Emily Post Meets Brut

Joshua Primmer’s “Place Setting II”

It doesn’t matter
that the concrete of this setting
is less than elegant,
neither marble nor oak.

In Emily Post’s eyes, such form
is near perfection:
“the utensils are placed in the order of use;
Forks go to the left of the plate
knives and spoons to the right.
Finally, only set the table with utensils
you will use.
No soup: no soup spoon.”

We are part caveman, part modern,
though the differences are shrinking
and atavism more prominent
every day.
One thing’s set in stone: We Eat.

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My Mother’s Obelisk Lipstick

 

Standing at my mother’s vanity
I, girl child with wide eyes

her self transformed nakedly
with knots and tricks towards elegance,

her hair teased to an oblong,
her neck, like Cleopatra’s, lengthened:

I eyed the miniature Obelisk
that cased her red lipstick.

Heir and standard bearer
of beauty, of glamour

from a temple at Luxor
to Place de la Concorde.

I learned in a museum recently
Dior made this emblem of Luxor – y,

raising the everyday with this nifty
piece of glass and tube of wax.

Though the lipstick wore down
and my mother passed on, she’d say,

Let it fly, trip from lip to lip, Beauty,
pass along your open secrets:
blow your kisses widely.

 

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Snow Shoes (The Right Stuff)

I imagined an old-fashioned thatch —
bamboo, birch, cat gut –
a magic, organic weave of the kind
that keeps our lives from sinking.

We fitted our new shoes, meshed
now in high-tech plastic,
then went thrashing in deep snow.
We managed, though they broke.

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1-2-3 Sunset

In the sixties we had 1-2-3 Jell-O,
opaque, medium, and frothy layers —
a bright pink trio.

When the sun sinks in three pink zones,
is it the same freak chemical show?
Please, God, say no.

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How I Learned to Love the Bomb Cyclone

The Shape of Snow

Needlepoint of snow in the streetlight
cross stitches in the gusting wind.

Cars begin to disappear, the nearby elms
fade in the distance.

By the shore, four sharks roll up,
bone dead, though a dog learns
to amuse himself with a hill and a sled.

Warm inside, a fire rages like twin sisters,
one blond tresses, the other red-headed.

The fire in the fireplace begins to die.
“I’ll always love you!” shouts the child.

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See Feelingly

 

My wish for the coming year: to clear our eyes.  To see with feeling again.   To not just see broad strokes, cartoonish outlines, the wild and wooly, but to see deep.  See beyond. From the other side of the RISD Museum gallery, a casual viewer will say- woh, it’s a black painting!  Get closer to that Ad Reinhart beauty and you see how sumptuous and rich a single color is.  There’s not a straight black stroke on the canvas.  The black is all blended and spliced with blue, with red, melding to a super saturation of the kind of blue-black hair the comic strip heros used to have.   It draws you into worlds beyond worlds – and it’s one of my favorite paintings in the gallery.

Outside the gallery is a white-ish cafe, Cafe Pearl.  The flash neon lettering against an eggshell wall, a touch of milk foam lifts in a white cup on a marble tray.  The contrasts are delicious for the contrast conceived differently.  What is white but an array of variations that can go into the infinite.  An array of associations.  Black and white– It’s not a racial point, although it could be.

It could be a plea to go beyond ideology, simplicity, black and white. It could be what Gloucester says to King Lear after being blinded: “I see it feelingly.”  See deep.  Go with new eyes into the New Year.

 

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What gives in Florida, Hamlet?

Petite mort, as the French call orgasm, is a little death but also an ecstasy.  And in ecstasy, experience compresses in a single dose of timelessness.

By that logic, my quick trip to Florida last week was a little ecstasy.  The past was exceedingly present, pressed onto me as a double being. I’d been in Florida since my college days when my parents started seeking the sun.  I was a daughter there, attending a father in a light-spotched room, dying young; a mother overstated with flowers, then also wilting.  Myself as a mother.  A wealth of significant moments kept appearing.  It was like hopscotching the boxes of daughterdom.

Things got stuck in the present.   Even though my mom and dad have passed away, I was still in daughter role.  The referents were gone, but the rituals and roles clung, I kept looking over my shoulder, wondering who, what was there.

When at a loss, go to literary images: Hamlet.  The classic fellow was haunted with the problem of a repurposed family.  I was staying in our old house, with a father not my father, and his wife not my mother.  Were all these memories at my shoulder telling me something, serving a sign, some urging for action?  Some prescience about the future? Shakespeare, the writer who most understood the roles we play, would understand that I kept slipping out of role.  Fractured under the sun.  Nothing new.  All the world’s a stage. Beyond all that, it was a fab trip!

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In Crisis: Poignancy

 

In Crisis: Poignancy

Attempt emergency resuscitation:
it lays on a pyre of fighting words,
gasping and fluttering.

The lilting head of a blue hydrangea
thick and petalled, thinking.

Even brooding is old-fashioned.

Bludgeon me with your compassion.

Shout it till you’re blue in the face: I love you, stupid!

Let Me Be Clear as a coffin lid.

Brood your way through the American spirit
back to the Scarlet Letter.

Let’s define terms first:  “we”  “who”  “are”

Hips still thin as pencil stubs, blonde cascading hair
dirty school girl look

What creature wouldn’t want to jump them

old as day

the Bible’s full of it

Let’s all have another cup.

The word ex-patriot makes me blue.

I’m in exile from being an ex-pat.

Singing is a celebration of oxygen.

The celebration of oxygen is every artist’s charge.

If there’s one thing you do, celebrate oxygen!

 

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In Autumn’s Vase

Glass so thin today,
we in the lower bowl
are swelled by light and air,
clear atmosphere, brilliantly
tinted by elm trees
a hundred feet above our heads

The yellow jazzes
even if it’s November’s hour glass;
then sands ting and settle,
our limbs replete, filled.
Shift your excellent body under mine:
the hour glass flips again.

 

Thanks to C.D. Wright for the “excellent” line.

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Gatsby in Seattle

Growing up in Pittsburgh, we knew a lot about the Carnegies, Mellons, Fricks.  Once these robber barons made their fortunes in the ruthless American way, they moved towards polishing their elbows, cultivating art and manners through acquiring European art and civilization.  They bought old masters, cathedrals, collections and funded showy but public endeavors.

Now consider Seattle, poised on the Pacific, looking to Asia, remaking contemporary civilization in its tech image. And consider their fortunes: Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Boeing.  There is an unusual density of public art, a surge of maturity and refinement with this big money behind it.  Is the maturing of Starbucks what generated its refined and elegant Reserve coffee lounge?  Usually this kind of design fetishism is reserved for a bar in Barcelona or high French boutique or a Milano Prado boutique — or in the old days, a museum.  The coffee salon is monochrome – as sleek and sensual as a highly polished coffee bean – with hints of whiskey, chocolate and cigars.  Or as buttery and textured as the shirts in Gatsby’s closet.  It is understated, even as it manages to suggest Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for caffeinated adults.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation partly funded a superb outdoor sculpture park with stand-out pieces by Richard Serra, (also a model of gorgeous monochromist), Calder, Jaume Plensa, Nevelson.  What can be said of the public library in relation to all those old Carnegie libraries we visited as children?  This Seattle Public Library is a prismatic cantilevered glass masterpiece, with innovative environmental design.

I remember stopping in front of the Carnegie Library in Pittsburgh where my sister and I used to shout out the line we’d memorized from “Merchant of Venice,” etched on the bronze plaque of the running fountain: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d.  It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven/ upon the place beneath:  It is twice blest…it blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”   Shakespeare said it all.

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