Saturday, March 29, 2014

Used Toy Graveyard - Alexandra Wittenberg

There was a day when the Milky Pens dried out, and the Pogs stopped slammin,’
and the principal banned the Tomagatchi’s  from your bell bottom belt loops
and the pre-pubescent Popstar in the checkout line gave up grinning –
and you refrained from ripping him out and plastering him on your wall, or your binder
 . . . or above your bed.

Where did your Beanie Babies migrate to?  They grew endangered and then extinct.
Or were you one of those kids who sealed their TY hearts in impermeable plastic,
vowing to sell them when they were worth millions, only to replace them
with Furbies who laughed perpetuously at their voiceless predecessors –
and laughed
and laughed
and laughed.
Until one day you threw them out the window and grew up.

Alexandra Wittenberg

Perhaps the term 'pushing daisies' should be re-termed for the 21st century. The irony is that pushing daisies has long been a metaphor for death, but now the daisies themselves are dying. Maybe the new term should be, 'pushing concrete.' In my poem I touch on some fads which were popular in the nineties. For the most part, they were real, concrete objects that you could see and play with. My generation has grown-up, and the toys have been replaced from concrete to abstract. Tomagatchi's were the borderline toy, perhaps. You could hold them in your hand (or on your bell bottom belt loops), but there was still a screen involved (albeit a few bits). Kids were obsessed with this toy, but I'm not sure if it was really the toy they were obsessed with, or just the screen. Within the screen was a 'real' alien-animal-pet-baby- type thing that you needed to feed, play with, and basically nurture before its high-pitched beeps of neglect cried out. These kids have graduated from the tomagatchi screen to the computer screen, but perhaps the need to play, nurture, and love is still felt through this medium. Like the fads, the non-electronic, physical toy is becoming dangerously endangered, as is our connection with anything real. I hope there are still some damn daisies left to push for the next generation. 

The Only Things Certain - Kat Tennermann

Part I

green cascading
down to stream water
wearing on still rock.

green turning red
reaching, beseeching
up to moving sky.

Trees, stream, sky.

Coming into,
then passing out of,
seen and unseen
beauty in change

and death.

Part II

“What are you doing, Mom”

“Oh hi honey, I didn’t know you were here. I want to finish grading these beds. Aren’t they going to look awesome? Just the way I always imagined they’d look. Come down and help me.

“Ok but you know this is a total waste of time. It’s not even your garden anymore, technically.

“I know honey but I invested so much of myself into these beds and they’re so close to being terraced just right. The new owners will probably love the way they step down from the fence into the yard. Bring that bag of soil from up there with you.”

“Or they might tear them out or let them weed over. Here, let me move these rocks. Did you have to get the most gianormous ones you could find? These are really heavy and it’s kind of hot out here.

“I got them over at Hamilton Park. They’re the last picks of my rock relocation program, yuck, yuck.”

“You know Mom, a little of that goes a long way. You’ve been making that same joke for at least five years.

“I know, son. Your father used to think it was funny every time.”

“I’m glad you mentioned Dad. You know, it’s not just the garden. I think you’re having a hard time with all of this. We lost Dad but you’re not giving up his memory, just the house.

“It’s not that hot out. It won’t get hot for another month yet, just about the time the hostas pop. I hope they like hostas. There are so many of them in the yard. But the daisies I planted between them died. Oh and the day lilies! I forgot! I need to thin those before I go. They’ll overtake the new people before they know it if I don’t. Go get my long handle weeding hoe out of the garage, will you?”


“Let me do this in peace, ok? I’m having a hard time, so kill me. This is my therapy. Now go get the hoe please. I’ll finish off the rocks.”

“Here, it is. Oh my god, you’re planting herbs? Seriously? Are you going to leave anything for the buyers to do out here? Where were you hiding those, in the basement?

“I just want to give the them an idea of the best use for the beds until the perennials come in. There are all kinds of good ones in the lower beds, my irises, astilbe and delphiniums. Then later, my coneflowers, bee balm and rudbeckia….

Whatever, Mom. What’s the saw for?”

“Oh, some of the lilac branches are growing into Doug and Natasha’s yard. See there? I told them I’d cut it back before I go.”

“I’ll do it. Here, take my shirt. I don’t care what you say, it’s hot out here. I’m not used to this heat anymore.”

“You’ve only been away for nine months. You kids sure shake the past off quickly. I was saying that to your sister last night. She called in between scene changes.

“I don’t know why Doug and Natasha care since they’re moving soon as well. Just these two branches, right?”

“What? Who said they’re moving? Where’d you here that? Help me up.”

“From Doug when we were talking about my junior year abroad. He said they’re moving to Denmark to be near her family because of the baby. I guess they didn’t tell you.”

“No, I had no idea they are planning on leaving. That makes me sad.”

“Why you won’t even be here!”

“Because my love, the neighborhood that I know is not going to be the same. It’s a nice neighborhood with nice families. We were here a long time. You grew up here. I think it’s so sad.”

“Mom, flowers come and go, people die and people move. Things change.”

Kat Tennermann

It is almost banal to say so yet it needs to be stressed continually: all is creation, all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis."-Henry Miller

How odd it is that the only two occurrences in life that are guaranteed, change and death, are the ones we dread the most. It’s been my experience that nature holds the most demonstrative examples of how and why we should see change and death as positive rather than negative progressions. While the metaphor “pushing daisies” seems merely cliche, it’s actually quite a profound saying when read in light of how much we have always relied on nature to represent that which seems incomprehensible. My two pieces are meditations on the power of nature as a guide through the frightening but inescapable reality of how impermanent life is.

"Self Portrait", "Ekphrasis", "Serving Tea in an 18th Century Miniature" - Joe Oppenheimer


Yesterday, hanging the gallery’s room: 
I began with ‘Bordello Salon:’

a gauzy oil – thin blue,
salacious pinks.  Women, nude and bold. 
Entry wall, solo.  “Charmy beckons!
Enter the bawdy!  Escape the cold!”

Next I hung pomegranates:
open, lush, exposing their
flamingly fertile flesh,
bright, full painted lips.
Thus she brushed her portraits. 

Final task: hanging her
last self-portrait, alone
on the short, white, half wall. 

There’s Em’lie in a chair.
Her face a mound of pinks –
no eyes, no mouth, no ears;
her thick paints webbed spidery –
paints cracked and crushed by years. 

“Too ugly,” I did say,
“Why’d she paint it that way?”

Turned ’round and saw it hanging there:
her early self with brazen brown hair,
inviting hips, and firm bosoms bare,
fetching smile, rimmed in red,
opened robe on a chair.

Between these so many
years apart, what was lost?
her loves, her sons, her art?
Those years stole all beauty.

With my bra, now I stand
hitch and straighten before the mirror. 
Just like hanging paintings
for show: alignment, fit, must be so. 
Lipstick, enticing red, now to paint,
my lips – a shadow faint –
thin: no place to begin.

What’s her age in the first? 
Really ninety one?
I’m also old
nearly spent,
nearly –

I too once bared my breasts
for loves, my man, to touch
my son to take my milk.

Now?  All gone – wars and death
lost to the grasp of time. 

My hair, once black and thick
now thin and grey and white. 
My red paint stick, brassiere –
These?  But for whose delight? 
Whose eyes?  There’s no one here. 

Featureless fleshy face
stares back at me –
a picture
best kept
out of

                                (A verbal description of a piece of art, which itself could be imaginary.)

Mother, seated to my left.
We ate formally, unless
we were blessed
by my father’s absence.

On the wall, behind her
an impressionist landscape:

fields of corn and green;
a farm house in back
red tile roof, three birds
black in a clouded sky.

But most important a mauve swath
with streaks of tan
(perhaps a road, perhaps heron)

starting lower right, sudden
swing left
through the field,
rising above it
past the farmhouse
to nowhere in the corner.

“Road” I say now, and some days then.
But I am not sure. 
Often it seemed a heron.
I watched both over the years.

When father’s fists drew
blood, sister cried,
mother’s tears ran,
the heron would fly me away
and the road lead
to another world.

                                          Serving Tea in an 18th Century Miniature

Until paper turns to dust
I am my master’s tea servant.
He is off canvas – unseen.
I am but thin black lines.

Color has been given only to my shoes.

She who did not sign her name
drew my frame with
gay blooms and black vines.
They imprison me.

I shall protest my state.

                       To My Master

For centuries I have served you tea.
Never have I heard gratitude.
Rather, I am caught in servitude’s dark.
Miniaturized as one of Orient’s multitude,
a slave you command to serve your tea.

“No mess, girl!   Tread quietly!” you bark. 
You see me but a cartoon without dignity.
After all these years you know not my name,
nor do you ever consider to set me free.

I shall protest once more!

                         To My Creator

You, with the power to create a universe
as God, have drawn me a slave –
yet pretend to art’s neutrality.
Giving color to flowers and now
I even envy
the lowly shoes on my feet.

You drew me bound and bland
to blend as ochre
into the paper
as if I,
a woman,
am to disappear –
Wall paper
for life’s passings by. 

Where is my blade
to cut the heavy vines?

Joe Oppenheimer

Death is not a continuum you might believe.  One either is, or isn’t.  And pushing daisies as one answer on Yahoo says, “means you're dead ... like they bury you in the ground and then plant flowers on top of your grave.”  But is it all so simple?  The arts often portray reality more complexly, as reflected in the imagination of the artist.  In the arts this simplistic notion of death can be played with.  My three poems deal with this ultimate boundary of life and death. 
      Death can, for example, come before the end of life.  It was with just such a self-portrait that an old, and obviously tired, Emilie Charmy (a French painter of vibrant, sexually charged portraits and self-portraits) expressed that one can be alive ‘in death.’   And in Self Portrait  Charmy’s last painting surreptitiously communicates this sentiment to a hanger of her paintings 45 years after she died. 
      And what is death if it is not the disengagement from one’s surroundings.  Yet one can leave the immediacy of life without dying.  One can escape life in the material sense and find a home in the mind.  But is such an escape from life’s actuality also a form of dying?  This is the question asked by the road that goes no where and the heron who does not fly in Ekphrasis.
      Of course, it is only in seances that the dead are able to communicate with the living.  But who are the dead?  Must they once have been alive, or are fabrications of the art, fictional characters, also dead?  And can they turn around and communicate back to the living?  Do they have a voice to complain, to beseech, to demand justice?  Can their complaints sully the artist and her reputation beyond her epochs?  This is the question posed in Serving Tea in an 18th Century Miniature.