Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Story and Myth

Recently I was chosen to exhibit a painting at THELMA Center for the Arts in their "Member Spotlight" project. The painting is one I did some time ago and recently tweaked.  I have always liked it, though it is an odd one.  Strange and eerie and one straight out of my imagination (I guess.)
I never begin with an idea when painting or writing and only come up with a title after staring at the finished piece for a bit.  This one is titled "Color in the Myth"  I remember starting with my favorite color, yellow ochre laid on over a deep blue-black surface. While fiddling with the composition a wall of buildings suddenly seemed to surface. From there came more compositional tweets and it was finished.  The painting reminds me of my time in the Middle East where my daughter lived--Morocco and Egypt, and has the basis of story in the foreground.  I called it "Color in the Myth' to invite the viewer to come up with their own story.  it was great fun!

Yesterday I  finished reading the excellent "The River of Consciousness' by Oliver Sacks.  It's a group of essays published just after he died.  He is a favorite of mine, and everything he writes about has depth and interest for me.  One chapter "The Creative Self" examines memory, story and myth.  You can see why it speaks to me.  He says, "Storytelling and myth making are primary human activities, a fundamental way of making sense of our world."
I agree.  My poetry and writing works in much the same way.  I see something or someone and create a story. At one point I was on the subway in NY and watched a man and a young girl interact in a very loving way.  Here is the story I derived from that scene.

Theory of String

 Every other Saturday she came in on the subway from Queens. As assistant curator at the

museum she was required to work in the lab two Saturdays a month.  The museum room she

occupied was a cool and soothing windowless place. The crowded train made her skin itchy

and hot.

She invented a travel game to fend off the boredom of the ride. The game was to see how quickly

she could strip a human figure of skin and fat, down to its bones. She’d studied sketches of

mummified kings and qπueens, had developed a knack for imagining them fleshed out, fully

dressed. Her Saturday exercise switched the game around.

A thickset, red-faced man and small child sat across the aisle. The girl was tiny with dark braids

that just touched her shoulders, shiny, as though oiled, carefully tied, not with ribbons but with

string, the kind of string used to truss a leg of lamb in a butcher shop. He was a large man and

oddly handsome, his beard, elegantly shaggy with errant silver-gray strands.

The man held the girl’s hand with a gentle fatherly reverence, her fingers snug in his big hands.

A small scar curved across his left eyebrow, another thin, calloused line circled his index

finger—a cut from another time. They both are blue eyeed and bear similar smiles. She must be

his daughter. A butcher’s daughter. They live above the shop.  It’s a Saturday outing. The sign in

his window says CLOSED. The regular customers are annoyed. 

She will leave them alone. Today, she will look out the window and name the trees.

So if anyone is reading this blog, would you please come up with a story today.  I'd love to here it.  My email is mkwehner@icloud.com.  If i can do it, you can do it.

Thursday, February 2, 2017


I've decide to return to this Blog writing whether anyone reads it or not. It makes me happy and seems to organize my thoughts.  Good enough reason at my age.

Given the tone and angst in the air these days, I decided to take a five day semi-retreat in the warmth and comfort of my house on the lake.  The fact that my husband, Dick, is off on a ski trip for five days and I have the resurgence of a terrible viral thing makes for this easy decision.

I recently bought a book I hadn't taken time to carefully research.  The Experience of Insight. It's comprised of lists and chapters to read and meditate on in a month long Buddhist inspired retreat.  Well, I only have five days and am not going to get up at 4:30 to sit and walk and am certainly not going to meditate for hours at a time, but I am reading the various chapters and finding that it just what I needed to get some idea of how to live in this turbulent time.  I'm meditating a few times for brief periods, doing my yoga, writing, cooking, listening to jazz, reading and trying not to talk--just a couple of phone calls and those didn't really add to my peace and quiet.

I would however recommend this approach even if I am only in the third day and starting to get a bit antsy.  I think it bears looking into.  I believe the political scene today has the danger of burnout for some of the most sincere and politically active people I know.  How do we sustain the pressure to restore morality and decency to this world if we are so stressed and angry that we can't sleep or have a civil conversation with those we disagree with?

So we can send money, march if we are able, write and phone and pray if you pray.  At least I will write and paint in these few solitary days. And read. One bit of reading I've just finished is the recent Sun magazine. They feature a recently deceased poet from Vermont, David Budbill,  in a previous interview and offer a few of his wonderful poems.  He was a Buddhist and self described recluse and a previous activist against the Vietnam war.

When asked how someone living in isolation make a contribution to society?  He replied,"Not everyone should be out on the streets protesting. I have a Buddhist friend who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia. He says, "What I can do for peace and justice is split wood." To do no harm is a great service to humanity.

Budbill's poetry is plain-spoken and thought provoking.  Here are two of his and one of mine from today.

What We Need

The Emperor,
his bullied
and henchmen,
terrorize the world
every day

which is why
every day

we need

a little poem
of kindness,

a small song
of peace,

a brief moment
of joy.

Words to Myself

Ryokan Says: With what
can I compare this life?
Weeds floating on water.

And there you are with your
dreams of immortality
from poetry.

pretty pompous --
don't you think -- for a
weed floating on water?

David Budbill

And here is mine:


Mindful of the waves
I skimmed them like a gull.
There were rocks
and sandstorms, horizons
and sunsets to recall—wistful
paintings and poems, glorious
lies revised as memory, still one more
sighting off to the west and then
the next. Proof that there's no finality

to a good story.

Thanks to Andre Theisen for encouraging me.
Tomorrow i will try to send a painting at whatever stage it is in.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Geese of December

The Geese of December

Ten O’clock, One, 
Four- Fifteen 
and then more 
in the night and into dawn
on the swooning dark lake 
floating, splashing in all directions
all over
in the unexacting warm air.
Where are they to go,
what is the front runner thinking?
There should be ice,
there should be snow drifts, 
this is Wisconsin in December.
They are landing, 
swimming in circles,
and on shore the robin
is under a bush, 
hopping and hungry,
the garden is mush, the grass, 
an August green 
this December 20th.
Evergreens are hanging
in the windows lit 
with white electric candles.
I’m up. 
Who can sleep?
The next moment tulips will sprout, 
black water will be up 
to our window sills.
Oh, glorious birds
in the night like honking sirens.
We should be 
making plans to fly somewhere safe.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

This Cloudy Afternoon

Henry David Thoreau wrote in An American Landscape:

"I love very well the cloudy afternoon, so sober and favorable to reflection after so many bright ones.  What if the clouds shut out the heavens, provided they concentrate my thoughts and make a more celestial heaven below! I hear the crickets plainer; I wander less in my thoughts, am less dissipated; am aware how shallow was the current of my thoughts before.  Deep streams are dark, as if there were a cloud in their sky; shallow ones are bright and sparkling, refilling the sun from their bottoms.  The very wind on my cheek seems more fraught with meaning.
Many maples around the edges of the meadows are now quite bare, like smoke."

How often I have felt this way about the gray, cloudy Autumn days.  Yesterday is was gray and the colors were muted and lovely. Today it is bright blue and brilliant and slightly disconcerting . The lake is is calm and there is no breeze. I'm feeling a pull to be productive and not necessarily reflective. I am much more content with less sparkle on the path.

However, here is a quick off-the-cuff poem.

is a rocking boat in summer
a ripple through budding leaves
the animal drifts beneath
my window, the anxious accounting
of perfect days

is the chamber of silence
the curled branch over the water
the underpainting of Autumn sky
the deep pools of fish
on the cusp of winter winds.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Altered Churches


Reading today about the idea of place in writing both prose and poetry. "Making Sense of a Sense of Place" by Cynthia Neely in the March/April issue of The Writer's Chronicle. Alaskan poet, John Haines suggests it is an intimacy with a region that can only be earned by giving over to it as he did during his twenty plus years in the wilderness of Alaska. Poet, Pattiann Rogers says that "place" is being shaped by us at the same time it is shaping us, and that "we ourselves must always be recognized and included as affected observers...simultaneously shaping and being shaped."

I can't help but think about my old friend Ann Hanson who lived every day with that sense of being shaped by the landscape and shaping the landscape she inhabited. And though this poem presents a fictional character it speaks to Ann's idea of place.

My quick poem of the day. It is a little sentimental and not what I consider a good poem but here it is:


She traveled the mountains, two oceans,
she scaled rock and swam in heavy waves;
now her days are spent in a smaller space.

Her young companion wanted to be of value;
and asked "would she like to travel again?"
O no, she said, if you know place intimately,

there is no need to go beyond; everything lies
within your province, but only if
you've lived it. There are snow-filled clouds above

the buildings, ancient rocks beneath, there are 
whispering creature around each corner as watchful 
as the owl in the old growth trees. Touch this,

she said, as she touched a potted fern on the table,
it feels as dewy as the one I touched

one afternoon in the rain forest of San Juan.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Today in the Paper

The human interest stories a newspaper decides to print are stories that allow their readers a respite from the difficult news of today with its terrorist attacks and current health scares. They keep the reader from putting down the paper. Readership is becoming increasingly important.

Every week they scour the local area for some odd character to highlight, some “human interest story” whether it be about the sisters who rescue three dogs deserted in the middle of a highway, or some tough or gentle citizen who does what is honorable and necessary to get by: the good, tough cop, the working nurse with cancer; people we all hope to be in our best hour.

I've decided to make note of some of the headlines. It may or may not be of interest so I’ll see as the weeks progress. Yesterday is was: “Pet Partnerships: Working with Animals provide Positive Learning Experience.” Sweet.

Below is a poem based loosely on a human interest story I read awhile back, fictionalized as most of my poems are.

The Daily Filler

Ninety year-old twins
living out on a farm,
two old soldiers full of stories,
Carl’s bombed-out days still alive
in the wet spring air.
He recalls how the buddies fell in France
and how lightly it rained every day.
Ray, thinner than Carl stayed back
with his sick mother. He details her nasty
cancer and how he caught it, too, years after,
his gravelly voice sharing his old life
at the edge of the narrow, river town:
hunting deer, turkey, possum, duck,
his best dogs long gone.
Brothers who take turns answering
how they manage with only a wood stove,
what they eat off the small plot out back,
why there’s no TV, just a radio.
Same-age boys, side by side, beardless,
somber, alike in their mother’s smile,
alike in their truth-telling, dutifully staring
into the camera, a shaky humor
in the drooped eyes, questioning the questioner.
Their mother would know why
their last days are filled with the curious.
People want to know about tough birds,
what runs in their blood. “No big deal,” Carl says.
“You live what you know, war or no war,
then you move your aches around like the crops.”
They nod and fold their hands, heroes of a sort
in this day of misplaced celebrity, soon to be 
another ironic footnote in the thinning news paper.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


This morning I sat at the window overlooking the lake and tried to meditate--another resolution bound for intermittent failure. In the midst of an occassional mantra breath, i would think about all the things that I needed to get done before my mid-morning appointment. I had just finished reading a William Matthew's prose poem, or what some might say a journal entry. He wanders around a room, looking out the window, telling us about all the busyness he sees outside and how he feels a special kind of rest in the bland, quietness of the room. He questions that need for solitude in many of these entries, or poems, but is alway "called back to the restlessness of days present."  A restless soul, an inspiring poet!

Today's small poem with William Matthew's poetry in mind.


The day's flatness startles and tears up
the mind's solitary conversation.

It's color is white with washed blue-gray
brushed up against the leafless silhouettes.

Alll movement gone in one held breath,
the bright eye removed from the storm.

In high winds of other days there are
decisions to be made, action in the fearfull

beating at the window, but here in arctic 
stillness there is no drama in which to hide.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


What is the strongest memory of a holiday, the day after, when the beds are freshly made and the last cookie tossed to the birds, here in the quiet view of a frozen lake with one lone gull searching for open water? I will make a mind-list as I sit in the quiet luxury of no commitments. And yet, in the wake of family noise and busyness there is a sweet loneliness.

So I turn to the closest book of poetry on the table:  Seamus Heaney, the romantic love of my poetry life. and yet, I'm fickle and know I will return to many of my old loves this first week of the New Year.  Today Heaney, tomorrow Harrison.  Stephen Dunn, Rodney Jones, Stafford and more. Seamus writes of his mother this morning and her daily family tasks.I wonder what his mother remembered about him in their Irish Christmas after-glow.

I will take time to remember the drawings of Ella and the sweet poems of Caitlyn and the salad Susan made from the new book of Jerusalem recipes she and her husband Jim gave us, and the discussions Andre and I had over privilege and giving, and the walk along the edge of the cold lake with Ann taking in the joy of escape from an over-warm, crowded house.  I will place the doll-beauty face of two year old Penelope high on my list, and her full bellied, beautiful, mother and her father talking sauerkraut recipes with his father in the hot, messy kitchen. I will send my thanks to Sara for the imaginative gifts of an LP with familiar faces taped to the front of it and to Scott for our new music system--Coltrane floating up and through the house. I will never miss a riff moving from one room to the next because of Scott's handiwork. And then I will  stop to make a line in my sketchbook with my new ink brush--thick and thin along the narrow page

Here is an old poem I found today on my i-pad that speaks to my musical idol. 


plus drum brush
up to the ceilings
all over the place
somber soft
made for love making
in a room
filled with low light
the stirring
of poem
the stroke
of an ink sketch

slowly, slowly
it blooms.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Question of Originality

Jane Hirshfield, a poet and a long follower of Buddhism writes in her book "Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry" that poetic originality appears not only as new content or diction but also in the development of new techniques and forms.  Mozart said in one of his letters: "Solitude, whether endured or embraced, is a necessary gateway to original thought."  Who among us has an original thought some may ask, but it seems obvious that whenever you take in an idea it changes slightly with the process of assimilation.

Moon poems, love poems, nature poems have been written for centuries and yet for a piece of writing to endure it must have a unique spin or the voice of originality. I like to read poems of both original thought and  in original forms. It is not easy for a writer to do this--life is full of easy cliche. 

This time of year is full of changing dramas.  The moon, (Blood Moon of last night),  the changing colors in the autumn landscape--all old themes, but here are several new spins on these topics.

 Sotoba Komachi
  one of the early Japanese woman  poets

The color of the flowers fade
as the long rains fall,
as lost in thought,
I grow older
            (translated by Kenneth Rexroth)

Another Komachi poem:

This abandoned house
in a mountain village.
How many nights
has the autumn moon spent here?

A poem by Robert Frost

The Leaf-treader

I have been treading on leaves all day until I am autumn-
God knows all the color and form of leaves I have trodden
   on and mired.
Perhaps I have put forth too much strength and been too
  fierce from fear.
I have safely trodden underfoot the leaves of another year.

All summer long they were overhead, more lifted up than I.
To come to their final place in earth they had to pass me by.
All summer long I thought I heard them threatening under
   their breath.

And when they came it seemed with a will to carry me with
   them to death.
They spoke to the fugitive in my heart as if it were leaf to
They tapped at my eyelids and touched my lips with an in-
   vitation to grief.
But it was no reason I had to go because they had to go.
Now up, my knee, to keep on top on another year of snow.

Ancient Japanese poet, Fujiwara no Shunzei said " a good poem will  possess a kind of atmosphere that is distinct from its words and their configuration and yet accompanies them.   The atmosphere hovers over a poem...like the cry of the deer heard against the autumn moon."
            (trans. by Robert Bower and Earl Minor)

Japanese poet, Basho wrote many surprising poems about the moon.

whore and monk, we sleep
under one roof together,  
moon in a field of clover 

Last fall while reading a book about Basho and his long journey across a mountain to capture the spirit of the moon in various locations, I looked out the window at the incredible large harvest moon and wrote this poem.  I had been thinking about rules and why they often don't make sense.  Many teachers of poetry tell their students to avoid certain words like moon, heart, love--words fraught with cliche, but often that word is the best word for the poem. This poem was published in quartsiluni.

Oh Basho

Today in the classroom there is
more moon bashing.

Forsake the airy for the real, a smart young teacher says

and the students scratch out all words that end with ache.
Fuck it, one says, I’ll write what I write. Birds clap

at the window — nothing’s more true
than the unforeseen wind.

Tonight in their nests the crows will swoon.