ken doll

in a world without heroes,

we’re trapped in a jelly jar

licked clean

from bottom to neck

 

the temptation

is to manufacture

salvation,

 

to succumb to the notion

we can have it all.

 

two plastic hands

and a plastic

foot, or

a pair of painted

eyes, an all-american

 

white boy with

broad shoulders,

thin lips, and

a flash of lifelessness

 

living

deep inside

the tan lines

 

rising and subsiding

a wave

on a green sea.

 

Fear and Art

“For beauty is but the beginning of terror/which we are barely able to endure.”

This passage comes from the first of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies, and these lines capture an essential quality of aesthetics: fear. Fear is what makes us human, even though we are always running from it. Fear is something the majority of people share. It transcends differences of culture, language, and religion. Fear is woven into the very fabric of our existence.

Take for example Hokusai’s ubiquitous print Under a Wave off Kanagawa.

Image result for the great wave

At first, the viewer is inclined to imbibe the beauty of the tremendous wave. Look at how it dwarfs Mount Fuji, the highest peak in Japan, and for centuries, a source of reverence and awe for the Japanese people. Now look at the boats. The fishermen in the boat slightly away from the center appear as if they are headed home after a long fishing trip. It doesn’t look as if they will make it.

At the front left, Hokusai leaves us with an ominous forecast. A smaller wave is thrashing a boat bereft of passengers. The two other fishing boats don’t have a snowball’s chance of making it back to their wives and their families. Like all great artists, Hokusai makes us keenly aware of our own mortality.  He shows us that even on a beautiful day, when all is going well, the puppeteer can pull our strings too tightly, and we will choke.

Let’s compare the wave to a work of Western Art, painted roughly forty years prior to it: Christ Crucified by Goya.

Image result for goya crucifixion

The element of fear in this work is more nuanced and complicated than Hokusai’s, but I think it is worthwhile to ponder a little. Goya’s image is rooted in the context of the Christian faith, wherein Jesus Christ through his death and subsequent resurrection redeems mankind from its sins. His death, should in theory, absolve Christians of their fear of death, and give them hope for a life after the grave. However, many Christians, like many humans of all creeds throughout the world still have fears of when they may cease to exist.

Goya takes us to a time when this fear was much more poignant and where much was at stake. The painting is difficult to look at, because you are compelled to witness Jesus’s agony, the pain of a man being killed through no fault of his own. We see Jesus looking upward in an act of faith. He is hopeful, but the state of his body, and the darkness of the backdrop leave the viewer in doubt.

Goya takes his viewer back to the time of the gospel when no one was certain of any outcome, when Jesus’s followers had to reconcile their fears with their leader’s teachings. By doing so,Goya reminds us that fear arises from the tension between faith and doubt. Despite our striving to be strong and do good, sometimes fear taps us on the shoulder and reminds us that it is an integral part of who we are.

The struggle with fear permeates the great works of art that resonate with us. I have merely shown you two examples. The tragedies of Shakespeare and the sustained pauses in Beethoven’s compositions show glimmers of the terror that lives inside. Without fear, there is no courage. Fear allows us to see what we are capable of accomplishing.

winter

winter

the bullet in the folds

of my eye-socket swims,

sliding in my cranium’s tight

spaces.  i clench my teeth,

jaw shut against the wind.

 

isn’t it lovely to see the snow,

the hands of children licked clean

with ice? exit pursued by spatula.

 

 

 

strolling along the hippocampus street bridge

Image result for night

strolling along the hippocampus street bridge

i was born

with my hand hanging

out an open window,

tulips and azaleas sprouting

from my nostrils. pheasants

rose from the boiling water

to break their pots and fly

again, wings singed with the heat

of miscalculated intentions.

 

i grew up

and grew strong

in a cage without bars.

 

i lived

swimming

in the zookeeper’s irises.

 

one day i awoke

my shirt stretched

away from my neck

as if someone had tugged

my collar, the way sometimes

the muse apprehends you,

and when you measure yourself

with the elastic tape,

you are smaller, as if scooped

from a pint of strawberry sherbet,

a pebble from a cliff,

testament to something once whole.

 

the sound of ray charles

crawls over from a distant room.

sunlight lifts your tilted blinds.

your arm is bruised, and numbness

pinches your calf muscles, heart plodding

with threadbare sneakers. it throbs,

but you are here.

 

the moon is an old woman

with welcoming eyes. she

smiles with seeming sincerity.

night, night, endless night

stretching across the tent of the world.

 

what a pleasure it is

to sleep here beneath the shade

of long-limbed trees with the flies

in the tranquil heat after an august rain.

 

the child weeps among the rocks

the child weeps among the rocks

and the garden is overcome

with  weeds taller

than the enormous budding

cactuses that adorn the western landscape,

 

while the sonambulist thrashes

his arms at chimeras flying

out from febrile dreams. he covers

deep cuts with the stitched sleeves

of christmas sweaters and their

generic embroidery of evergreen

trees. are moon rocks real?,

the small boy wonders. how

do we push ourselves through

bottomless mud puddles,

paddling against the inclemency

of rapids and whitewater streams?

 

he squeezes his forearm, desperate

for a pulse, as he rubs the small slits

upon his wrist. above him the coagulation

of clouds, white and concupiscent,

sturdy barges to bear a warrior

into the world behind the forbidden curtain.

 

untitled (7/21/2017)

thank you, god, most

for her small hands

with faint blue veins

winding their way

to her unfaltering heart,

exquisite jade gemstone

sculpted with the tools

of albertus magnus,

exceptional engravings

imprinting themselves

on the mind. somewhere,

in some time soon

to slip and fall

in the tremendous

bathtub of being

 

she is holding

a lamp, lit with her resolve,

a feeling sprouting bright

and bulbous, to scatter

shadows from the path

of thorny vines and beaten branches.

sanjay

Picture writing prompt.

sanjay

sanjay’s playmates crouch,

stunted under the magnitude

of the barely imagined,

fingers frantically fanning the surface,

faces orange as their friend’s burning

 

lung. they saw him fall

face first into the pool,

his small arms flailing,

feet kicking like a broken motor,

 

his once red shirt stained

with the colorlessness of water,

gasping, eyes shut against the light

as his brown body sinks into a chlorine dream.

 

they’re stuck there in the mumbai afternoon,

sweating like oxen or an untouchable in the field

in their faded blue jean shorts. one hundred and one

degrees and each boy feels a sharp chill

on his bare back. they cry in the streets,

and their elders do not hear them.

 

they wonder if it was a dream

or a sinister wagon following them forever

down dark and crooked alleyways,

etched in the mind’s fleshy membrane.

 

 

envoi

envoi

the elephants bend their angular bodies

amid the dry shrubs, trunks curled in apprehension.

the bearded woman is going bald.

the magician leans forward

in his rickety rocking chair,

and takes a deep swig from his rusted flask.

 

the clown washes his makeup off,

as he watches the basin’s water

redden at the surface,

 

the putrid odor rising

in the autumnal air,

 

and out of the dull blue sky,

a strong gale strikes a hole in the canvas.

 

this is a tent for tired people.

untitled (7/9/2017)

the early morning moon casts

shadows over the high grass.

 

a thin, green garden snake

with the agility of dandelion spores

 

in a breeze, glides along

the cold ground, and a rabbit bounds

 

into a hole, bones flattening–

draped in the density of air

 

as he squeezes inside, heart leaping,

his tiny throat throbbing

 

from the sheer exertion

of such unthinking expression.

rain in late june

rain in late june

sometimes a storm seizes the landscape

on an otherwise auspicious afternoon

as gusts of drizzle vaporize before

hitting the scorching concrete,

 

and three children kicking a flattened football

must stop their tournament and seek

shelter on a neighbor’s porch

cluttered with knick-knacks,

 

potted plants hanging from high trellises, rusted axle

from a ’77 chevy, and a grandmother’s knotted walking stick

hacked off from a tree long since fallen

in the dense, shady forest of misremembered names,

 

then suddenly the torrent ceases:

precipitation siphoned to its parish of origin,

 

and on a dumpster flecked with damp splotches

a cardinal stoops to peck his small talons,

tail pointed upward, beady eyes flashing

in rapture at his own reflection,

a skittering shade of scarlet warbling

at the almost emerald leaves.