The month of love

February is the month of love. This February I had four pieces featured in the Karyn Mannix Contemporary’s 13th annual Love and Passion: Size Does Matter Small Works Show (images below). To further celebrate, here is a love poem:

Married Poem

After braiding each other
into plaits of argument,
challah and gemelli pasta, 

after pizza
topped with chocolate chips
that spelled I love you,

after pairing pepperoni
and peanut butter to satisfy
my vegan tastes, and yours,

my meat and pasta man,
our salad days long since passed,
you eat, standing at the sink.

Cheddar and a beer, crackers and prociutto,
and I, tofu topped with pear.
Full, at peace in this big house.

What a recipe! I am rambling on the keys.
You are upstairs in a book.
Our taste for each other still sweet as ripe nectarine.
We are gemelli—sky and earth, sun and moon,
two well-fitted parts of a single entity.

 

Thanksgiving

In our warm firelit room
we talk about how we recreate ourselves,
selves remembered. How we become who we are.
 
I love the cornucopia,
pumpkin pie, marshmallow yams,
home-made cranberry sauce.
Familiar wafting from the kitchen.
We don’t know
how we deserve this.
 
We talk about the origins of the holiday,
Native Americans—
What’s happening now, the news—
We dive into the bounty,
turn it off, watch the parade.
 
My father carried me on his shoulders,
little girl floating on air
like a helium balloon—
 
my arms around him.
I saw Mickey Mouse and Pluto
float above the crowd.
He held my legs tight to his sides,
protected me
as if he’d never leave.

The Naturalized Patriot

 

Sunflowers 1
Watercolor on Paper
15 x 22 1/4"

The Naturalized Patriot

In 1914, my mother, her brothers, and my grandmother fled Austria-Hungary. My mother was five years old. In one frantic night, they abandoned their small cottage, their chickens and home-grown vegetables. My grandmother had always bartered eggs and fresh produce for milk and other necessities with neighbors and even with the soldiers who sometimes were forced to persecute her. Toys and clothing were at a bare minimum in their home. They were poor, but rich with love and family and hard-working hands. So what possessions they brought with them came down to food for the arduous journey.  My grandmother was a clever, sweet woman who knew how to survive.

Mother would never again see the daisy fields behind their small house where she played with her cousins. They had word from my grandfather, who had gone to New York to find a way for his family to emigrate, to leave immediately and take no possessions. Archduke Ferdinand had been assassinated on a bridge near Sarajevo, and Jews, who had not been safe from pogroms before that day, were being rounded up. War was on the horizon.

The young family climbed onto a hired donkey cart. They fled through the night to the docks where they boarded with other refugees, the freighter, “Kaiser Wilhelm,” for a journey that took them across the sea in deplorable conditions and lasted many weeks. My mother and her siblings developed eye infections in the crowded steerage and when they finally arrived at Ellis Island they were almost turned back. Grandmother bathed her children's eyes until they opened and they were released after several days of detention to Delancey Street where my grandfather had found a one-bedroom apartment.

Mother was determined to learn English even at that young age, actually taught it to her parents, and finally thrived, in this, her beloved land of opportunity. Her best memory from the trip was the vision she saw when she opened her eyes in New York. It was the “great lady,” she said, the Statue of Liberty, and the tears she shed not only cleared her crusty eyes, but instilled in her a sense of patriotism that never left her.

She loved America and the English language and educated herself after she was forced to quit school in Junior High to help support my grandparents’ burgeoning family. She became a bookkeeper, and, as a naturalized citizen, voted every year, read newspapers voraciously and voiced her opinions at meetings. She never missed a Chuck Schumer event or a political rally for a cause in which she believed.

As the world continues to erupt in wars and grass-roots struggles, even in these times, where no part of the planet is free of turmoil, people are still desperate to live and work in a country that abhors persecution. That country, our country, is America, whose full name starts with "United." It’s our responsibility to engage in respectful dialogue that upholds principles of democracy and to vote— rights Mother never took for granted. It's our duty to remain firm in the principles which can keep us strong, with compassion for all.

And that is especially important this year when the stakes are so high. I will vote for the person I think is most sane and who will keep closest to the ideals of civility and respect for the values that my immigrant family sought when they took that journey across the ocean.

I hope all Americans do the same. Vote your heart, but vote smart.

- Rosalind Brenner

On The Swing

Quadriptych
Oil Ink Monotype on Paper
9 x 6" each
2016

On The Swing in the East Garden

Cicadas raucous scratching
warns August to make way.
I hate and love their eerie racket
in these full-starred, clear sky nights.

These end-of-summer days
morning fog refuses to lift.
Trees ghost-whisper
on late warm wind;
arching branches
will soon drop leaves.

I mourn the death of the season
and though there is relief
in the heady scent of cooling ocean air
and new-lit fireplaces,
I taste the parting on my lips.

The sweet has turned
melancholy and even
your last touches, dearest friend,
hands gentle on my sunburned back
applying aloe, and your breath
blowing me cool,
the memory of that
does not assuage this
sense of loss as sun leaves early
and I'm left behind
in the dimming of
the reds, the aqua, purples, blues
abbreviated days.

- Rosalind Brenner

COMING HOME

Red Riding Hood
22.75 x 15"
Oil Ink Monotype on Paper

Coming Home

Because last night as we drove home we talked
to keep my husband's eyes from glazing at the wheel,

because when we arrived the air inside
was washed with fresh cooked applesauce

from apples growing in our orchard —
Because of the lesson the monk taught

about the fifth perfection: concentration, harmony,
stability, and my studio looks as if my mind

has spilled onto the floor, I woke today, intention to begin
to scoop up the pieces. I brewed coffee and noted the sky

is overflowing, violet in the angle of the sun.
Swaying trees are turning toward the changing season,

leaves will soon be crunching underfoot.
Everything I think I know

in this new moment becomes a need to write:
my go-to temporary relief from angst —

Because of all this

I grant myself another chance to practice till I get
the fifth perfection right and move on to the sixth —

but first I stare
into the refrigerator
and fix myself
a bowl of homemade applesauce.

- Rosalind Brenner

Detail
Red Riding Hood
22.75 x 15"
Oil Ink Monotype on Paper

Art House Serendipity

 

Summer
Acrylic on Canvas
24 x 24"

We are enjoying the summer here at Art House. We have this great thing that happens frequently I want to tell you about. More often than one can imagine, two couples from opposite sides of the country or planet will be enjoying a leisurely breakfast feast in our garden and will discover that they have mutual friends, or went to school together, or that they have similar challenges, maybe children who have reading disabilities or other problems, or that they were all at the same wedding of a friend or cousin. This week we had two guests who had never met before, both of whose fathers fought in the resistance in Vilnius, Lithuania in World War 2. One of their fathers was 12 years old and the other was 15.

The Art House breakfast lasted for hours, as it often does, folks talking, embracing, sharing.

We make magic here. It's quite uncanny. The camaraderie and tranquility serve up great helpings of ease, luxury and comfort that make our guests so happy. And of course, being able to provide all of this makes us happy too. That's what it is about.

Detail
Summer
Acrylic on Canvas
24 x 24"

Detail
Summer
Acrylic on Canvas
24 x 24"

Out of the Mouths of Babes

 

Mother and Child
Monotype on Paper
15 x 12"

This month I am quoting my son who quotes his five-year old son, my grandson, because I wouldn't be able to say this any better:

"The boy gets deep from time to time, but this came after a hard climb - a steep and slippery half mile to the summit above L.A.'s famous Eagle Rock. Otto has been feeling a little blue about coming in last in the school foot race this year - he was the shortest kid in the entire school - and the seemingly-endless laps around the schoolyard weren't his forte. But on the hill, after tumbling a few times, losing his footing, getting a couple of "ouchies", he said: 'You don't need to be fast to climb mountains. You need to be slow so you can do it right and see everything. And it was scary. I kept thinking I needed candy to help me, but then I realized all I really had to do was face my fears.'

Then, at the bottom, with a handful of buckthorn, a few rocks in his pockets, as he pulled nettles from his socks - all in a conveniently placed chair - he said:

'Mother Nature is everything. She's the plants and the trees, she's everything that ever happened, and everything forever. She's people, even if people don't always know it. She didn't make us. She is us.'

That's facing your fears, I'd say, and overcoming them."

Where do these gems come from? Who knows? How do talents and wisdom arise in children? Yes, for those who are fortunate, it can come from their good parents, good education, happy environment. But often, it seems, in spite of a troubled world, out of unfathomable mystery comes a glimpse of what we humans are capable of, something that must be in all of us.

The Planet and All Humans Need Love

Gaia - Troubled by What We Do To Her
Acrylic on Canvas, 24x18"

 

Why I'm Afraid

Because the world is gone

Because the pebble rain stops falling
and landscapes burn

Because the air might disappear

What if the geese had no home to return to
what then

what now

What is left for us to imagine when
we have made this reality

unimaginable

- Rosalind Brenner, from her book Omega's Garden

 

My paintings are, for the most part, uplifting, and my poems are dark a lot of the time. Aren't we all capable of both joy and despair? If I catch myself feeling those highs and lows I chalk it up to self-absorption. I'm certainly not being grateful at down moments. Yes, I am grateful when I get glimpses of all the amazing people and things in my life, but when I look at what's happening in the world, I want to stop looking, not see it. What can I actually do?

On the way home from running around the village, buying goodies for my guests, it is morning, before traffic begins to pack the streets. I am listening to Diane Rehm's NPR radio show as I move in and out of the car. The first hour is about chemicals, something like 100,000, in our air, our water, our food, in us, in our babies, seemingly because of lack of regulation, indifference and big money interests. Some we produce and distribute on purpose, we humans, and some are accidental and toxic by-products of our inventions. At one point I hear one of the speakers say that some chemicals do good, but that percentage is very small.

In the second hour, Ms Rehm's guests discuss the Boreal Forest Fire in Canada that forced 88,000 people from their homes. Forest fires can be started by lightning or man. Guess which one is the most responsible? The conversation illustrates how forest wildfires lead to climate change which leads to forest wildfires, and so on until we've done our planet in.

My father said long ago when he first heard of plastic that it would ruin the world. Of course he was an ordinary man and could not foresee the good that could come of plastic. And chemicals? Not on his radar, most of them unknown. But now, if he were here, I'll bet he'd be crying, sentimental man that he was. The inadvertent consequences of our fast-track "progress" have gone way beyond the waste that plastics produce.

So what can I do? I too am ordinary. I can start delivering food to elderly folks in my neighborhood. I can be hospitable in my inn. I can welcome all who come through my door. I can make art.

But the greater question of what to do requires looking at the big picture. And that picture turns me inward to the only thing I can improve. And that's my mind. That is, to do the work required to develop a true mind of compassion, to strip the layers of self-cherishing that make me think my own personal suffering is the worst of all while our planet itself is suffering, and thus, all of us are. We inflict the pain. We are our own victims. Predator and prey. And now this: Orlando.

This is said so well by my son, Dan Koeppel (who is a wonderful writer,) on his recent Facebook post about Orlando. (How horrible that these tragedies start to define our cities.):

"I believe in love and I believe that all human beings need love, deserve love, and are capable of love. All these poor kids were seeking was love, and they were murdered for it. So what do we do? Fight? Give in to the various flavors of hate and blame that are being sold to us (and there's a flavor for everyone; hate works that way, customizing itself so it can sneak into your heart.) Or do we double down on love, and cope with the heartbreak - such heartbreak - and it seems to happen more and more. That increasing the stakes that way turns out to have yielded a losing hand. Again."

More thoughts on the tragedy of the way we treat each other:

The only way to change what seems inevitable is for all of us to change our minds, mind our footprints, our behaviors. This takes vigilance and practice. This takes remembering to care, even in challenging situations, especially in challenging situations, even beyond caring for the people close to us. We can only change the world by changing the way we think. Stop being so damned selfish about our own little worlds. Stop the guns. Stop the money worship that fosters evil. Big picture, one frame at a time.

 

The Writing on the Wall

I found a 1987 magazine named "Woman of Power" tucked among the old paintings, papers and piled up journals in my studio crawl-space. The picture I have posted here got me thinking, ( again; still ) about the way women are treated all over our world. From disrespect to outright abuse and everything in-between, it's all degrees of the same affliction. Cruelty, greed for power, fundamentalism, self-grasping. Would it be the same world if women had the same rights, and equal voices to men? Surely not. What if we experimented with a new idea? A paradigm shift that breaks away from the values that hold us down, trapped in patterns that are at best destructive and at worst tyrannical and brutal.

                                                                            Woman of Power Magazine, Spring 1987, Issue 6, Page 6

Last night, listening to NPR, I was moved by the story of Maria Toorpakay, the Pakistani champion squash player who, with her brave father and mother's approval and help, dressed as a boy in the Taliban-infested area of Peshawar's tribal lands in order to be able to play outside and compete in sports. She won medals in weight-lifting and ultimately, mastery in Squash. You go, girl, I thought, as I remembered my sister's and my own athletic abilities being frowned on when we were kids. But this is America and at least there's change. Slow, but change.

I am heartened by young women I know. They are smart and aware. They are seekers and their lives are filled with choices. They are lucky. Not so in many, many parts of the planet. Not so in 1985 in Nicaragua.

  Woman of Power Magazine , Spring 1987, Issue 6

Woman of Power Magazine, Spring 1987, Issue 6