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Consoling Broken Hearts

Isadora Duncan, Photo Credit: Arnold Genthe, 1917

In the last weeks much has happened in America that deeply wounds the heart of all of us. Even if we are distant from the terror attacks at Newtown and the Boston Marathon, from the massive explosions at West, Texas, we feel the pain of the innocent, the victims. Before there is acceptance, before there is forgiveness, there is grieving. I came across this essay from Isadora Duncan from her memoir, My Life, that speaks of inconsolable loss and what we may say or do that offers genuine companionship and solace to those grieving. Duncan lost both of her children in an accident when a taxicab in which they were riding drove off into the water and they were drowned. She then fled to her friend, Eleanora Duse, and stayed with her in Italy.


The next morning I drove out to see Duse, who was living in a rose-coloured vila behind a vineyard. She came down a vine covered walk to meet me, like a glorious angel. She took me in her arms and her wonderful eyes beamed upon me such love and tenderness that I felt just as Dante must have felt when, in the "Paradiso," he encounters the Divine Beatrice.

From then on I lived at Viareggio, finding courage from the radiance of Eleanora's eyes. She used to rock me n her arms, consoling my pain, but not only consoling, for she seemed to take my sorrow to her own breast, and I realized that I had not been able to bear thew society of other people, it was because they all played the comedy of trying to cheer me with forgetfulness. Whereas Eleanora said:

"Tell me about Deirdre and Patrick," and made me repeat to her all their little sayings and ways, and show her their photos, which she kissed and cried over. She never said, "Cease to grieve," but she grieved with me, and, for the first time since their death, I felt I was not alone.

- Isadora Duncan, 1878-1927
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Just Pushing

For deLawd

people say they have a hard time
understanding how I
go on about my business
playing my Ray Charles
hollering at the kids -
seems like my Afro
cut off in some old image
would show I got a long memory
and I come from a line
of black and going on women
who got used to making it through murdered sons
and who grief kept on pushing
who fried chicken
swept off the back steps
who grief kept
for their still alive sons
for their sons coming
for their sons gone
just pushing

- Lucille Clifton

Today, the haunting notes of YoYo Ma on the cello plays in elegy, the faces and pure voices of the Boston Childrens Chorus rise in song, carrying words they barely understand but certainly feel in the gospel hymnal "To the Mountain." Today we talk about honoring our lost and commit to moving on. The voice of the cello cries "Why?" The prayer surrenders and accepts. The faces of mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters turn away. And those of us who can go on, do. We rise and work, we take the children to school, we load the washing machine, chop green beans, hug our husbands and wives and kids because we know, really know, how fragile the thin thread is.

I run today through the cold bright sun. The new green limns the trees. The robin tucks the last straw into her nest. I run because I can and perhaps another cannot. I run because each day it is a gift to do so. I run for Boston, for me, for you. The thin fragile thread. I run because it is my way to pray. My heart beats "Why?"

Feet just pushing.
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copper pennies, cattle bones, pavers, wafers, black cloth
The Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas, Austin

The image in this essay is of an art installation at The Blanton Museum of Art in Austin, Texas that occupies an entire space of its own. A room within a room, in which the art, "How to Build a Cathedral," fills the entirety of the subdued space.

The visitor is permitted to step inside the installation, curtained on four sides by ceiling to floor black mesh curtains (filmy and weighty), and stand or walk the square perimeter of the installation on an interior border of simple gray pavers. The ceiling within is a stalactite "chandelier" of cow bone: white bones suspended in uniform order from the ceiling and lit from above. The bones funnel visually into a thin cord of stacked Eucharist wafers falling into a sculptural sea of shiny new pennies. The space has the sacramental hush and reverence we associate with the interiors of cathedrals and the metaphoric elements with which we erect them: rock, money, sweat and death, sacrament, obscurity, light. It is a beautiful space. It feels sacred. The meaning, if one can say such exists outside the visual, feels immediately and profoundly understood. We make the profound from the material, we imbue the simple with meaning. What is sacred is born of the ordinary.

Does a poem enlarge the world,
or only our idea of the world?
- from "Mathematics" by Jane Hirschfield

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Art Where You Are

Why not? Why not? Why should my poems not imitate my life?
Whose lesson is not the apotheosis but the pattern, whose meaning
is not in the gesture but in the inertia, the reverie.

Desire, loneliness, wind in the flowering almond -
surely these are the great, the inexhaustible subjects
to which my predecessors apprenticed themselves.
I hear them echo in my own heart, disguised as convention.

Balm of the summer night, balm of the ordinary,
imperial joy and sorrow of human existence,
the dreamed as well as the lived -
what could be dearer than this, given the closeness of death?

- from "Summer Night" by Louise Gluck

The Blanton Art Museum, located on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, is a playground for the mind and spirit. Here, soaring open interior spaces lit by diffused skylights permit art to breathe, allow the mind to break formation, to wander and make stunning, exciting associations between paintings and sculpture, colors and form. Three specific pieces of art will be explored in upcoming blog essays that moved me in different ways. Pieces that somehow charged my sensibilities, as atoms ellipse around an idea whose time has yet to come.

I found myself longest in the Contemporary wing. The several large installations in this space shocked, astounded, and poked me fully awake. I had to look, walk around and then away, and then circle back once more. I stood immobilized by ideas that floated into my head as though the artists uncapped my skull and held a gravy boat of thoughts poured into my brain.

The photograph above is of a piece by El Anatsui, of Nigeria, called simply "City Plot 2010." The sculpture is a wall-sized installation; wholly composed of aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire. These crude components weave unexpected visual shapes of varied color mobile to the eye from a distance like the scales of river trout or flags whipping in wind. A woman's profile is suggested in yellow lashes, red lips, an exotic headdress. Or do we see a street dog? A flag form registers with the viewer as both anthem and political identification and irony. More sculptural shape-shifting might suggest tribal dress; look again and see the flap and tear of trash caught in fencing along city freeways.

Anatsui's work is deliberate; delicately formed of debris collected from the streets and empty city lots of Nigeria. The project components, simple yet lofty in association, prompt unfamiliar wonder. Obliquely we see even city garbage carries the rich stamp of civilization in unexpected ways. That the ordinary is the everyday extraordinary. Or can be...if we but look and see differently.

Take time to glance around your daily landscape. What do you see of an essential, hidden belongingness in human culture?
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