Jana Swec is a marvelous artist, painter and muralist. At a recent opening, I overheard her talk about her love affair with Payne’s Grey.
She fell in love with Payne’s Grey
For a whole year
Because it wasn’t grey
It was twilight and bruises and forest shadows
She coaxed each of those shades
Into her paintings
Lacing them around
Lemon and rose and gold
Every time she painted with Payne’s Grey
She felt like she was falling into
The deepest crevice of the world
And what she found wasn’t
one dark color
It was many
And each of them asked for light.
A scene at the airport…
JUST IN CASE
“Just in Case. Take the umbrella.” Her mother stuffed the small red collapsible umbrella in the side pouch of her carry on and pushed her into the TSA security line. She didn’t need it. She could have dumped it into the trash can along with the dozens of water bottles that people had forgotten were in their bags but she didn’t. It would be cruel. Too pointed. Too direct. That wasn’t how they did things. Love was a collapsible red umbrella in her carry on. They didn’t do good bye speeches, tears in their eyes. They didn’t try to say everything right before they said goodbye. It wasn’t the way they did things. Their love was remembering at the last minute how to prevent the world falling on their beloved’s head. It wasn’t a steady beat of love, love, love every minute of every day. At the end of the security line, she looked back and found her mother’s face, still but searching, across all the machines x-raying our fear and vigilance. She reached into her carry on and pulled out the collapsible red umbrella, unsnapped the band and pressed the button which opened it above her head. She knew her mother could see her. She wasn’t lost in the crowd. She waved it gently above everyone. A red hand. A funny shaped balloon. Love. Just in case.
A childhood memory.
We called it a seesaw
but it was a big plank
twelve feet long.
eight inches wide
four inches thick
At each end, the wood curved into seats
Underneath in the middle of the plank were
two s-shaped hinges that hooked onto a green metal pipe
cemented into the ground
four feet high
I want to be precise about all the measurements because
once Lynnie and I climbed on,
it became a bucking horse throwing us four feet in the air,
it was a balance beam where we stood stiller than still
four feet above the ground, it was
a place to talk back and forth, up and down
about everything, as best friends do.
Sometimes we would lift the board
so it was no longer hooked to the pipe and swerve it side to side,
trying to throw each other off.
No, that’s not quite right.
We’d bring each other to the edge of being thrown off
but we never did.
We never felt the sudden terrible weightlessness of the other disappearing.
Instead we bounced and swerved the board so the other
could lift higher and higher, almost flying.
Really, I guess, it was flying.
This trust between us.
But we didn’t call it that.
I don’t know where this poem came from. Teaching? Writing? Frustration? Who knows? It’s here.
THE ARCHITECTURE OF STORY
We begin with a one-dimensional stick figure and a idea.
The idea towers in our mind.
Big. Big, Big.
Great American Masterpiece Big.
Now we need a character to support that idea
All the superficial stuff.
A shell really
Still dwarfed by the big idea
Then we drag in the heart
What makes it beat, race, thrum?
Then we lug the soul onto the scene.
What dark corners does it know?
What light does it seek?
Now the phallus of that idea
Looks a bit smaller
At last the stick figure has some heft
Even the beginnings of voice
And a way of walking around that hulking tower
Pretty soon she owns it,
Buys furniture for it
Sits in it
Buys groceries and cooks in it
Stinks up the place in her own particular way
Yeah, next thing you know that big idea is her idea
And you are a guest in her house.
In the musical GiGi, Maurice Chevalier and Hermoine Gingold sing a sweet duet called “I Remember It Well.” This poem is sparked by the notion that two memories, side by side, record events very differently.
I sat on the right side
She sat on the left
I turned the pages
She held down our progress
Our mother is between us
Her cool hands stroking our clean hair
I can hear her heart beat with my left ear
My sister with her right
We curve around our mother’s contours each night
Listening to her read
Until we are so sleepy
Dad has to princess-carry us to our beds
Now we are arguing about her last party
It was a red room
No it was gold
It was April
No it was November
Near her birthday
We can only agree that there was a party and
She loved it. Especially when everyone got loose and had fun.
Isn’t this fun? she said over and over.
My sister grimaces.
Don’t you remember when that guy puked in our bathroom?
Don’t you remember all the dirty dishes
And the woman who broke three wine classes?
I shake my head.
I remember mom’s friend with red hair
Dancing by herself in the living room.
She and I argue about most every memory
I wonder how her view of the world
Sitting on the left side of our mother was so different