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Doreen LeBlanc: Two Poems

Doreen LeBlanc: Two Poems

Edward’s Pout

Why the pout Edward Hopper?
Your many self portraits interchangeable
Turned down mouth
Empty eyes
Stoic
Sour
Brooding
Not a hint of a punch line
But always impeccably dressed
What lies beneath?

Your marriage to Josephine, Jo
Reads rather contentious, tumultuous
Yet she was your subject
Diminutive
Combative muse
Bedraggled nude
Expressionless
Perhaps eating from tin cans
Transformed you both to granite

Brushstrokes of simplicity
Your artistic gifts portrayed loneliness
Dark shadows
Deep thoughts
Solitude
Isolation
Until you created coastal scenes
Where you found light essence
And release

 

Musings on “Little Goose Girl” by Millet

What have you seen
Simple thatched house
Generations of simple folk
Who patched your humble walls

The geese at your doorstep
Years of harvest and famine
Like the seasons
And phases of the moon

Within, the acrid smells of your hearth
Beside you the giant tree
Your sentinel
Why does this interest me, you ask
Oh, I feel your heartbeat

 

(Poetry Workshop at Boston Museum
of Fine Arts, French Pastels, with Regie Gibson)

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The MFA Is Opening a Dreamy (and Rarely Shown) French Pastels Exhibit

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Copyright© 2020, by Doreen LeBlanc. All Rights Reserved.

Doreen LeBlanc lives in Massachusetts and spends time in summer and fall at her cabin in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where she was born. Inspiration bubbles up out of the river and sea, streams down the mountain, and comes through family stories and the beauty of Cape Breton and her Acadian and Scottish heritage.

 

More Breaths for a Change

More Breaths for a Change

County Clare and the Sea. Photo by Douglas Pinson. 2003.

 

It’s not difficult
But it is impossible
To know when the self Appears unhidden      untainted
Bereft of the artificial

Like a diamond in the earth
Before the mines

The rings the false smiles
The campaigns to make us
Feel worthy
It’s not difficult

But it is impossible
To know the moment
Most extreme
The highest highs

The lowest lows
That remain ours
Alone
Pristine

Primordial

— The ancients told us
It was in the Middle Way
That we decipher
That we sync and connect

With what is true
With what is unhidden
Only in that time and place
Between things and events

But I wander
And fall toward
The Romantics
And their post-Baroque

For advice
For succor
Their wisdom
And excess

Their rejection of Hamlet times
Of indecision and      hesitation

Jump and ye shall find!!
Dive and ye shall know!!
Then reflect on the sun
The moon . . .

How to be Human for a Breath or Two

How to be Human for a Breath or Two

Pandora’s Box, by John William Waterhouse. 1896

The visitation of a blessing
The moment of passion changes us
But the man thought he saw something
That wasn’t there until

Until he saw her as she really was
As she really was because of him

Looking back on his Columbus days
On his belief that thousands and thousands
Of years could be negated by a ship
He knows now that it wasn’t so

That what was special about her
Was special with or without him
That while his own being impacted her
It did not could not create her

Beyond his own mind
His own dreams of essences lost and found

The Beatles said
We become nay-ked
The Beatles said
Let it be

Kierkegaard said
Life can only be understood
Backwards
But it must be lived

Forwards

Are we ever really human
For a breath?

The gathering
With friends or family
The roiling bed
The corporate hallways?

Desiring to know difference
When difference is knowable
Desiring to be the cause
When entangled and on fire

We die
When this dies

C Pam Zhang’s mesmerizing How Much of These Hills is Gold

C Pam Zhang’s mesmerizing How Much of These Hills is Gold

How Much of These Hills is Gold, by C Pam Zhang. 2020. Riverhead Books.

The American West of our imaginations, back in the day. Back in the days of cowboys and gold rushes, San Fran brothels and deadly coal mines, horse thieves and mountain men. The American West of our rather limited imaginations, if we grew up with a certain kind of preset range of ideas, photos, movies, stories and dreams in our heads; which, of course, to one degree or another, means pretty much all of us.

But it’s different if. Way different if, we’re of that tribe that ended up dominating all the other tribes, and all too often take it for granted that our stories, movies, ideas and dreams should be the focus, the main narrative, the supposedly real history of our West. Subconsciously, overtly, aggressively, or just kinda sorta cuz it’s supposedly the Way Things Are.

So into that historical (imaginary) space and time comes this amazing new voice — and, folks, her voice is pure magic — and she sings both her own song, from her own (21st century) life experience, and songs we haven’t heard before that must have been audible back then, from “XX42” to “XX67,” as the author puts it, if one had the ears for those songs, if one opened themselves up to others outside their own set.

C Pam Zhang tells the story of another kind of cowboy, or cowgirl, focusing primarily on Chinese-American siblings Lucy and Sam, orphaned (perhaps) at age 12 and 11, on their own in a beautiful, miserable, dangerous, wondrous unnamed territory. The author never names it, exactly, other than when the scene shifts to San Francisco and the shores of the Pacific, but it’s likely set in the new state of California, for the most part. Lucy and Sam’s Ma came from a land across the ocean, also unnamed, but likely China. Ironically, their Ba was born in the American West, too, but no one seems to believe him, such were those preset ideas back then and now.

In interviews, Ms. Zhang has mentioned John Steinbeck and Laura Ingalls Wilder as influences, and you can hear some of that in her prose. But she makes it all her own, sprinkling in bits of Chinese, varying the rhythms, the pacing, the length of the sentences, and shifts yet again when she gives Ba his own monologue, which made me think of another Wilder: Thornton.
Our Town, back from the dead, as if Emily and the Stage Manager merged and became a Chinese American gold prospector, telling his “Lucy Girl” his own story, his whys and wherefores, his regrets.

Upon first reading, I’m inclined to call this a “classic,” a book that belongs in the American Canon, already. And I’m guessing a reread will confirm that. Someone also needs to make this into a film, or a limited “peak TV” series. But that might force the filmmaker to leave out the best part: Zhang’s beautiful, original, magical narrative voice.

 

Portraits, Spirits, Islands on Fire

Portraits, Spirits, Islands on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire. 2019. Written and directed by Céline Sciamma.

 
The Tempest before the storm. Rocky shores, an island, a remote, semi-protected place for women alone. But they aren’t. And they know it. They know what awaits them offshore. They know what surrounds them, has always surrounded them. They know the countless obstacles in their way. Not just being young women. But being young women in love. Being jeune filles who love each other in 18th century France. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Sciamma’s film is a dream, a haunting, pre-Raphaelite dream, set on an island off the coast of Brittany in 1760. A young lady (Adèle Haenel), fresh out of the convent, is to be married to an Italian nobleman all too soon. Arranged, it is not what she wants. It is not who she is. So her mother, a countess (Valeria Golino), struggles to bring it all together with a portrait, thinking this will finalize the arrangement. Put a bow on it. So she hires Marianne (Noémie Merlant) to befriend Héloïse and paint her in secret, at night, after they’ve walked and talked along the shore.

Is her mother that much in the dark about her own daughter? Did she not know how the two would respond to new secrets and their revelations?

Héloïse still mourns for her sister, whose recent suicide likely sent her to an early life in a convent. The countess must have thought she could arrange both a friendship and a painting that would push her daughter into another world, far away from those remote rocky cliffs and death. She must have feared that her daughter would follow her other daughter into the sea. She followed the painter instead, into a new life, a new way of being.

Few movies know how to end things. Even the best films often fail to wrap up or open up as they should. Sciamma ends this most beautiful of melancholy odes in an impossible fusion of repressed eroticism, passion and understatement. Vivaldi is the spark. A treasured memory for Héloïse, an echo of rocky cliffs brought back to life.
 


 

Self-Reliance in the Age of Pandemics

Self-Reliance in the Age of Pandemics

Into the Wild, 2007. Directed by Sean Penn. Based on Into the Wild (1996), by Jon Krakauer.

It was never the case, at least not in the modern world. Outside a few. Outside a few lone souls, able to live on grass and berries. Able to hunt and gather, make their own shelters, their own clothes, treat themselves when they got sick. Pull their own teeth. Make and fix their own modest tools. Having next to no layers between themselves and the earth. Right there. Being there always. Right on top of the earth, like mother and child.

And they better be beyond lucky. They better not fall and break their ankles, legs, hit their heads, catch pneumonia or worse. They better, in a word, or two, or three, stay perfectly healthy.
It was never the case, outside those rare few souls.

Humans are social animals. We need one another, obviously. And in the modern world, the degree of need and interconnection is beyond complex, far beyond ancient ideas of kin and village, with steeper hierarchies today than in any past worlds, arranged for us, not by us, prefabbed for us in ways both artificial and arbitrary — Potemkin-like — it’s a wonder this isn’t foremost in our thoughts at all times, as we make our way through life.

It is true that we brought some of this dependency on ourselves, as we spun out in all directions, expanded our sense of what was important to us, our sense of what we need each day, which meant a removal from the first ground of our being, a removal from the earth and any chance we may have had to truly be self-reliant to a point. Even back then, even at the dawn of things, it wasn’t possible, except for those rare few.
We listened too much to Sirens. We listened too much to ghosts in three piece suits.

We gave in. We gave up. Division of labor, division of expertise, division of the spoils, the allocation of resources decided by the few for the many.  Those Sirens and those ghosts. We’re close now to peak dependence, at the same time our personal agency, our personal control over our own destinies, may well be at an all time low. May well be peak inverse.

Year by year, generation after generation, we’ve been led down a pathway toward an existential crisis, a series of these crises, an acceleration of that series, for a host of reasons and rationales. But if we need to boil all of that down to just one, to just one reason why, to just one answer voice cause meaning provocation, it’s money. It’s “I think therefore I buy.”
For much of humanity, possibly most, almost all, our management of our consumer choices, our thinking through what, when and where we buy things . . . inanimate objects . . . stuff . . . makes us who we think we are, and this, in our mind’s eye, makes us believe we’re self-reliant. Because we can. Because we can buy stuff.

Not make it, grow it, maintain it, fix it, replenish it. Buy it. But in the Age of Pandemics, we’re quickly learning we can’t necessarily do or count on that any longer, and it’s time to ask ourselves why and how and beyond just that. It’s time to question the system we inherited and its effects, the one that spun us out this far from our home in the first place.
 

Zen Fields Beyond the Canvas

Zen Fields Beyond the Canvas

Flaming June, by Frederic Leighton. 1895. Museo de Arte de Ponce.

You were my dream
So the poets say
So they spin and wrack their minds
How to express what can not be

Love
     Love of
          Love of her
Of life

Of the stars
Anything that crisscrosses
Their eyes and ears
Their fifth or sixth dimension

Like the waves they see
As stand-ins for her
Like the mountains they see
As symbols of her strength

The irony the melancholy
Of it all is
Of course the non-abstract
Nature of her

The total lack of symbology
In the way she moves
     The way she smiles
Only when it’s necessary

Only when there is nothing else
To be done

She smiles at the perfect time
In a perfect way

Thus rendering all symbols
All analogies all parables
     Superfluous
At best

She was my dream
Because of that
Her dreamless self
The beyondness

Of it all
The stark raving madness
Of it all
As if no art were necessary

As if no dreams were needed
     Or possible
          Created
               Or imagined

Or pinned to page or canvas
By us
For us
She did not require them!!

We
     could
          not
Complete her . . .

Never Ever!!

Never Ever!!

Edouard Manet, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. 1882

There are blue fields to love
And red oceans
     Of course
Plus black rain on May Day

But it’s always been
     At least for me
The sheer genius of flannel clouds
That knocks me for a push-pull

Or two or seven loops
Like a child’s long shout out
To our morning goddess
After they’ve had their swim

Their cereal their prize-winning song
After they’ve frozen their dreams
     For the image-zoos
          The butterbread-museums

The psychic kaleidoscopes of yore
And I know what you’re thinking

That all this is passé
So old-melted hat

So rolled-up thunder-eyed
Yes yes this is true
This is just a was once removed
But I ask you sweet madam

Isn’t this was a better land
A better plated sojourn
Than our pubs can serve last week?
Aren’t the old skies more lovely

Than geo-propped dust-ups
Above us last noon
Last midnight?

I’ll take the old ways
Ten out of eight or six rolls
I’ll take the heretic blossoms
Home on Tuesdays at Five

Nunca Jamas!!