Today, I’ve been challenged to write a poem that engages with another art form that I have experienced. My prompter declared anything to be in bounds, but I must use the poem to express something about another form of art.
My wife once said to me,
“you’ve always fancied yourself an artist.”
I wouldn’t have said that,
But she was right. I have and I do.
I like saying the word fancied,
Quality notwithstanding any measure.
I ask you now, but what is art?
Is a child’s first drawing art,
and is he or she not the artist?
Will my last dance be art?
What (I ask you now) is not art?
And of all, who is not an artist?
Is it art to color outside the line,
to sing off key, to skip a note,
and must creativity be voted upon?
Do art teachers grade the art,
or the artist? And what is an
artiste? Do you do art?
Is cooking or baking or brewing art?
May every and anything be artful?
Do you deny being an artist?
If so, why? Do you hide your art
in shame that you are an imposter
artist, an unskilled fraud or a fake?
Sane or crazy as a loon, drunk or sober,
from the first try to the final straw,
done well or poorly, what we do is our art.
Show me your art, sing me your song,
play me a tune and read me your verse,
but do not tell me you’re no artist.
I fancy you, as you should too,
to see yourself (an artist),
to be human, as artistic, as
artisan, as creative, as anyone. Now,
shall we dance? You lead!
I promise not to sing.
The Beatles classic was in my brain, ears, eyes, and on my tongue as my lips whispered the words, “let me whisper in your ear.”
This bit of boomer nostalgia is less than two minutes.
Lyrics: Do You Want to Know A Secret
You’ll never know how much I really love you
You’ll never know how much I really care Listen do you want to know a secret
Do you promise not to tell woh woh woh closer
Let me whisper in your ear
Say the words you long to hear
I’m in love with you oo
I’ve known the secret for a week or two
Nobody knows just we two Listen do you want to know a secret
Do you promise not to tell woh woh woh closer
Let me whisper in your ear
Say the words you long to hear
I’m in love with you ooooo
The pathetic bitch just lay before my eyes,
we each blamed the other for her horrible lines.
I had once dreamed of her as a flawless beauty,
but her loveliness was soon all too fleeting.
Everything about her soon disgusted me.
She beamed as I hacked away and mutilated her.
Such beatings were horrible, she no longer was fair,
not lovely as once I’d imagined. She was my obsession,
she had to be better, no – I demanded perfection.
I swore at her, insulted her, I’d not let her rest.
Her excruciating pain was caused by my emasculation,
as I twisted her limbs, she bled and cried out my damnation.
I never shed tears. I was her god, her creator; I owned her.
Angered I was, by what she’d become in my hands.
No longer did she sing her sweet angelic song.
Her nightmare was my blind fury. As her cruel and ruthless master,
I swore obscenities and pointed out her flaws; her heart was shattered.
I pondered her shredding – me killing her. Where could I hide?
Should I kill us both? Maybe that was it; murder-suicide.
Thus ending our miserable suffering, both would just die.
Without me, she would not exist. Mutilation continued;
I hacked off pieces, yet that suffering twaddle endured.
I attached new members, only to rip them away as crap;
I ignored her cries for mercy as I tossed her limbs as scrap,
replacing them with her rip-torn skin; still oozing blood.
Was her beauty hidden or gone? I ripped at her face.
She was mine to mold, to satiate my perverted desires.
Everything, from her disfigured hair flowing down
to her awkward stumbling feet, was to gratify me.
Her suffering would end with my metered pleasure.
I deemed us inhuman. A mere dullard of life, all that she was.
Her reasons for existing were meeting my ruthless demands.
She failed. Each day I emptied myself into her, more beatings.
Her tolerance for my impatience stroked her pleasurable feelings,
her loving and caring endurance infuriated me all the more.
I was disgusted. All that time. All the work. All our suffering.
Yet, lain before me that pathetic little twat blamed me.
Exhausted, I thought this would be the end for us both.
Barely breathing, her heart murmuring along with mine,
our time together had neared its end, soon it was done.
One final scream! And then; calmly I stared, feeling a bit proud.
My anguish gone, I muttered the sounds of her words aloud
just as she set them before me. Slowly, she began to change.
That poisonous little worm became my lovely butterfly.
She smiled at me. Then she pouted, both sensuous and shy.
We reached out to each other one final time.
Soon, she would be with eternity, but somehow still mine.
I wept as my pleasure mixed with regret and my sorrow.
After setting her release for after sunrise, tomorrow,
I abandoned my poor little poem to whatever might follow.
Bill Reynolds, 9/4/2017
Know the gaps and mind them well. Look both ways, or deal with hell
But he who, having no touch of the Muses’ madness in his soul, comes to the door and thinks that he will get into the temple of art – he, I say, and his poetry are not admitted; the sane man disappears and is nowhere when he enters into rivalry with the madman. ~ Plato, Phaedrus
Hence poetry implies either a happy gift of nature or a strain of madness. Aristotle, Poetics
Love the art, poor as it may be, which thou hast learned, and be content with it, making thyself neither the master nor the servant of any man. ~ Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book Four
The deer statue has been resting on the Luzerne County Courthouse lawn, in Wilkes-Barre (pronounced berry), PA, since 1909. However, it was first placed in the city’s central area, where the old courthouse was, in 1866. That was a year after President Lincoln was assassinated, the Civil War ended, and Walt Whitman wrote the poem, Oh Captain, My Captain (all in 1865).
I wrote this poem from the persona of the deer, who never seems to complain. Since home cameras and photography became popular, people have been taking pictures of friends and family sitting on the deer. The photo I used is of my mother holding me on the deer, circa. 1947. Thanks to Sue for tweaking it to look mo’ betta here.
I Knew You When… by Bill Reynolds
Oh, deer me! As you can see,
my time here’s been so long.
The Civil War was in the past,
all memories aren’t quite gone.
One year after Whitman wrote
his poem of woe, his poem of hope,
I came to this city, I thought quite pretty.
On Public Square, I stood so proud,
for twenty-four years, I knew that crowd.
In nineteen-oh-nine, to a new home I moved,
to guard this lawn where I now stand.
O’er a hundred years, as I’ve now proved.
Six generations I’ve watched them grow,
grands both ways I got to know.
Been standing here without a sound,
through floods and droughts upon this ground,
storms and disasters all around.
I’ve felt your touch and bore your weight,
There’s more to come, so here I’ll wait.
Bring your camera and your smile,
for here I’ll be yet quite a while.
I was here, you all should know
the day yer granddad stood so near.
I’m sure we’ve met, but before I go,
It’s me they call the Court House Deer.
Remember the past, look to the future, live in the present.
Mind the gaps and be well.
Haiku is both a form and genre of poetry. Poems are short. Haiku is of Japanese origin and consists of three lines, usually with 12 syllables. The first and third lines normally have five syllables each, and the second seven. Exceptions abound.
According to some, haiku captures a moment when nature is linked with human nature. As a newbie, I stuck to the traditional form, but the history of haiku includes many variations. Many haiku are penned every day and in many languages, throughout the world. These are my first three.
The wet path it curves
See as plants touch with plants
With different sounds
In the cold spring rain
Clinging to the earth below
Yellow flowers grow
Still warm and dark night
Stars quietly fill the sky
A whip-poor-will sounds
Always look both ways
Every day write some haiku
And mind all the gaps
Reading or writing about events like Bataan, we often focus on man’s inhumanity to man – that dark side of our nature, which we often shun until memoir time. Throughout known history, our capacity for cruelty is well-documented. Genocide (killing to eliminate a group, race, ethnicity, religion, or language) is too common. While respecting victims of atrocities, I want to focus on survival, with one survivor in mind.
When survivors tell their story, they become windows to history, guiding and motivating our chant of never again. From their dark stories, we learn to prevent future atrocities. On the bright side, survival stories are inspirational. What others endure, survive, and subsequently achieve are symbolic of human resilience: that remarkable human physical and spiritual asset.
I discovered Benjamin Charles Steele long before I met him, as I was feeding my curiosity about Bataan by reading books. I only read five. “Only,” because so many books and articles have been written about the Death March, many by survivors or their families.
One of those books, Tears in the Darkness by Michael and Elizabeth Norman, focuses on Ben’s story. While the Normans included much more within the pages of their ten-year project, they trace Ben’s life experiences, particularly during the war years. I recommend it.
Born in 1917, Ben Steele grew up on his parent’s Montana ranch. The family lost the ranch during the Depression Years, when he was about 15. Ben continued to work as a ranch hand, which interrupted his education several times before he finally graduated from high school in 1939. The following year, Ben joined the Army Air Corps. Eighteen months later he was a prisoner of war (POW) in the Philippines.
Ben may have developed a passing interest in art when had delivered art supplies. But, he had little exposure, and no formal training. Ben received his formal art degrees after the war.
For much of his early POW time, Ben was ill (Beriberi, dysentery, pneumonia, blood poisoning, and malaria). He worried about adding mental illness to the list, as so many others had. So, he began to draw. Risking severe punishment or death to stay sane, Ben started a self-prescribed therapy to fight off life-threatening melancholy. He had seldom drawn anything during his life.
Unknowingly, from his sick-bed in the wretched Bilibid Prison, he was launching a seventy-four-year, successful art and teaching career. This late high school graduate, Army enlistee, and future college professor, was barely hanging on to life. While starving and hardly existing in some of the bleakest living conditions imaginable, Ben used charcoal and sticks to do his first primitive drawings.
“I used to sit there day after day. I thought I’d lose my damn mind. I wanted something to do, so I started drawing with anything I could find to draw with. I’d draw on walls. People around me said, ‘Why don’t you draw the guys? You know, there are no photographs taken of this stuff.’ So, I started drawing stuff around the camp and sketches of people and portraits as close as I could. I wasn’t very skillful.” ~ Ben Steele
Eventually, Ben was moved to mainland Japan where he worked as slave labor in coal mines. The only two of his original drawings to survive the war were done there. The original drawings he did in the Philippines were in the possession of a fellow prisoner, catholic priest, and army chaplain, named Father Duffy. When the ship Duffy was on sank, the drawings ended up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. A few years later, as he recovered in a Spokane, Washington, hospital, Ben reproduced his lost drawings from memory (part of his therapy).
When the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, Ben worked 75 miles south. He heard the blast. Soon the war ended. Ben and others were on the road home and toward recovery from the three-and-a-half-year ordeal. Ironically, some survivors eventually fell victim to mental and emotional problems resulting in suicide, death from substance abuse, or other such maladies. However, most survived, and I was fortunate enough to meet some of them.
When Ben’s art was displayed in a building on White Sands Missile Range in 2011, I was there for my last Death March. By then I’d read Tears in the Darkness, and other books about Bataan. So, I knew Ben’s story.
When I went to see the art the day before the March, Ben was there. His daughter was escorting him in his wheel chair – he was 93. We shook hands. He signed my book about his art and we talked, mostly about his life as an artist.
I immediately knew I was talking to a Montana cowboy, who happened to have been a POW, college professor, well known artist, an American hero, and a witness to much about life’s realities.
At his core, this happy man who was pleased with life and was the same cowboy who joined the Army Air Corps 71 years earlier.
“Little things that probably bother a lot of people don’t bother me. I figure I’m probably living on a little borrowed time, and I’d better enjoy it!” ~ Ben Steele
Another WWII veteran I knew, Joe P., said virtually the same thing to me last year. Both men died in 2016, in their late 90s after living full and happy lives. Perhaps their life choices were reflected in the last three words I quoted from Ben, “…better enjoy it!”
Life has its ups and downs; reality in art, literature, history, and personal stories enable us to look both ways, to the dark, or to the light. Enjoy life, but mind the gaps.
As we create this drawing, our personal art, we move the pencil across the page. As it leaves lines and other marks on the page, let’s say those marks are in the past – our past. We are creating the art, but we drew the lines and made the marks, past tense.
We can see the pencil point. The tip is touching on the page. We may look directly at it, or not. That small point of contact with the paper represents our present time — now. It’s in that brief instant of time where we live. We may look at the past marks, or we may focus on the pencil on the page. We may move it in any direction, going fast or slow, applying firm of soft pressure. We may even lift the pencil from the page and move it to a different location.
As we move the pencil, the point joins with other lines on the page. Our present reaches into our past. As our vision unfolds, we make plans for where the pencil will go next, how we’ll maneuver it, how we apply pressure to it, how we will lift it off, and return it to, the page. As our drawing takes form, the page fills with marks and lines.
The blank part of the page is the future. We think about and plan our next moves, or we allow our hand to be guided by external forces, moving us into our personal future.
We keep looking to see the entirety of the drawing. We consider the past lines in light of our future plans. We make decisions to move lines in the present to be tangent with, or to intersect lines of the past. Thus, we create a new future that mingles with, and eventually becomes, our past.
We erase. We change it. We keep looking at our whole life as art. As we move in closer and back away to change our perspective, we begin to see the big picture of our life.
As we draw, we feel things: love, anger, spiritual things, and the passions of life. As we experience our feelings, our work of art changes. Those emotions travel to our hands to control the pencil that is drawing our life.
We learn as we draw. What worked? What didn’t? Where did we succeed and what were our failures?
As we fill the page with marks and lines, there are more lines and less white space. We are running out of places to make our marks. We don’t know how many more lines and marks that we can put on the page.
Our drawing, our art, our life. It’s on the page, or is it?
Mind the gap.
With 10 days of Nano remaining, I’m rolling along with my memoir. Finding memories and searching for lost feelings. It has helped me to keep writing in a searchable chronological order, so that as I recall things I want to add; I can find the right place to write (draw?) those memories.
Now, with over 34,000 words, I can tell that I may have to run this stuff past some involved eyes before I consider asking anyone to read it for feedback. Along with trying to write over 1,500 words a day, I’m reading Writing is My Drink, by Theo Pauline Nestor, and Your Life as Story by Tristine Rainer.
Have you ever tried to write your life story as a fairy tale? I have. Try it sometime.
“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” ~ Oscar Wilde