Friday, August 24, 2012

The path to enlightenment is figure drawing

Each Friday I meet with a group of women to write.  Each week a different one of us is the leader who picks readings or artwork to prompt us to do the best writing we can.  This week Denise chose a poem by Billy Collins called Tension.

Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias
outside in the garden,
and suddenly I was in the study
looking up the word oligarchy for the thirty-seventh time.

When suddenly, without warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,
and I suddenly closed the dictionary
now that I was reminded of that vile form of governance.

A moment later, we found ourselves
standing suddenly in the kitchen
where you suddenly opened a can of cat food
and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.

I observed a window of leafy activity
and, beyond that, a bird perched on the edge
of the stone birdbath
when suddenly you announced you were leaving

to pick up a few things at the market
and I stunned you by impulsively
pointing out that we were getting low on butter
and another case of wine would not be a bad idea.

Who could tell what the next moment would hold?
Another drip from the faucet?
Another little spasm of the second hand?
Would the painting of a bowl of pears continue

to hang on the wall from that nail?
Would the heavy anthologies remain on their shelves?
Would the stove hold its position?
Suddenly, it was anyone's guess.

The sun rose ever higher.
The state capitals remained motionless on the wall map
when suddenly I found myself lying on a couch
where I closed my eyes and without any warning

began to picture the Andes, of all places,
and a path that led over the mountain to another country
with strange customs and eye-catching hats
suddenly fringed with little colorful, dangling balls.

From The Paris Review via Turk's Head Review.

We had ten minutes to write whatever we chose to in response to the poem.  Here's what I wrote:

Billy Collins' poem about the ordinariness of life became extraordinary the moment he added the word "suddenly" to it.  Then each action like opening a can of cat food took on a cosmic import.  Perhaps that is the way to enlightenment - to perceive everything, every single simple action, as sudden and surprising and noteworthy, even a lie-down on the sofa and a daydream about a land beyond the Andes.

How would it be if each stroke I drew were that noteworthy?  My teacher Tommy suggested I stand back from my two-minute gesture drawing we both liked with a fond attachment.  Stand back and contemplate with total attention the light landing upon her body, the shadows falling just so and defining her form.  Then, once I attained knowledge of the next right move, only then, approach the easel and carefully, mindfully, with absolute intent, place the mark I was meant to make.  Just so.

Then back off and contemplate her body again, the curved black armchair I've drawn scores of times now, the aqua-flowered pattern of her silk robe she sits upon, the perfection of her close-cropped boy-hair.  Notice the light and shadow on that spiky hair as it traverses her skull.  Trace the depth along her arm with my eye down my arm through the conte' crayon onto the newsprint.  Just so.

Suddenly?  In one way of looking at it, perhaps it is sudden, but to me several ice ages have come and gone while I observe and sense and monitor and express.  Each synapse is attended to as it transfers information about the bones beneath the skin of her knee from my eyes, through my brain, down my neck, into my arm, fingers, charcoal, all one - not sudden at all, a wagon train on the Conestoga Trail making its way at great peril to the ultimate goal of a new life.

No comments:

Post a Comment