In the Open: A Poem

“In the Open,” is a poem written about a year ago in this new and hopeful

era of #MeToo. A time when people were asking abused women why they did not come

forward earlier. I remembered two serious attacks in my youth and all the death by 1000

cuts experienced as a pretty young woman growing up in a time when women’s roles were

relegated to wife, mother, nurse, teacher. I remembered my own mother’s story of being

molested at the age of 14. She suffered her own silence as did her mother before her.

The poem expresses these thoughts and feelings and seems most pertinent at this particular

moment in our country’s history. Will men and women ever reach the higher purpose of

compassion and mutual understanding? Will there always be victimization and cowardice?

In the Open

The frayed curtain reveals its weft.
Among the tatters,
long hidden under layers
that weave a life,
shame and silence
cloaked in the fabric of time.
This buried injury has risen.

An unmasked cache of memories
pokes at me the way men did.
Even then I knew
how pretty, pretty
was a synonym for dread,
a snare for rape.
Unwelcome touch, jeering catcalls,
men’s fingers pressed open against
their lips, tongues out or worse,
unwelcome hands, unwelcome kisses,
spittle forced into my mouth. 

How dare you ask the question,
Why didn’t you say something?
Who? My ravaged mother?
The police? They were men too
who looked at me like food.

Beauty was a curse,
youth, a terrifying alley.
Monsters lurked.

Beware my pretty pretty girls and boys.
The fiend still tracks you down, no longer needs
a hiding place. He festers, out of the shadows.

Gerard Drive Bike Ride

A poem to celebrate the summer. Gerard Drive is not far from Art House and bicycles are always available to our guests.

GERARD DRIVE BIKE RIDE

The gulls, dining on seafood,
litter my path—
    fragments of shells,
  clams,
    whelk,
          an occasional
    crab leg

the road a banquet table
and I an uninvited guest
on my bicycle.

They scatter as I approach.
Some fly, grip their booty in their beaks
as if it were the last supper.
The braver ones
skew their tiny bobbing  heads,
look at me, offended,
drop their hard-won hapless bit of meat
and saunter off.

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.