How a Surreal Squirrel Alerts Us

SQUIRREL Meret Oppenheim

True discipline would have me attending to Winter Gray, waiting patiently for its secrets, listening to pale nuances of voices, sitting with dull flashes under a clotted cloud blanket. This season’s abundant rain and gray have worn down my thinking – first step achieved in an “art of erosion,” as poet Alice Oswald calls it! But alas, its proper song isn’t singing for me yet….

I go to other amusements, to what flummoxes me with love and delight.  For instance, a squirrel caught in mid-metaphor, courtesy of artist Meret Oppenheim.  Her retrospective at MoMA shows an imagination that loves the witty twining of reality (the German-born artist, who died in 1985, is best known for her fur-lined teacup, “Object.”)   How does Oppenheim evoke such squirreliness with a perfectly pitched strip of fur attached to a beer glass?  She gets the tail’s quivering stillness, erect in its S-curve, plush, sensual —full of lover’s escapades, all leaps and feats contained in that moment. Its finer thoughts, ancestors, its tasting notes of nuts, belief in better days to come – everything is contained in that pert tail.  Utterly distinct, yet refusing the idea of being utterly separated and distinct.

The mind leaps.  The squirrel leaps, now inert, now live in our imaginations, now live on the tree outside my writing window.  Its nails play the keys of dry bark; clinging sideways, it freezes in utter silence, eyes fixing me in a staring contest.  Abruptly it turns, its gray hairs fly in streaks of black and tan across scaly gray bark and lichen, the opening chapter in the life of gray.

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