Crossing the Danube, West Coast of the Black Sea, River Runs Through Onesti, Rovinj

From Peggy McGivern’s solo show at Abend Gallery, March 20, 6-9pm, Colfax and York, Denver. Verse by Peter Stravlo, Eastern European inspired folk music by Mark Dudrow and Chipper Thompson. Dracula’s Blood wine.

Crossing the Danube
Each border guard said the other would let us in, but not out.
You cannot drive here, Croatia says.
You cannot park here, Serbia says.
We thought they had settled all this with a war.

Three hours in no-man’s-land before heading to Belgrade, where scattered lights twinkle like failed constellations, a million falling star headlights racing past. We are lost.

Dawn reveals a merry-go-round of smokestacks, exhaust, oppression, overlapping signs like washed out frescoes on concrete walls. For hours it seems no stars are possible.

Exit and return, exit and return; Belgrade means roundabout in a language we do not fathom. Surely it will be no mistake, to cross the Danube into Transylvania. Can we not at least read each other’s palms?

West Coast of the Black Sea
Feel every angle of the world
Catapulted like languages
Shadows and rooflines
Between Asia and Europe

Taste salty wind
Stinging
A vulnerable cheek
Of indeterminate color

Hear waves of thought
Mingling together
Through straits
Of millennia

See Greek-marbled blue-green
Slavic-jeweled red
Gold Persian myths
Mosaic as Byzantium

Witness galleons, cruise ships, and dreadnoughts
Crashing into dachas
Tourists and religions
On the West Coast of the Black Sea

River Runs Through Onesti
Find a little boat and let us take a fairytale trip
We’ll fall out of the Cuic mountains
Down the Trotus River
Float by exotic oases of history and imagination
Open your eyes
Shhh… the beauty of places so hidden
No one but us will know

Rectangles, triangles, rhombus ribbons and almost perfect circles
Turkish and Gypsy and Greek and Magyar and Serb and Slav
Not quite white, or red or green or yellow
But blue and sienna and ochre and browns of all flavors
Shaped like the people of Ottoman bridges and Greek statues
Welcoming our flotilla of one
With plates of mittitei and pârjoale and you must have a cup of tuica
And another before we flow tipsy into the Siret and start all over again

Rovinj
We like our boundaries, right angles snapped together in overlapping simplicity along an artificial shoreline
Raw sienna and yellow-clay Legos with blue-squares and shadowy reliable passages

Solid little rooms vetted by generations
Miniature green savannahs and forests, contained in comfortable garden beds
Things we can stand on, lean against, grasp, walk around

But be careful, waves form and foam and dissipate
Like reflections in a mirror threatening to swallow, distort, reveal, wash away our beach head
We listen to rhythmic crashing, and imagine standing, leaning, grasping, walking around
As if abstract form meant permanence

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Writing a Painting

Below are examples of when I first began to think about how to write a painting. These are from early drafts of my first novel The Age Of Certainty (Unpublished.)

2009
Hesus gathered his notebooks and carried them to his car. The day was heating up pleasantly. The dew hiding in the warm breeze caressed his arm and face. He held the wheel around a wide curve and crossed over narrow gauge tracks, sped up to the crest of a hill where he could look down onto the village. Behind each house plots of irregular rectangles were carved out of the forest, shaggily defined by slanting grey plank fences or low stone walls, filled with cabbage and potatoes and onions, straight laced corn and sleepy sunflowers. Occasionally a few solemn cows grazed in a plot, balancing awkwardly up the steep hillside. It was as if the entire village was a static landscape limited to his current point of view, like a painting that so catches the essence of its subject that the viewer forgets it’s only a representation playing on his unconscious assumptions.

2011
Hesus gathered his notebooks. The warming air was pleasant, though dew still hid in the breeze, caressing his arms and face.
Hesus held the steering wheel around a wide curve, bounced again over narrow gauge tracks, stopped on the crest of a hill. He looked down to see the road split the village roughly in two. Low stone walls behind each house held back the forest in irregular plots tilled and filled with gardens, rough grey sheds, listing corrals, and the occasional solemn cow grazing awkwardly up the hillside. Farms wrapped over the undulating horizon, small orchards and rows of vines alternating with wide expanses of corn, wheat, and golden breasts of hay scattered dazzling under the sun. It was as if the village was a static landscape limited to his current point of view, like a painting that so catches the essence of its subject that the viewer forgets it is one representation stuck in time, playing on his unconscious assumptions.

And later in the novel:

2010
He was driven into that catalytic space between day and night where your perception is mutable and it’s all too counter to your experience to quite believe, like a painting that catches the truth of a sunset yet is so unique and poignant that no one would believe it was real unless it was a photograph, but you know that there is no way a photograph of what you are witnessing would ever evoke the feelings you are having and then you realize the experience might depend on being who your are at that moment in your life so it would be impossible to adequately describe to anyone anyhow when they passed through the second checkpoint and he was handed over to Sadiq. He was deep in Taliban country now

2011
His handlers drove him into the dusk, into a position so counter to his experience that it was hard to believe, like a painting that catches the truth of a sunset yet is so poignant that no one would believe it was real unless it was a photograph, but you know a photograph could never evoke these feelings, and then you realize the experience might depend on being who you are at that moment, so it would be impossible to adequately describe to anyone else anyway, when they passed through the second checkpoint and he was handed over to Sadiq. He was deep in Taliban country now.

Compare to more recent passages from my novel in progress, Reuel, where the main character is more painterly to begin with:

2013
Through a more or less closed door Reuel discovered a piano and a futon couch. He could see Mrs. Justice’s prints on the ivory keys and foot petals, some jilted to the left, some to the right, as if her elbows and knees stuck straight out whenever she made a sound. Reuel tapped one of the middle keys.
“Me me me,” he sang into a mirror on the far wall. It was out of tune, as if he lived in another world. “So so so.” In the mirror he looked through a window, saw the eagle gently deposit Mr. Justice into a Pena-purple bed of forget-me-nots in the backyard. He decided to explore the mysteries and romances behind the other doors.
Mrs. Justice’s closet smelled of mothballs and cedar. When Reuel stuck his head in each dress bristled, each pair of sheer gold stockings winked daintily along a stair step of horizontal rods. Virginal, never-buttoned buttons on her blouses smiled expectantly, and skirts lifted at the slightest touch. Inside a shoebox was a jumble of delicate red straps and spikes like poison darts. Another box contained elegant black pumps stuffed with tissue paper and out of another tumbled sandy rubber sandals that smelled like fish. Reuel closed his eyes and dreamed of soaring like a seagull over a beach, salty wind sweeping his sepia locks across the frothy ocean.

Later:

The man swung his legs over the far side of the futon and pulled on his underwear, then a pair of slacks dark and blue as shadows turning slightly cooler just before dawn. Salt and pepper hair formed a tornado from the top of his head down his back. Anabel slipped into a pair of bright green flats. Reuel remembered the green triangles perched on a wooden ledge like parrots staring at him from the canopy of a tree while he read her diary. He could feel the wet jungle air, see her gathering her brushes, folding her easel, failing to completely reveal herself on the canvas. When he opened his eyes the futon was a couch again and no one was in the room.

And:

He started reading the first story in the book, about two lonely people who dreamed of finding true love.
The lonely woman and lonely man lived very close to each other in the same city. They both loved animals, classical music, reading, were shy, and used proper etiquette even when only with their pets. The words were crafted into sentences and paragraphs that fit together in poetic harmonious purple-slate rhythms. Reuel ran his eyes over the pages like reverent fingertips over an intricately patterned melancholy-blue lined buttery marble surface polished to a smooth slippery sheen. Every time he was sure the two lonely people were about to come together some higher purpose made one turn a half a block too soon, the other look away just at the moment of truth.
Reuel decided where he wanted to be was to believe in miracles. One day the lonely man went to the art museum to see a large exhibition of his favorite artist. He walked for hours amidst the largest crowd he had ever seen at the museum. Finally the lonely man realized he had been standing in front of one painting for so long he wasn’t sure what time was. The author described the painting with such acumen Reuel saw it on the page, felt the woman’s eyes staring out tall windows in her wedding dress, felt the tension in the leg muscles of the man she was watching. He blushed, embarrassed that other patrons had been looking over his shoulder and maneuvering around him to see the masterpiece so as not to disturb him. For a moment the lonely man felt claustrophobic, he could feel someone’s breath on his ear, a tingle down that side of his body. It’s mesmerizing, the breath whispered. He turned to see the chamomile voice. Yes, he said as the lonely woman’s hazel gaze fell deeply and without qualm into his. Her skin was that melancholy-blue lined buttery marble surface, his face the perfect intricate pattern of her dreams, and his reverent fingertips ran over the love of his life for ever after.
The creative force of his paintings, Reuel decided, is greater than him yet contained within him, and can be shared by anyone, if only they realize dreams are more than mere wishes.

The tension is between abstraction, like a dream you are trying to remember, and coherent narrative. A well crafted painting does a good job of balancing the tension. My goal is to achieve this balance in a narrative form without slipping into poetry.

Hixon

The first time I met Hixson all I could see were his legs and butt dangling out of my Dumpster. I put my plastic bag of trash down and watched. He was wearing white paint-spattered pants, black socks and faded green deck sneakers. There was a hole at the right little toe. My wife Chandra and I owned what I considered an eclectic art collection and had just bought an old adobe house in Taos, New Mexico. The locals’ story was the town either sucked you in or spit you out, as if the only people living here were refugees who didn’t fit in anywhere else, and since we’d been visiting for years we decided to buy a second home to see how it felt.
Hixson’s legs shot straight into the blue sky as he dug deeper into the trash. It was a blue that in a painting I always assumed the artist had got it wrong, deep without growing dark, chalky but clear as mountain air.
I was surprised when Hixson rocked down into the sunshine. He was older than me, more spry and handsome, except for the gray stubble on his chin and no teeth. The bill of a ragged baseball cap with my company logo shaded his eyes. He stacked a few pieces of cardboard, lumber remnants, and an almost empty can of stain I’d used for my floors on the ground.
“How’s it going?” I stepped up to throw my bag into the dumpster, then hesitated.
“I’m done,” he said.
“Paul Hemming. Blue roof.” I pointed to our house, then offered my hand.
“Hixson,” he said, hiding his narrow eyes under the bill of my cap. Hixson picked up his haul and walked away.
A neighbor told me my Dumpster diver was an artist. The next time I saw him was in the parking lot behind the Sage Inn after three margaritas. I’d parked next to other cars along a latilla fence. It wasn’t until the heavy latillas directly in front of my car swung into my bumper and Hixson slid out from behind that I noticed all the cars were blocking a driveway.
“Hixson.”
He took off my hat and blocked the sun with it. Three inch tufts of hair stuck up the way my son tried to do with mousse. I felt a pang of jealousy. Hixson looked at me sideways.
“Paul. We met the other day. You were gathering some things from my Dumpster.”
“Yeah. I remember.”
Hixson looked around as if he was expecting someone else, or an excuse to get away.
“I’m blocking your drive.”
“You want to get high?”
It’d been years since I’d smoked pot. Now his blue eyes were directly on mine.
“Sure,” I said.
The latilla gate led into a Spanish courtyard, the kind you see in movies where all the rooms of the house are built around an open-air common area. There was a tan seventies vintage El Camino, a broken circle of adobe surrounding the wood supports for an old well, a warped plank porch and three twisted wood doors leading into sensuously sagging adobe buildings. Hixson creaked open a custom screen and led me into one of the buildings.
“Kitchen,” he said apologetically. The room was about twelve feet long and five feet deep. There was a hot plate, a dorm fridge, and just enough room for a skinny person to walk past the stomach-high junk. In two places near the ceiling the mud had disintegrated, exposing roughly three-square-foot patches of sixteen inch thick adobe brick walls.
We ducked under a rounded doorway and into the main room. It was maybe fifteen feet long and twelve feet wide, illuminated by a long, two-foot high window. Abstract paintings leaned against every white mud wall. Most were large; seven feet by five feet, four by three, some two by twos. The dirt floor was hardened with thin strings of primary colors, like the designer faux finish on my concrete garage floor I’d just spent hundreds of dollars on. There was a shin high wood table piled with brushes and tubes of paint, a glass jug full of deep canary yellow on a stool, a short table Hixson used as a chair, and on his wide, homemade easel were two sets of two paintings stacked on top of each other leaning against a large one behind. Hixson put the glass jug on the floor, pointed for me to sit.
“Wow,” I said. “Your work is fantastic.” I’d never understood abstract art and didn’t know what else to say.
Hixson pulled a shoebox from behind his easel, crushed a pungent green bud into a pipe, handed it to me and lit a match. I sucked tentatively, the tequila already swimming around in my head. Hixson took a toke and handed it back to me. I knew better, but to be polite I took another drag, this time with more gusto. He loaded another bowl.
I stood up slowly as an excuse to not smoke anymore and studied some paintings. If there was a theme it was blocks of yellows and grays and greens intersected by grids. But that’s too simplified to describe the streaks of red and the strained-peas greens and the way a few lines suggested landscapes.
“I really like this one,” I said, pointing to a grid of what looked like rubbed whitish circles on a mustard background that made my head spin.
“That’s going into my show.” He took another long toke, held it in.
“When’s that?”
“Next month.”
“I don’t know much about abstract art,” I suddenly confessed.
“Three O Two,” he said.
He could see my confusion.
“My gallery. I paint what I want, they take what they want.”
“One-man show?”
“Yeah.”
“That’s exciting.” I looked around the room. “Great old adobe.”
“Want to check it out?”
I followed Hixson through another low rounded doorway. In the small dark room were a single unmade bed and a small chest of drawers. When I leaned against a wall the rough mud finish scraped by forearm.
“Kit Carson’s house is on the other side of this wall,” Hixson said.
“The museum? How old is this place?” Hixson saw me looking at a blue plastic tarp hanging from the ceiling above the bed.
“Ceiling leaks.”
The tarp angled down past the foot of the bed. There was a water stain on the floor.
“Been kind of dry,” he said.
It was dark when I got in my car and drove around to the front of the museum. Hixson’s house was part of a one story adobe complex housing galleries, artists’ studios, a second-hand western shop, and the museum. I googled Kit Carson house on my phone. The National Register of Historic Places website said Kit Carson’s home was built in 1825.
All those lines and colors kept popping up in my mind. A few days later Chandra and I were shopping around the plaza and came across 302 Fine Art. The current show was Taos Moderns, abstract artists who in some way or another had a connection to Taos and were now all dead. I tried to make the lines and shapes and colors into familiar objects. It felt childish, like naming clouds. The moment I identified an elephant Chandra called it a unicorn and then that’s all I could see. Most of the time Chandra and I like the same pieces, but not with these. She accused me of being set in my ways. Erica and Shane, the owners, told me Hixson was as pure an artist as they’d ever worked with. They were going to take everything he could produce for the show. The next day I made an excuse to get out of the house by myself and went to see if Hixson was home.
“Want to get high?” Hixson asked as soon as soon as I was in the door.
We went through two bowls in five minutes.
“I’ll bring you a bottle of wine, for the weed,” I said.
“I don’t drink.”
He thumbed through a deep stack of paintings, leaning them against his body as he went. I got up and supported the stack while he roughly tilted each one away from the wall. The images passed by so fast it was like looking at a silent movie of a Rorsach test. Hixson lifted a four-by-three up for me to get a better look.
“I’ve been working on this for two years.” It was subtle, faded; a lemon-yellow grid, fatigue-green and pinon-gray dripping lines, red streaks, unfinished black circles, all on a dirty white background, like what my contractor called diamond finish when he plastered the inside walls of my house.
“Looks scraped,” I said.
“Several times.”
It took me a minute to realize each color or shape was a separate layer he’d scraped off and painted over, as if he hadn’t been happy with it but didn’t want to waste the surface. He pointed out a patchy bit of blue I hadn’t noticed, the faint ghost of some pencil lines showing through successive colors, said each layer was his personal history. Hixson handed me the painting and resumed flipping through the stack.
“What’s it painted on?”
“Hardboard. I make the frames.”
I turned the piece around, checked the corners, spun it three-hundred-sixty degrees along the edges. The hardboard was glued to one by two inch pine finish-nailed together. There was no back support.
“The frames are ripped from one by sixes. I used to be a carpenter.” He waved to a small table saw tucked into a corner.
“Is this finished?”
“I don’t think so, maybe. It started out simple. Then it kept trying to get complicated. I have to keep going until it’s simple again.”
Hixson grinned, but it was a serious grin, not mischievous. More like he thought I might be onto something. We pushed the stack back against the wall and he loaded another bowl.
On the adobe sill of the long window was a row of three inch by three inch pencil line drawings on cardboard. They were simple figures of animals on white gesso backgrounds; dogs, chickens, another bird of some kind, buffaloes, a fat mythological creature with a horn sticking out of its head.
“Pocket art,” Hixson said. He picked up several and put them in his shirt pocket. “I sell them for five dollars at the coffee shop.”
We walked down and ordered a cup of coffee. Hixson insisted on paying for his, was obviously a regular. He didn’t mention the line drawings to anyone, but Lola, an attractive woman in her forties with happy wrinkles wearing what I call a hippie-girl dress asked about them and bought a dog. Hixson stuffed the bill in his pants’ pocket.
“I’d like to buy some of those,” I said.
He laid them out on the table. The more I looked at each figure the more detail I saw, even though it didn’t look like he’d picked the pencil up more than once or twice with each one. The detail wasn’t drawn in as much as suggested, by a crimp in the line of a belly, a double curve on a limb, a V for a mouth that somehow was joyful and frightening at the same time. They reminded me of two Picasso prints Chandra and I had bought in San Francisco. I picked out a chicken, a buffalo, and the horned animal, handed Hixson a twenty. He reached into his pocket.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
He pulled out the five and held it out for me.
“That’s OK. I owe you.”
“No.” He pushed the bill across the table at me. “Honesty is simple. Everything that comes in, comes out. Nothing else belongs.”
It was like Hixson had gone into a trance. I wasn’t sure if I had offended or inspired him. He excused himself and left.
As I walked home it hit me that not only did Hixson not have a computer or a phone, there was no television, radio, or even a bathroom in his house. I imagined him sitting alone in his studio, painting, banning certain thoughts from his head. What kind of thoughts? It was beyond my comprehension. The only thing in my field of experience to compare him with was ascetics from Eastern Religions class in college. Now I realized even ascetics remained an abstraction to me, as if all of history was nothing but words in a book. The idea of consciously eradicating creature comforts and conveniences went against everything I had habituated myself to, everything that to me signified success in life.
Several Magpies swooped over my backyard fence like children so lost in play they didn’t realize they’d wandered into the neighbor’s yard. I plopped into a lawn chair. A pair of doves I’d been watching for days chased finches from our birdfeeder. Taos Mountain dominated my horizon. A few days earlier Chandra had wondered out loud how it was the mountain looked larger from here than from the Pueblo, which was several miles closer. I’d taken to staring at it, gauging how much the mountain filled the sky from various places around town. Sometimes its soft bulk was a modest monochrome, sitting small and quiet in the background. Then I’d look up to discover bulwarks of ochre and white-hot pink or royal purple joining forces with clouds to shelter Taos from the madness beyond. I was sure a mathematician could explain the phenomenon, how this or that triangulation in this or that light accounted for the spatial illusions, but that would be talking past what I was trying to understand. I didn’t care what it was made of or how the forest or snow or angle of the sun altered my perception. All I wanted to do was look up and see what kind of day I was going to have. Its mood filled the sky, assured me I wouldn’t be spit out. Three times at stop lights other motorists had to honk to get me to notice the light was green. I started riding my bicycle instead of driving, was continually fighting off feelings of guilt because others were picking up the slack at the office as I did nothing more than let Hixson’s art and this magical place impress upon me.
That evening Chandra and I flitted around to opening receptions at several galleries. An artist in the Kit Carson complex, Gino Mooney, opened his studio to take advantage of all the people walking along the street. There were a Mariachi band, free wine and snacks. Chandra and I sifted through the crowd and found ourselves in the Spanish courtyard.
“That’s Hixson’s house,” I told her.
“Introduce me to your crazy artist?”
At first I was piqued that Chandra referred to Hixson as crazy, then had to admit her only knowledge of him was from my descriptions of his personal deprivations. We knocked on the custom screen door.
“Are you painting?”
“No.” He stood a few feet back. Through the screen Hixson’s image was a mere suggestion, like the rendition of an historical figure who lived before photography.
“I want you to meet my wife, Chandra.”
“Hi.”
“You want to come over to Mooney’s studio?”
“I don’t like to be around so many people.”
“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to bother you.”
“That’s OK.” Hixson closed the door.
“I can see why you’re so enamored.”
“He’s better one on one,” I said.
“You a friend of Hixson’s?” Gino Mooney had come up behind us. He was a lot taller than me, with a generous smile and wavy chestnut hair, a few strands of gray at his temple.
“I’ve been stopping by, admiring his work.”
“He’s becoming obsessed,” Chandra said.
“That kind of thing happens around here.”
“He’s so dedicated,” I said. “His whole life is art.”
“Sure is. Pulled all his teeth because the pain was keeping him from working.”
“What?” Chandra winced and crinkled her forehead. “Someone should have put him in touch with social services.”
“He had a consultation. Decided teeth were a distraction he could eliminate.”
“Oh my god,” Chandra said. “Did you try and talk him out of it?”
“Not my decision.”
“Never get a girl that way,” she said.
“He’s been with Natasha four or five years now. Puppeteer up at Talpa. Very talented.”
“Each to his own,” I said.
“Don’t even think about it.” She frowned and repeated the crinkle. “What’s he do for money?”
“Doesn’t need much. Museum lets him live in the adobe for free. Been here almost twenty years. Hell, I’m only paying a couple hundred a month.”
“For that storefront? Right off the plaza?” I said.
“Just the way things are done around here.”
“Do you have running water?”
“I do. Tom uses a spigot back of my place.”
A couple days later we went back home to work. The next month I found a glowing review of Hixson’s show in Santa Fe Magazine Online. The reviewer said Hixson was heir to the Abstract Expressionists. She interviewed a professor from some university back east who said he was using Hixson’s work to teach his students future trends in painting. Two weeks later, on the first day Chandra and I were back in Taos, we went to 302 Fine Art.
Hixson’s work filled all five rooms. The pieces were wonderfully, minimally hung. Each room sucked you in like a mouse who smells cheese in a labyrinth. Three rooms were dominated by ochre grids, two more with blocks of neutral color and bright dripping streaks. Of course that’s an oversimplification. The two year old scraped painting had a red sold dot on it. I counted eleven red dots.
“Happy with the show?” I asked Hixson the next day over a couple of bowls.
“Did you like it?”
“Beautiful in the gallery.”
“Chandra?”
I sensed Hixson was looking for confirmation. After all the self-denial, his shunning of Chandra and I that night.
“She said it was the best collection of abstract art she’d ever seen in one place. And we’ve been to MOMA and the Clyfford Still Museum.”
“Never seen them.”
Hixson closed the shoebox and slid it into its spot behind his easel. I picked up a photograph that had been under the box. It showed a triptych of black paintings hanging high on the wall over Hixson’s easel. On the left one was a red line, a gentle thunderbolt. The middle board was all black except for a small white square incompletely scratched in the bottom-left corner. On the right one a blue crescent, blue like the sky I never before believed was real, signaled a new day.
“A couple weeks ago a collector came by,” Hixson said. “I thought he was going to buy that.” He pointed at the photo in my hand.
“Is it at the gallery?”
“I burned it.”
“You burned it?”
“I couldn’t have it in here anymore.”
“Why didn’t the gallery take it?”
“I did it after the show was up.”
I remembered reading that Agnes Martin, another Taos abstract expressionist, destroyed months of work, over a hundred pieces. When asked why, she said they taught her how to do the real paintings. I stared at the photo, trying to commit it to memory.
“He called the gallery last week. Now he wants it.”
“What’d you tell them?”
“That I destroyed it.”
Hixson got the shoebox and loaded another bowl. We passed it back and forth in silence, while I thumbed through his new pieces stacked along the walls. Many of them seemed to depict more figures than grids or abstract landscapes. I wondered if he was trying something new, or if the change I was seeing was in me.
In the past whenever I applied the term brave it was to someone who’d performed a dangerous deed under fire or did the right thing in a difficult situation. But Hixson seemed to me the bravest of all. To find out what was really inside himself, what was true and not the product of someone or something else, he discovered it took a lifetime of never compromising. He scraped and stripped until he was naked to himself, and then he put that nakedness on display for God and everyone to criticize, ridicule, or learn from. Hixson was that gentle red thunderbolt hemmed in by darkness, he was that incomplete white square on the edge of reality, that blue crescent of unbelievable but very real sky of hope.
I pulled a painting from a stack and maneuvered it in the long window light. It was dark, but not as black as the triptych. A scratched out white line like the silhouette of Taos Mountain ran north of center. The roof of a triangle in that sky-blue sat under the white line of the mountain, and little gray checks that might have been birds flitted around. Finally, there was a red figure in repose under the incomplete blue triangle. The imperfections in the red lines were subtle, and maybe I read too much into it, but I took it as a short balding man who’d found himself in the shadow of something greater than himself.
“What do you call this?” I asked.
“Friendship.”
“How much you want for it?”
“I don’t sell anymore outside the gallery.”
“There’s something. I don’t know how to say it.”
“Then don’t.”
I leaned the painting on the front of the stack.
“Take it home. I want you to have it.”
I picked it up again, held Friendship at arm’s length, then put it back.
“I can’t. You taught me that.”
With a grin Hixson handed me a fresh bowl and lit a match.
It’s been four years since I quit my job and started tending bar at the Sage Inn. The first thing I did when I cashed out my 401K was go to 302 and get Friendship.

Image

RAWN LINEN

Some thought it cheeky, but others endearing, two women wearing the same thing, with one arm pulling close a shoulder, the sides of their touching hips swooshing as they walk barefoot along the beach, ponytails skipping behind like ecstatic puppies. Soft as a cool summer pillow, or grating like the canvas of a palm used to work, the sensuousness of Raw Linen.

Image

AUSTIN HEALEY

Shutters are mainly open and wires crisscross in front of four stories. A mother sings a love song and scrubs her family’s clothes. On a floor below a boy ties his tie, dons a green jacket and red hat before skipping down flights of stairs to meet up with friends. A warm breeze turns the pages of a book while a girl does her homework, wondering how she’d get to school without her pony. On the ground floor men gather each evening to discuss how to make the parts they need to keep the Austin Healey running.
From Cuba: An Adventure in Image and Word. Opening reception tonight, 5-8pm Abend Gallery Denver. Paintings by Peggy McGivern and verse by Peter Stravlo. I’ll be reading tonight.