IMG_7361The novel Clio’s Mobile Home is a facet of my creative work. Several characters in my novel write poems; I am serious about writing poetry. I also work on short shorts, and short stories. They are all modes of thinking about identity, transcendence and beauty in contemporary life. Art keeps us aloft, but it is more than decoration. Its force can be astounding. The artist becomes an instrument, and art lives to tell the tale.

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Colorists on the Brink of Winter

“The colorists get it entirely wrong: nature is colored in winter and cold in summer, there’s nothing colder than full summer sun.” Tell me more, Camille Pissarro!  Tell me, French landscape painter, about winter’s color, now that leaves now lying dry in piles, like potato skins or paper bags, light, giddy in the wind, when the pale tones of sky seem colored by remainders.  What am I, color addict, missing — what can I see better?

Oh, the brave red leaves still bright on the chokeberry! 
Oh, the clouds, neatly and darkly swirling as I leave the wine boutique, seemingly curated for a consumer outing.
No, those eruptions of drama are too easy, low-hanging fruit.

Pissarro was sure of his paradoxes, having meditated on painting, perception and landscape with a young Cézanne.  (I’m reading T.J. Clark’s “If These Apples Should Fall.”).  As I unravel this, I see that Pissarro was a consummate stylist suppressing the tick of giving humans what we want and need from nature, of pressing human eros onto landscape.  Instead, he gives us nature without desire. Instead of our narratives of drama and excitement, he gives us a swath of everything without hierarchy or privilege, the totality in concert.  It’s less a harmony than monotony, a stretching of a country moment, as Clark writes, “unique, noticeable, difficult unrepeatable persistence.”  

Not beautiful because of a hidden light, but because it is stubborn.  Winter’s long contemplation.

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The Early Bird and other Myths

Oh bathroom window, what are those ash-gray clouds,
needle in the morning’s eye  —

dawn too early in its strange light-threading.
To 6am, I bring another party: 

my thoughts, light and frisky in dark crevices,
champagne-splashed agent of chaos,

so loud, you say, they keep waking you up.
Suspicious of the day’s order — FB couples,

poets in their happy dresses — I say,
mum and dad, they fuck you up. 

The early bird does not catch the worm.

I saw one writhing on my plate, 5 pm, 
in yesterday’s winter dark. 

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Why Rake

That patch of clean clear grass will last only as long as I stand there, brown elm leaves
falling around me, and yet I keep raking.  

The sea of leaves will overtake us, as will early darkness. 

I keep stuffing them in bags, happily trouncing.

Ask Job, I say joyously.  

Clapping the piles to my chest: the only thing I can only believe in is the absurd.

Leaf them their, they’ll melt like snow, or will they? 

Their crisp peering skins 

the brown leaf, waves, the surging sea of them.  If I made piles of leaves to jump in, the kids in the dorm next-door would all come for their goalless pleasure.  In the name of decomposition.

Animals, funghi.  There is always funk before recreation.

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Bastille to Puritan Village: Strange Magic

Each time, after countless trips, still strange magic.
Hours ago, we were eating croissants in the sun, 
looking at the soft green column of the Bastille,

the genie de la Liberté, golden wings aloft, still leaping.
Today I wake up to crisp carpeting leaves
in an old Puritan village.

The time capsule of my body registers the mystery.
Back home, friends say: how fast that went! 
Routine moves briskly like an airport moving walkway. 
 
Decades ago, dazzled by a bold travel escapade,
I vowed to keep displacement center stage.  
We met a friend outside our office building,

It was dusk on Sixth Avenue, New York.
He was cursing the broken Xerox machine.

Rimbaud says make yourself a stranger.
He was young, so was I.  Still we try.  Je est.  
I is.  Til I trip again.

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Back to Scroll One

[Some smart-aleck loser decided to hack my little poetry site — hope he got some jollies! We’ve been out of commission for a while. I am back-posting this piece, and will jump to the present presently!]

How amazing to be in Israel when the cycle of Torah reboots and goes back to Scroll One, Genesis.

In the beginning, a navel.

In the beginning, a gleam in God’s eye.

In the beginning, darkness over the surface of deep, an emptiness so charged and gusty you could hardly breathe.

In the seed of the beginning lies all potential: ribs, apples, hips, feral cats, wild bougainvillea, kings and wars, death and grieving, sexy knees, black leather jackets, billets doux, baldies, mobile phone junkies, black hats, the whole gamut into infinity.

Faraway looks, sea crashing on the rocks. Traffic circles, radiated sunsets, fission process, heartbreak and its abysses.

Trying to make order out of chaos — beresheit – was never an easy task, even for you know who.  You might even say, in the beginning was the beginning, and the rest is commentary.

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The Waste Land is a Wasteland is a wasteland

I take the Waste Land as a day-to-day thing.  When a dismal, cold slate gray rain falls from a slate gray sky, when it looks like wartime London, need we say more — T.S. Eliot’s 1922 poem, celebrating its centennial, rules.  A wasteland is a wasteland is a wasteland.  The prophetic voice of the poem sets the stage, as it is dramatic, for the habitation of our current dark times.

Then the tail of the hurricane clears the way for a gleam of sun to make shoot through treetops of an elm treetops — oh fickle reader, I put catastrophe further back on the horizon, leave the charred landscape for another day.

As things change, there is one thing I know — the poem of the Wasteland, a gorgeous collage of urban, literary and mythical remixings — has many voices, many ways to see the flux.  Etymologically, the word Catastrophe, in ancient Greek, fuses “down, against” and “I turn” to signify “I overturn.”  

The current conversation about environment, the Anthropocene & impending disaster is different ways to turn our vision.  For me, it is the project of expanding and broadening the ways of beauty.  Poetry with its poking and prodding stick probably says it better, making forays into territories that were once forbidding but where with imagination and stillness we now can go.  Into wastelands as rich wild places, places of possible regeneration.  Or fascination, empty spaces that make poets from divergent times contemporaneous.

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Old Soul/Young Soul

Back in the day when I was a kid, it seemed cool to be an old soul.  Whoever first enlightened me, when I first heard the phrase (to be or to have?), I don’t recall.  Being an old soul seemed like a good defense for a solitary or brooding adolescent— especially when you have big black eyes too serious for your face!

Now that I’m not a kid, I’m thinking it might be cool to be a young soul.  It’s not up to us, of course, not on the smorgasboard of options. Yet after yet another birthday, I’m thinking why not.  It always takes a while to come to oneself.  This old soul has learned a few things; it understands that play makes everything tick, beauty is real, everything keeps turning and flowing, go!

Now during the Jewish High Holidays, we are told that our souls are washed, we get refreshed, the clock is set back to how God made us, we get spanking fresh souls. Birthday of the world — aha!  Old soul, meet young soul.  May you be renewed, and be yourself.

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Dvorak’s Cricket Folk Dance

Classical music concert by the sea.  Sun hot on our arms, yet the air makes us shiver.  Little cabin, doors thrown open.  Unaccustomed voices — women and black composers.  Accustomed voices: Dvorak. Simultaneity: Crickets.

These are not usual times.  It wasn’t the crickets who were letting the air out of the helium balloon.  They weren’t stoking anxiety and desire — rather they were the adults in the room.

They left it to Dvorak to indulge in a sustained shriek!  Those violin players stroking the same strident bow on the same strings, higher and higher -a scream that would be unacceptable at the dinner table!  Crickets took the middle zone and cellos planted their feet on the ground.

The evening wind blew cool and clean.  Renewed, after the storm of strings broke.  The crickets play on.

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Saving Joy

Summer can be poetry without the words.  A sweet peach cuts through time and puts you right in the everlasting camp of the gods.  A tomato is a love apple, pomme d’amour.  The spume of the sea drenches with spent force and effervescence.  This is real, just as drought is real and dog days are real that swelter through any and all summer months.   

 I always want to keep my finger on the pulse of this life force in reality, this apprehension of elemental life.  Along comes so-called “real life” with its go-go energy, rage of politics and urgency of injustice.  Poetic receptivity feels quavery in the shadow of this, so I reframe the question: What should poetic attention be attentive to?

I ask a poet what to do. “so little joy — sister of the gods— in our poems Ryszard,” Zbigniew Herbert writes in “To Ryszard Krynicki — A Letter.”  “too few glimmering twilights mirrors wreaths ecstasies.”  Both poets lived through World War II and Communist takeover of Poland. 

A line earlier in the poem says: “we came too easily to believe beauty does not save.”  The poet later asks: “what forces of the spirit do we need/ blindly beating despair against despair/to ignite a spark a word of atonement/that the dancing circle might last on the soft grass…”

He calls it a riddle and so do I.  Though beauty is wide and inclusive.  Reality is inclusive.  Imagination is not the fairy tale version, but an existential feature of survival. 

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A Drop of Radiance has Touched the Everyday

As a traveler, I understand;
you, a traveler, too, 
must travel, we must
say good-bye,
but a drop 
of radiance,
a grape
of imaginary sun,
has touched the blind blood 
of everyday…

——  Pablo Neruda, excerpt from “Ode to the Third Day”

Neruda, were you writing about a day of the week?  Or were you lamenting the end of summer, as I hear through the howl of my re-entry struggles?  You who understood all things, of course felt the keen sorrow of leaving behind life’s elements — gracious friends, groundedness, sea, sardines, openness.  To your odes, we sing along with sweet regret, knowing how lucky we are to touch those values.  Loss is the nature of the game!

Back at home, I am resolved to bring expansive “summer” — i.e. human values —  into what seems like our never-ending strife, conflict, struggle.  I’m modeling my plans after more balanced friends to 1) create the better world of our little garden rather than rail against the one that seems to loom, and 2) to bring lightness to the truth that we’re all flawed, to laugh rather than judge.  

Seems rather North American.  I prefer Neruda’s continuing language: “we will cherish/ this insurgent day,/ blazing,/ unforgettable,/ a bright flame/in the midst of dust and time.”

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