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07 December 2014

the black odyssey

-romare bearden-

why is this lowercase? why are black letters always smaller, diminutive, minority?

Romare Bearden, Black Odyssey, 1977

I saw the Black Odyssey by Romare Bearden at Columbia yesterday with my sister and my son. Two weeks ago we saw the Matisse exhibit, very much upper case, at MoMA. Lines out the door, timed tickets, crammed galleries.

This fall a good friend of mine was working on a thesis in which he would project a new Afrofuturism: a future in which black culture is regarded, precious, archived. I don't know what happened, but his work is not seeing the light - marginalized, once more? Who here knows about the Bearden exhibit? Who has read William Wells Brown's Clotel? If you've read Octavia Butler or Ishmael Reed, if you've seen Bearden, then maybe you're reading between the lines. But most people aren't, or can't.

Romare Bearden, Black Odyssey, 1977
I find it impossible to ignore what Bearden paints in his collage - a writing of black experience on a hallowed white classic. I also see what I think many of us see when I look at his collage collection: not an Odyssey, but a slave trade. I cannot help but see the history of murder, rape, forced assimilation. But how could Bearden paint that? How could he speak that violence, that grand tragedy in but the margins?

Bearden takes it all back here. He puts Black faces, Black skin into the history, rewriting history - no, Black history is not "folk" stories, and tales of little black Sambo; black history is majestic, it is mythologic, it tells of who we are, what we've become: all of us; and it cannot be cast into the margins, because it is the story. It is not a sub-plot, a veering lane. It is the story - it is the story of humanity. What do we as a people make of ourselves? Bearden writes himself, his people into the accepted, hallowed opus.

I will not fit myself into cracks. I will paste myself up. I will cover the old, I will assert myself. "AM I NOT A MAN?" My history will not be marginalized. My people are here and we will lay ourselves on, we will be heard, we will be known. We will be recognized.

Romare Bearden, Black Odyssey, 1977

So, what then? Still a slave trade? Or is this a great hero who conquers all his enemies to return to his home, to come home to his rightful life?  To the life he made, he earned, he built with tears, sweat, blood. Perhaps these stories are the Afrofuturism. Perhaps Bearden painted the future: black people, brown people, red people rising up to claim their places of heroism in the story of humanity, to take their seats at the table of humanity, to reclaim their rightful inheritance.

Perhaps Black Odysseus returns home to an America that needs him desperately - a warrior who has survived his tests, seen it all, knows what lurks out there all too well, come home ready to reclaim his title, spread the knowledge, use his experience, and lead the people.

In an ancient First Nations tale, each hue of humankind was given a strength, emblematic in an element: white holds fire, yellow holds air, red holds earth, and black holds water. Water was always the hardest to define because it is the source. It is intuition, soul, the voice we sometimes ignore, are at times unable to hear, that will be heard, one way or another. It is the voice of source, but we can claim its knowledge only with courage.

Perhaps Black Odysseus knows water. Perhaps humanity needs to hear him, not only to survive, but to become human.
Dedicated to the memories of Michael Brown, baby Kai, and Eric Garner.

23 November 2014


Robert Davidson, NMAI, Spring 2014

This Violence

To touch you
I stand back.
To see you I stay blind.
To remember you,
I re-member you –
Soldering your hands to your arms,
And your fingers to your face
So you can feel again
your own expressions,
your own blood
pulsing at the surface
like night coming down
ready to rest
and end the war.

Tell me you knew, with-
Out spring’s confirmation:
You knew in winter.

Your small fingers are
A black nail driving through me
Like night breaking day.

18 November 2014


Maria Lassnig, MoMA PS2, July 2014

This is only a piece, of the whole. Is it curious that we call works of art pieces? Pieces of something larger that without which they are not complete. As though, if only seeing one work, we cannot truly see what it is or what it means? And yet, we do. We see words, meanings, worlds.

I rather see in this piece birth. The womb extended from the body, a body in and of itself, albeit part of the mother's whole, and yet whole and separate of itself. A place where a new being becomes itself, becomes whole and then is separated... leaving mother and child once again, whole and separate. The piece you see to your left, however, is only a section of Maria Lassnig's painting. 

Here is the whole:

Maria Lassnig, MoMA PS1, July 2014

Does she hold her whole mind? Does she hold her own life? Her own mortality? Does Maria mourn, or is she reborn in herself, her ability to let die something that needs to be left behind? Swimming in the blue ocean, a chartreuse sun around her. A living, grass-green sky, feeding human and vegetable alike. Her eyes are closed.

Her body, her face, are living with brilliant color. If you did not see the exhibit, try to see it elsewhere. Her colors are alive in themselves, coursing as bright as oxygenated blood. As she got older, and you circled the galleries you saw Maria's colors grow bolder, brighter, freer. She is no longer held down by brown or cheated from her creativity with red. 
Yet, her legs are white, almost as though she left the paint to sit while we she went for a coffee and a paper. The skull sits on her lap like a baby, cradled in her hands, above and below, cradled secure against her stomach, itself wrapped by arms. White, like the legs, unfinished? or unknown?

Maria Lassnig, MoMA PS1, July 2014

This piece also feels to me- unfinished. And I love it in its hybrid sketch-painting state. I see an android painting its artist. All around the world is pulsing at a high vibration: orange and yellow and red, in a halo of reality. The negative space feels more true than both object and subject, laying in unbroken white, underlay outline, waiting for spirit to come and find them.

Creation creates creator. The art creates the artist, writes her, finds her, rebirths her, gives her new spirit. Our art turns us on ourselves, shows us not a mirror but a pool. Unlike Narcissus, we see below the reflection, to stones and sand beneath, to weaving fish, and swaying stems of water lilies that live within us, worlds unto themselves. Whole and separate and yet of us, containing whole other worlds of us. We see something, finally, in what we create, that is inaccessible from the surface. When we create, that deeper spirit has a chance to remake us, to give us a life we cannot have imagined.

As I child I found it unbelievable, unbearable that one thing I would never see was my own skull. When I write, there it is, gleaming white, its own eyes looking back at mine, something unsaid, waiting on me to say it.

09 November 2014

She Don't Play

In every game there are rules. Usually it's not the rule makers who teach them to you, to everyone who has to play by them. You know the rules of your game. I know mine. Don't mix metaphors, the oxford comma is no longer necessary. Slim down. Cut. Watch. Roll.

If you've ever studied art you are taught the rules early and without ambiguity. No "kissing." No symmetry. No "hairy" lines. I don't even know if kids these days have to learn them because they are saturated with design. But I did. For me it's more than a sneaking feeling when they're broken. I know it straightway and I see the hutzpah. Unless it's more than that. And sometimes it is. Sometimes it's art. Because usually rules are design.

Lee Friedlander, Yale Art Gallery, 2014
Lee Friedlander broke all the rules, and broke the game. This is art, friend. Her face, eyes closed, is enclosed in a triangle, geometry's strongest form. Her hands kiss the steps, wrapping up with the window back to her chin, lips held tight against her teeth. Her silence roars. Her closed eyes mesmerize. She is pure power.

Inside herself, inside this space, worn wood panels born from the nape of her neck, overcast sky, moment of sun sitting just at the roof's edge, she holds the whole world. A Gaia of silence, repose, self-restraint. A whole world of pleasure, pain, people, love, heartbreak, song, sits on her lap. A world of words is under her tongue. You can hear the stillness all around her and the heartbeats resonate with her breath.

She is pure power. You can either enclose her, hold her power, or see it destroy the whole world. 
Or... remake it.

03 November 2014

For all of you, and for a dear friend whose heart is sore:

Brooklyn Museum, Artist TBA, Spring 2014


The moon waxes just above the water towers
And an engine hums out
a racing
Toward what?
Tomorrow, next year…
Toward an end
That isn’t yet here
And the pain of it
Not yet started –
Something we must
Race past
Even if it means
An early conclusion.

Your legs reach around the globe

And back to me,
Pain falling from your toes
Into my mouth like rain.
I consume you
Like a desert thing
That has known only heat and rock.
Then you came along,
A river running through it-
To know me,
To hold me,
To show me I was already yours,
Made to fit in your arms,
To sleep under your chin,
To come home to you
In sun, in rain,
Under moon, under stars,
To hold your heart,
Tender in my hands of clay,
So cool, so made of mother,
I will always protect and kiss it.
Today, tomorrow, always
Because yours is the heart
Made for me.

26 October 2014

Nigerian Lobster Coffin, Institute of Art, Minneapolis, MN
With autumn always comes for me a dark night of the ego...


Hallow's Resurrection

Starting again,
All fires are the same:
Spirit, quiet in the flammable
Til ticked off by some ugly word.
Or turned on by some
Beautiful young girl,
Some untouchable, unsexy young girl.

A flame lives silent,
All day hidden in dry bush,
As fallow fields,
But it returns as light
Like a dream begging for attention.

Your demon, your fantasy – fire is both.-

The Darkness Light Brings

Early morning
but the half moon is high and white in
an early autumn sky.
It tells of a passing
from night into day,
and the spirit that lingers from dreams into waking.
Watching us, a second sun -
lighting a path from the unseen.
The light darkness brings
is meant to be swallowed.--
doorway, Chicago, IL

18 October 2014

There is simply no way you are getting enough poetry...


Space where air should be is
All around you, but no air.
A giant in the night, Orion gasps,
Launching himself
At wisdom.
Athena laughs at him
And his empty pack -
Arrows loosed
All over the galaxy
Falling like brittle leaves
To earth.

She reads the sky like braille
And translates it to Modern Japanese - in haiku.
Orion lumbers through the night,
His pride in knots all around his ankles.
The Pleiades are watching and giggling,
Athena still reciting poetry.

Tumbling over his moccasins, Orion lands
In the River Styx,
Only too glad to go home.
Life on Earth was

Too difficult to figure out. –

24 August 2014

The Child's Nature

Two years ago I was the mama of one awesome toddler, a woman in her early 30s, and a cancer patient. I said I wanted to talk about making a love that cares for living things the center of our lives and using it to change the system. Somewhere along the line from wife, worker, and cancer patient to divorcee, writer and 'survivor,' the script got flipped. I find myself now dwelling not on my job as a mother, or my relationship to my son as his mama, but myself as a child of the cosmos, and our relationships to this world, which my son and I now shape for each other in ways I could not have imagined two years ago. I find myself compelled toward a conversation no longer about the mother, but about the child's nature.

Seen in Bed-Stuy
We are the children, all of us. We are nature's progeny. She created this world, she creates us and recreates us every day. Nature is my source. Nature is my god. Nature is from whence I come, and to which I will return.

Do you know the story of the ravine above your upper lip?
Before we were born angels took us all over the world telling us all the secrets,
showing us all the mysteries. Before the angels returned us
to our mothers' wombs to be born into this world,
they sealed our lips to keep us from telling all the secrets.
When you are working hard, and I now as I am writing this,
we find that ravine in a search to remember.

Maria Lassnig, PS1
Mother Nature's nature gives us everything we do, feeds us everything we create, and it is in that creation of our own that we return to the source - of everything. The art, the literature, raising children, it's all just us trying to live out, to make manifest, everything we can't quite remember but somehow know from before birth so we can hold it, be it, and return to it. We are all always trying to get to the source, to get home.

There is another system - a system of creation, of love, of magic, that I know in looking at art, in wandering certain spaces, in reading, in writing. That system is the one that emanates from source. It is nature's system, and we disconnect from it at our peril. We all return to that source system in our own way, know different gods, feel different colors and flavors of the home to which I refer. But I believe the mother's nature offers us the way back, because she has put the desire and urge to create in us. When we create, we make manifest source, we are no longer separate, we float in the flow of source.

It is the Mother's Nature that becomes the child's nature. For me that is word and image - art - that returns us to the system we come from.

Let this space, The Mother's Nature, now become a place to talk about that system of love, creation, and source that we touch when we read, write, make art, dwell in art - the child's representation of soul.
Maria Lassnig, PS1
(the creation recreates the creator)

06 August 2014


The darkest hour
Is before dawn. I'm a
Glowing piece of you.

There is a love that
Knows your name, walking next
To you, counting sand.

seen in Chicago
seen in Bed-Stuy
Lee Friedlander, Yale Art Gallery