
what no man learnt yet, in or out of school

          ~ Edward Thomas

chalk’s cursive
loop, line and curlicue
whiter than the moon
more black than the earth
the peewit and its cry

It would be too much to bear without my window to the sky and the morning sun to blot my copybook.

“Price, why aren’t you writing”?

“I can’t find my pen, Miss”.

Before I can blink she’s at my desk, conjures my pen from the disorder, slams down the lid.

“You don’t look farther than your nose”!

I’m grateful that my pen is full and that there is some freedom in monotony. Swoop and glide, wing-tip and tail-streamers, briefly in formation – break! You might look, Miss, but do you see? I walk the same paths each day, but it takes autumn, with the wind in her fingers, to uncover the industry of spring. The birds’ nests (some torn, others dislodged, all dark) are suddenly plain to see, high or low in tree or hedgerow. Do you feel some shame, Miss, like me, that you passed most by even at eye’s level till the leaves blew off and made the seeing no game?

drilled to chant
to learn by rote and rhyme
nine times nine times nine,
not for the joy of singing
like the dunnock in the hedge

Hours and lessons blend one into the other. Yet I could stand at the end of the lane and hear all day long the thrush repeat his song. What does he have to say with such diligent abandon, and always from the tallest pine — can you answer me that?

History next. Many an age, unforgotten and lost – the men that were, the things done long ago. The Battle of Hastings, 1066. “One in the eye for Harold”, quips Stanley, the class clown. What matters is that I can think of nothing but summer’s end and the swift’s black bow stretched in the harvest blue.

was the arrow fletched
by Matilda’s fair hand?
stitches in time…
the starlings parleying
then as now

Was the tapestry the handiwork of the French queen and her gentlewomen, or was it the pride and joy of the Canterbury guild? I sit with my own swatch of Bayeux, think of my grandfather’s war and the still, green pond, the tall reeds like criss-cross bayonets, where a bird once called.

Miss commends
my satin stitch,
my French knots,
tut-tuts
my too-long thread
my slapdash finishing

Over-sewing. The pattern of my thoughts. Maths, History, Science. Enough hills and sheep-tracks for my mind to wander.

The bend in the river, my favourite place of all, where the children have flattened the bank…silvered it between the moss with the current of their feet.

shadows of minnows
weightless as words and dreams
sun on the water
I stepped in, a child,
but wade with adult feet

The last hour in this fusty room. Each tick of the clock takes me half a breath closer. Poetry, at least, is a better way to bide my time. Will you choose me, you English words?

how shrill, how pure,
the one sound under the sky
three notes, clear by heart
my day begins
with the final bell

what did you learn
in school today?
after the rain
the chittering of warblers,
how green the reeds!


Author’s note: italics indicate lines excerpted from the Collected Poems of Edward Thomas (1878-1917).

Contemporary Haibun Online, 8:3, October 2012

Drawing Hands

Drawing Hands

For Owen


When we are deeply in touch with the present moment, we can see that all our ancestors and all future generations are present in us. Seeing this, we will know what to do and what not to do – for ourselves, our ancestors, our children, and their children.

                                                                                   — Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Come upstairs, down to great Grandma Boyle’s room. She got her smile from you and she’s always making something out of nothing – usually mischief.  Across the landing, in the room next door, great Grandad Price is teaching you five-point perspective, just as you showed him. He takes your pencil from behind his ear where you left it before you were born.

sleight of hand

and rule of thumb

in that armchair

depth is not

the only illusion

 

There I am, at the boarded-up window, watching the birds that I’m still too young to name. “Swifts!” I cry, just as I always did.

 

sketching

without making

a mark . . .

yesterday screams by

on tomorrow’s wings

 

Dad, four years old – see how he has your brother’s ears? Why not sit Dad on your knee while you draw Popeye and Mickey Mouse for him, just like he used to do for me and my sisters? Tell him how he’s going to love to go to the Saturday morning picture show.

 

drops

of mercury . . .

the slightest touch

and the drawing

comes alive

 

Do you feel that figure brushing by? One of your favourite artists hangs a print in this distant room . . .

 

drawing each other

on the blank page

of the finished work

we are what we are

yet to be and always were

__________________

Author’s Note
: The title is taken from the lithograph by M. C. Escher (1898-1972)

Haibun Today 6:3, September 2012

But to Each Other Dream

 

This is the blue hour, when the blackbird drinks its fill of fading stars. I can no longer recall when I first sensed her gentle hand was at the latch. Perhaps, even before I learned the words by which she makes herself known I could hear her morning-step upon the stair?

A breeze parts the curtains, lets slip a chink of light; I must taste the blossoms that unfold. Or else, I wake to the music of her laughter, lift my eyes from a dream to catch a glimpse of her smile through an indoor lattice, all delight. Soft, her tread, closer, until I feel the circle of her arm, the warmth of her cheek, her fingers, still stained with the dawn. She lifts her knee, rests her foot upon the prie-dieu and gathers me into her swoon. Of all her gowns, this is my favourite, with mackerel skies in the hang of the folds and a train that carries the scent of pines. We share the inward fragrance of each other’s heart.

where have you been?

not far, not far…

I have come, swift

as a hen-bird on the wing

to breast her eggs again

She says she forgot the stars, the moon and sun….the blue above the trees. Did I forget them too?  They were not the same without her near…   If I should die…if she…  Let us speak, then, only of now. The cool cascades of her ink-dark hair, the sweetness of her tears. One hundred, one thousand years from now, it will not matter what became of one without the other.

what is my mind

in this pot-of-basil day?

fragrance

my dark-eyed muse

Isabella

 

******************************************************
The title and all text in italics excerpted from ‘Isabella, or The Pot of Basil’  by John Keats (1795-1821)

Isabella and the Pot of Basil (1868) by William Holman Hunt:

http://www.victorianweb.orgpainting/whh/paintings/7.html

Notes from the Gean 4:1, 2012

Raft

And we are here as on a darkling plain . . .

— Matthew Arnold

Sometime after midnight, we haul ourselves onto the raft. Here, at least, there is some semblance of stillness. In a few breaths, while I rest my head on your shoulder, we are one with the pulse of the sea. On a clear night like this, the only reflections belong to ourselves, the moon and the stars. And these are all flotsam.

vanished headland
rocks of the darkling plain . . .
somewhere, still
the grey grind of surf
and shale’s cold sting

murmur
of words unformed
of shells unborn
I roll my tongue
around mother-of-pearl

anemones . . .
how slowly red sumi-e
winds through saltwater
your breath on my neck,
your lips brushing mine

deep night
we cross a causeway
of moonlit shells . . .
touch leaves no imprint,
we return to the swell

and so we drift
trailing our fingers
in the wine-dark sea
until night, like the cormorant
dries its wings

______________________________

Haibun Today, 6:2, June 2012

The Charm


rapid eye movement
goldfinches brush the trees
with flame colours
in and out of song
your path through the forest’s dream
*
A sunlit breeze plays on the willow leaves against a powder blue sky. The thistle’s downy seed my fare, my drink the morning dew. I follow the glistening song of goldfinches, through the fields and vineyards of Vinci, catching glimpses of you as a boy as you go about your days with your uncle Francesco, learning the names of plants and herbs and studying the habits of wild animals.

“Vista d’uccello!” your voice hushed in wonder — how the world would take shape in a bird’s eye! This is your dream as you study birds in flight, mesmerised by the way they catch the currents of the wind, noting every detail in the sketchbook that hangs at your hip.

what is it
that lifts the wings
of man
quill by quill
the colours of his dreams

And so it begins, the first spark of the fire in your eyes, that many years later will send you running upstairs to the barricaded top room of your bottega, to work on one of hundreds of designs intended to lift you into the skies over Milan. Perhaps canvas and feathers, or these vast pinions constructed from leather and cane and starched silk will take you gliding over the lake – with an empty wineskin as your belt to save you from drowning?

where their wings once brushed
the bars of a gilded cage…
a charm
of goldfinches
with a key to the sky

It’s a simple thing to wander down to the open-air market and purchase the caged birds. One day you write a fable of the goldfinch who flies back and forth to feed her captured offspring with a poisonous herb – better death than the loss of liberty. A few moments spent sketching the feathers of a dove find their place in eternity, in the brushstrokes of Gabriel’s wings. Yet, what greater work of art than the gentle hand that slips the latch on the cage to set the little bird free? Or the dream-dark eyes that watch it fly away?

black strokes through yellow
the open fan of a wing…
the hang of the folds
and the placement of her hands,
her smile’s sfumato

A breeze through the willow paints a living picture of rose-coloured chiaroscuro in my lightly closed eyes. You speak to me of time.

the last of the past
the first of the future
my fingers
in the now
of the mountain stream

~

Note: the goldfinch referred to in this piece is the European goldfinch, quite distinct from the American goldfinch.

‘the thistle’s downy seed…’ extract from ‘On a Goldfinch, Starved to Death in his Cage’, by William Cowper (1731-1800)

better death than the loss of liberty is the moral of  one of Leonardo da Vinci’s many fables, The Goldfinch
———-
Atlas Poetica 10 2011

Caddisfly

 

Caddisfly

between stones
and crests of foam
downriver
from the weir of this day
we go to bathe with dippers

I recall the words of the old lady who stopped to admire my young family all those years ago. With three children under the age of six, I was more than happy to accept her advice: Leave the housework, the dust will still be there long after you’re gone. It wasn’t always easy to hold that maxim in mind, but the older I get, the more it comes back to me. In a shaft of sunlight, oh, the poetry of those twirling dust motes!

not sugared, simmered,
ladled into sterile jars
but wild . . .
summer’s blood
forever on my tongue

I can’t deny the pleasure of slipping between Mum’s freshly laundered sheets, flipping my pillow to the cool side of a Sea Breeze or a Woodland Dream, but there was little joy in learning how to perform a perfect cartwheel when I got a short, sharp smack for the grass stains on my Daz-white socks. I loved to draw, but never became confident with colour when I could barely move for newpaper, protective sheet, the tightness of those apron strings and Mum following my every move with a cloth in her hand. The veneer of her life shone like a new pin. Inside, a lonely woman became increasingly resigned to her lacklustre dreams. Such guilt I felt in wishing she was more like my friend’s Mum, who would follow her bliss at any given moment, stopping to bake cherry scones on laundry day, singing as she kneaded and rolled the dough, the foaming twin-tub skewed across their tiny kitchen floor.

there is
always time
for dust
and yet
no time

“Come on,” I say to my daughter, “let’s go!”


Note: Caddisfly larvae, Trichoptera, are a large part of the dipper’s diet.

 Haibun Today, December 2011

 

 

 

 

RSPB guide to Dippers

 

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