from Hand Luggage. Three excerpts from a memoir-in-verse
Life lived through a topaz. My memory is
of a beautiful garden, a swimming pool with
Olympic proportions in which the pink house
proudly mirrored itself. At night it was like
a birthday cake, blazing. Inside, chandeliers—
three Cassiopeias—lit three lovely rooms.
At the back was the mato3—a forest that flowered
with ipés, quaresmas4—incredible trees
and shameless marias5—a carpet of blooms.
I was happy enough. Ecstatic at times
but my pen wouldn’t write. It hadn’t the words.
(No English vocabulary worked for Brazil.)
I stared at blank paper, blank paper stared back.
Then, as if in a dream, my pen started to draw.
It drew what I saw. It was fearless—a child
approaching a fire not knowing it’s hot
yet not being burned—a miraculous child.
Every leaf, every flower, every table and chair,
the patio railings, the plants in their pots—
I had only to stare, intently enough,
and the pen did its careful, indelible work.
Encouraged by Arthur, returning with rolls
of exquisite paper tucked under his arm,
I learned about paper, its tooth and its weight.
And discovered with joy that my nib as it drew
sang a song as seductive as—now, I’d say Glass,
Villa Lobos, I’d likely have said in Brazil.
Transformation. I changed. Someone in me was new.
Like an onion I seemed to shed skin after skin
or, more like a chart I had seen as a child
of the bodies—ethereal, astral and gross.
Fewer clothes. I felt free. Some connection between
the salt and the tropical sun and the strange
objectivity found through the nib of my pen,
the knowledge of papers, the knowledge of inks—
even black inks are various—fugitive/fast—
to say nothing of sepias. Arie6 said,
“Why give up an art that you know for an art
where you start from the starting point—over again?”
Then he looked at my drawings and said, “I was wrong.
Keep on going. You know what you’re doing,” he said.
So I drew. But I would have. Wild horses could not
have stopped me from drawing. I drew in my bed
(the government sheets can attest to my zeal!)
I’d have drawn in my shower with my waterproof ink
if there’d only been waterproof paper as well.
Obsessed is the word for it. It was as if
some alternate universe opened each time
I stared at an object until it stared back.
I took lessons wherever/whenever I could
and learned you can learn only that which you know.
The fire must be laid and awaiting the flame.
(If you want a whole apple, you have to own half.)