Where to Hang Your Grief

Ross Laycock MemoryMy daughters Lydia and Becca, ages 12 and 10, are thoroughly delighted by the contemporary art collection at the Milwaukee Art Museum. They hurry to the Warhol soup cans and Lichtenstein comics they recognize from art class, a large sculpture made entirely of clear plastic buttons, and plenty of outrageously “simple” pieces they insist they can paint themselves and henceforth make millions of dollars.

During our last visit this December, however, we encountered a work we’d never seen. On the floor sat a large stack of sheets approximately two by three feet in size. Terrified that my kids would touch the art, I half-dove in front of them as a bodyguard of sorts. Then a ponytailed security woman stepped over.

“You may take one if you like,” she said.

I stared at her for a moment. “Like, to keep?”

“Yes. That’s what this art is for.”

Still only partly believing her, my girls and I each lifted a sheet printed with gray scale light seeping through clouds and a small silhouette of a flying bird. [Read more...]

For the Love of Hank Stuever, Part 1

50614-stock-photo-music-listening-tape-cassette-symbols-metaphors-tape-spaghetti-radio-playIt’s been a rotten day. The Fed Ex package didn’t arrive; a typo slipped through several levels of Edit. The leaf blower crapped out but not before spitting out a pile of half-masticated leaves onto the wet sidewalk, so that now the concrete looks like a rusted boat hull. The auditor is suspicious of that high overhead rate. The toddler peed on the carpet. And all the high school kids think Ronald Reagan was president in World War II.

On that kind of day, I just make it to the end, make sure my children are fed and have brushed teeth, pour a glass of wine, and pull out the book I almost always pull out at the end of a bad day—arranging the sofa throw just so over my knees. Salud!

If you read at all, you likely have a book like this. (My husband’s is What If, which presents alternative outcomes of historical events.) Perhaps it’s even the Good Book (you are a better person than I). In my case, though, the reassuring tome at the end of the day is the collection of essays Off Ramp, by Hank Stuever. [Read more...]

Poetry Friday: “Annunciation” by Katharine Coles


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Each Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

Of all Gospel passages, I think the Annunciation is the scene most represented by poets over the centuries. So I’m always amazed when a new poet has the confidence and vision to re-imagine the scene for us afresh. And that’s exactly what Katharine Coles does in “Annunciation.” I’m taken first by her daring doubling in the opening line: “what occurs occurs…” The mirror imaging of the words expands into the mirroring of the angel and the virgin: neither of them, astonishingly, “matters.” The poem then moves into what does matter: images of light, scissors, openings catch my breath as I realize that the Incarnation is what is being figured here. Then, “we” enter the poem; and, disturbingly, we don’t behave in the self-forgetting way that the angel and virgin do. The poem is dotted with particular questions (“Of? Or to?”); yet really the whole poem hangs in the air as a question: where do “we” fit into the Incarnation? Can we even comprehend it as along as “we can’t forget ourselves”?

—Peggy Rosenthal

 


 

Annunciation by Katharine Coles

What matters is what occurs occurs
Between them, not to them. It’s only that
The angel doesn’t matter, nor the virgin.
A blade of light scissors the air [Read more...]

The Tyrannical Self-Gaze

5516869922_016eaf4251_zBy Elizabeth Duffy

I’m doing most of my walking after dark these days as night comes a little earlier. Night walking always makes me feel lighter, almost weightless, so it seems like I’m walking faster than I do in daylight, and since the scenery no longer differentiates one day’s walk from another, my thoughts are in a tunnel. I’m ageless and united in memory and feeling with almost every dark walk I’ve ever taken.

Tonight that weightless feeling, which somehow never blesses me in daylight, reminded me of being about fourteen years old, “running away,” barefoot, in the dark. I’d slammed the door on my way out, not taking time to assess my readiness for a new life on the go, nor the environment into which I was fleeing. Turned out it was raining.

But I did succeed literally at running away, up on the balls of my bare feet. I remember feeling like a gazelle, and somehow all the little pebbles that gather on the side of the road didn’t hurt. I ran about three miles, and then I ran back home, pumped up on romance and adrenaline, only to find out that no one had worried about me, which was disappointing.

In hindsight, the experience of no one worrying about me—because I really was always fine—has been one of my life’s hallmarks and great letdowns. [Read more...]

The Curse of a Good Memory

Good_Letters_Curse_Of_Good_MemoryFirst of all, it makes everyone hate you at parties. We all know that it’s downright rude to correct the person who’s standing next to you holding a glass of white wine when she says, “for him and I.”  Grammar is one thing.  But sometimes the problem is facts, and facts matter.

I was in a situation recently where someone noted that film director Douglas Sirk’s magnificent film Imitation of Life—the heartbreaking story of the saintly African-American maid, Annie Johnson, whose light-skinned daughter grows (rightly) envious of the casual privilege of her white employers—was made in 1934.

Yes, there happens to be a version of Imitation of Life that was made in 1934, with Claudette Colbert. But there is no way that anybody who knew anything about Douglas Sirk could think that he would have had anything to do with it. (I know, I know: casually-dismissive disdain: I’ve told you I am the chief of sinners.) [Read more...]


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