Imitation Flamingo

digital illustrationHere’s the thing about flamingos: they’re living contradictions. They’re some of the least altered descendants of the dinosaurs, yet in the twentieth century they became icons of modernism in art and design in large part for the very strangeness that ties them so closely to their ancestors. In the span of that surge of popularity, they also had both the high-cultural cachet of favored subjects in Art Deco’s glamorous creations and the lowbrow delights of trailer park plastic lawn decorations. The elegant long necks, graceful broad wings, and that magical coral hue of their plankton-painted plumage are counterbalanced by rather gawky squawking voices and oh, my, what an unattractive smell.

Here’s another thing: we human-types tend to have a certain ambivalence about many things in our lives and appreciate that the world is far from simple. So it’s not surprising that many of us should find flamingos fairly intriguing and compelling. They’re kind of weird. They’re sort of good metaphorical stand-ins for us.

I’m fond of and amazed by birds. I’m particularly drawn to raptors and songbirds, but truth be told, I wasn’t so taken by flamingos, and when I got to spend a tiny bit of quality time in their presence in zoos or parks, I was amused by their seeming clumsiness and more than a little taken aback by their stink and noise. Guess you won’t be surprised, then, to know that when I had a little time to reflect on it–well, it was my own reflection I saw. I’m still thankful I’m not an actual flamingo, since people mostly don’t laugh openly at my foibles when in my presence, and hardly ever tell me to my face that I’m stinky. All the same, having that little picture stored in my mind is useful. I may still be slightly ridiculous, in my stumbling, silly way and with my imperfect voice and showy but eccentric ways, but I guess if flamingos can be such wonderful and iconic beings with all of their oddities, why shouldn’t I, too? Flawed and goofy I may be, but I’m an amazing creature of my own kind.

Rising above It All

digital collagePhoenix in Plainclothes

I’m not afraid, though storm clouds menace me,

obscuring all the known, the safe and sweet,

though lightning slashes through the dark and sleet

to make its fury all that I can see–

For under it, still in the garden’s bed,

lie roses, graceful guardians of peace,

to shelter me until the storm should cease,

and blue convolvulus, whose trumpets said–

The rain announces plenty, growth and life,

and nothing terrible amid its fires

can conquer me, so strong are my desires

and will, that they defeat such earthly strife–

And I will spread my wings and rise, remade,

for though storms menace me, I’m not afraid.digital collage

Dusk to Dawn

digital illustrationCoal & Diamonds

Strangely enough, the bond of sleep, that weight of Lethe sitting on my soul,

Reminds me constantly to keep from letting diamond days turn back to coal,

For stillness rejuvenates bone and blood and sinew strong enough to bring me on,

And sleep is a portal through which a flood of musings sweep me forward to the dawn,

So rest is essential, and there I lie, seeming immobile while I dance at speed,

Or mounting on magical wings to the sky, to soar as sweetly high as I should need

To see in sleep, in my mind’s eye, new ways to spring from dark to day’s desire,

To find in the darkness of night what I love most amid the constellations’ fire

And planets and comets’ tails’ dross and stone what I can reinvent as suns for day,

My own coal-diamonds, blood and bone and sinew turned to chasing night away.digital illustration

Messengers

I admire real journalists and documentarians. Now, I do think that they are a very rare breed among news-people, the rest of whom are too driven by their corporate sponsors’ and their own biases by a long shot, no matter where on the spectrum of politics, religion, personal philosophy or other conviction they fall, but there are those honest characters who, if they do consistently let their beliefs steer their messages, at least recognize those prejudices and are quite open about them and still manage to give air time to opposing or differing points of view.

Still, the ones I really find compelling are a different sort of message bearers. They are harder to recognize, because they can be quite ordinary seeming mortals or wholly incorporeal, quotidian or fantastical, intentional or entirely, serendipitously accidental in their delivery of important news in our lives. Are they strangers we meet by happenstance and happy crossing of paths, like the townspeople in Germany who saw my older sister and me debarking a train after dark and looking around to orient ourselves? The kind couple approached us, told us that Celle (however lovely) was a very small town indeed and that there were few places for visitors to stop overnight but they’d help us find one, gave us directions and set us on the path to a very cozy little bed and breakfast before disappearing into the dark like a mist.

Are the messengers those outstanding teachers who have acted not only as educators in our lives but also as inspiration, as mentors, counselors, guides and friends? Mrs. Willis, Mr. Cunningham, Prof. Keyes: I salute you! Teachers have done as much to bring light to my life as to the dim corners of my mind over the years, and I am grateful for the news and stories and messages they bring. Are there other beings among us able to protect and direct us without our even being aware of it? Of course there are. Some of them are simply gracious fellow humans whose good deeds and kindness will never be seen or fully known and recognized in our lifetimes, either because we are too dim-witted and self-involved to notice as we should or because they merely do their mitzvahs without fanfare, without expecting or needing any recognition and recompense. These we should imitate and their message should be spread further by our going out in turn to do kindnesses for others and requiring no attention or glory.

And I think that–given how beautiful and rich life can be when we do pay attention–there must be others in our midst too; angels or aliens, I don’t much care what we name them, but there must be Love looking out for us to make even the tiniest good possible, let alone the many graces that fill our days if we only look. Their message, I suspect, is nothing more or less than that we are being well looked after, and our little lives recorded no matter how small they may seem to us.pen and ink

Shiny Objects & Flying Illusions

Beetling Brow

Inside my skull’s a fizzing insectarium

of mystic, magic, merry little things

so wildly pretty that my brain can’t carry ’em

without the power of all their tiny wings,

Abuzz with sparkling brilliance and their fleeting,

so speedy that they’ve utterly forgot

regard for gravity or need for beating,

become instead bright vestiges of thought.

Now, you may think I’m just a bugged-out entity

with not a thought for anything of sense,

but every person has his own bugs, hasn’t he,

and with their glittering gleam, the joy’s immense;

I never really cared that much for images

or what all others thought my problem was,

but just embraced my inner insects’ scrimmages,

and love the shiny ways they make me buzz.digital collage

Luminosity

To my beloved youngest sister on her birthday:

Taking life from the real to the magical and from drabness to brilliance, luminosity is the agent of glorious change. Little Sister is such an agent in many lives as well, bringing beauty and joy to us solely by existing, let alone having the sweetness and humor and wisdom that fill her with the warm inner light I so treasure. Simply, my world would be far smaller and more limited to the dull version of reality if it weren’t for the presence of her gracious illumination!

With that in mind, here is a series of illustrations of that progression of luminosity to celebrate the gifts of sisterly love.

graphite drawing

digital illustration

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Moth Mythos

Moths have a potent duality of effects on me: they attract and repel with just about equal force. On the one hand, there is their Victorian opulence of velvet wings and ostrich-feathered antennae and their widely looping sweeps of flight as if borne effortlessly on air currents themselves rather than lofting on and above them under power. They can look like jewels tossed into the air or, as hawk moths can sometimes do, trick the unwary watcher into thinking they’re bright, buzzing hummingbirds on the wing.

On the other hand, that sort of squishy, bloated, heavy softness of moths’ bodies and their voracious appetites for things I’d rather have kept to myself (dry goods in the pantry, tender leaves in the garden, and favorite fine woolens) fills me with nervousness that makes the revulsion they inspire in horror stories utterly plausible to me. I can’t help but remember the sweltering summer night when I was young and my family, having been out for a happy holiday evening, stopped at the local gas station to refill the bottomless tank of our giant station wagon; since it was so sweltering, we all piled out of the car to go into the tiny, grubby cashier’s hut where an electric fan was humming and, having an uneasy sense of something untoward behind me, I turned around to see a veritable dust storm of fat moths, attracted by the shop’s fluorescent lights, throwing themselves in spongy, flapping frenzy at the glaring glass until it was almost opaque with their wing-scale dust. Oh, yes, and the fabulously nasty short story ‘The Cocoon’ (John B. L. Goodwin) has never quite left my subconscious mind (awake or asleep) once I read it a few decades ago.

On top of all this, I married a guy who had once had a small moth fly into his ear, get caught and frantic, and instead of finding its way out, worked its creepy, fluttering way right down to beat against his eardrum until a doctor could eventually get the creature out of there. Enough said. I can still look, at times, with a certain dispassionate interest and think of moths as intriguing bits of scientific wonder and visual astonishment, and then I must quickly look away again and reassure myself that there’s not something truly wrong with them. I did at least decide to write a little bit to see if, in the incident of the attack on my husband’s ear, I could imagine the experience from the moth’s point of view.digital painting from a photo

Labyrinth

I crawled the narrow halls in

Darkness ever deepening,

Thinking I might find some clear way through

But too tightly fitted in, too close,

No chance of going back or backing out,

No scent I could recognize to bring me

Back to the distant shore,

No vision, not a speck of spectral light to give

A guide around those curves crepuscular, those turns

Winding ever more toward claustrophobia, to where

The heat was growing more intense, the sound

Of a pulsing drum seeming to speak of waves, making

Me dream the ocean lay ahead—but behind me, in

The now impenetrable night, some Thing, a dragon

It seemed to me, began to drown the liquid lure

Of the drumbeat ahead with its own more frightful,

Louder noise, and then to scrabble wildly at me

With its terrifying claws, at which it seemed

The labyrinth must finally swallow me and

Draw me down into its fatal end—but then—

In a turn of events that was quite shockingly detached

From any turns my path had made

Thus far, the whole puzzling place tipped

Over on its side—there I lay, too fixed

In the halls’ constricting ways to turn and follow or

To roll, and the sea broke forth on me at last, a rush

Of saline waves tearing upon me, heaving me out

Of where I’d wedged, and in a cataract, sent me

Blasting right back through all the sightless turns

Of that preternatural dark, shot me with my sodden

Useless wings back into blazing day where I

Could lie, quivering faintly in my long-lost world,

Deciding whether it was time to die or time

To spread my fragile wings and see

If there was any life left in them.