by Traci L. Slatton
My hat warned of twisting postures
an old rag, really, but after a quarter century
imbued with my fondness.
It was suddenly gone, vanished
as if it had never been yet it was
full of my cranium, and my hair, and various
dreams that had rattled through while it wore me
A pair of sunglasses featured
in favorite photos, me kissing my little daughter
growing in front of my eyes
asking to board away at a distant school
next to my friend the blonde Countess
she of evanescent visits
All that is
even my yoga
studio closed, the community
and the classes I enjoyed
the shala of my heart
a pair of suede boots my husband bought me. Will I ever find
all that is
like the close touch of a mate who has shed
over another woman,
younger than me,
and that faith misplaced
along with haberdashery and footwear and other
miscellany, even people.
Another warrior, a longer dog, a deeper backbend
to open my heart.
I move through until the body trembles denying
It is loss that is union.
I have been reading Rumi.
I do this whenever I am heartsick, soulsick. Usually it’s for something I can’t identify, though there’s always some exterior thing like a convenient hook to hang it on: my dog bit my little one and had to be surrendered; my 14-year-old told me a great big whopper; my in-laws have rejected their own grand-daughter and disinherited my husband as a means to communicating their supreme dislike of me; my husband is cranky with exhaustion and overwork and a long string of fourteen hour days; the publishing industry is in a stupid place, and largely, in my view, because publishers publish the same damn crap rather than searching out interesting work, and then they wonder why people don’t want to buy it; our financial situation is fraught, as is our situation with our two former spouses…. There’s no end to people and matters that will serve as an excuse. Rumi says, “Everyone chooses a suffering that will change him or her to a well-baked loaf.”
But I think that is preferable to avoiding the suffering, and failing to rise. That happens, too.
So there is all this stuff amenable to being blamed for my anguish, not to mention that it is that time of the month. But is the body or its relationships or its contexts really the reason for this melancholy seeking without an end?
Yesterday this poem of Rumi’s manifest itself to me, in a moment of bibliomancy, or at least I like to think that the Divine was smiling wryly at all my flailing about, and granted me this mouthful of grace.
Coleman Barks calls it THE MOST ALIVE MOMENT:
(THE SOUL OF RUMI, translations by Coleman Barks.)
I cried after I read it. I found excuses to cry all day. It’s something I rarely do. And then my husband showed me this photo on his iPhone of his Apollo’s outstretched arm. Even in process, it was beautiful: gesture and form, a supreme example of artistry. I cried some more, alone, in my bathroom, so no one knew I was being so silly. And I remembered why this man, this life, this set of choices that has led to this moment in all its bittersweet, empty fullness.
I don’t understand
Let me start by saying that I am a woman, a Jew, and a New Yorker, so I don’t have a good opinion of radical fundamentalist Islamists.
In my mind, the enslavement and mutilation of women that is institutionalized under radical, fundamentalist Islam is one of the greatest human rights crimes in history, alongside the slaughters of the Holocaust and Rwanda, and African slavery. It isn’t okay to maim and oppress women just because an interpretation of some holy book says it is. I have some strong feelings about the institutionalized misogyny of orthodox Judaism and the Roman Catholic church, also. Not okay.
So I am already biased. I stood on top of my husband’s parents’ building on west 66th street on September 11, 2001 and watched the column of black and brown smoke that was once the World Trade centers. I knew people who survived, had friends who barely missed being down there because they stayed with their kids in class on that first week of school, and knew of students who lost parents at my children’s school.
So I have some questions about why the world is blaming Israel for the Gaza war. If Mexico were continually lobbing missiles at the US, would we stand for it? If a group of Basque Separatists were firing rockets at France all the time, literally thousands of rockets, would France really say, “Oh, gee, merci beaucoup?” What if Turkey faced a daily ration of rockets from Cyprus?
Or is there just a subtext of anti-Semitism in all this nasty world criticism? Is it just that Israel isn’t supposed to defend itself?
Why isn’t the world more critical of Hamas for using ordinary people as human shields? Why is that okay, but it’s not okay for Israel to put an end to continual bombardment and threat?
If Hamas doesn’t want the war, it seems to me, they are in a position to stop it: by not firing missiles at Israel. If Hamas doesn’t want ordinary people to be hurt–and it is deeply painful to see all the images of bloody children and wailing women that the world press delights in running–then why doesn’t Hamas stop using civilian locations as military positions?
Hamas bears the responsibility for this war: Hamas has relentlessly baited and attacked Israel and then done the sleaziest trick imaginable by hiding behind innocent children and women. Hamas does not have a right to fire rockets at Israel, just like Mexico doesn’t have the right to do that to the US, Spain doesn’t have the right to do that to France, and Cyprus doesn’t have the right to do that to Turkey.
I have dared to voice a criticism against radical Islamism. Because radical, fundamentalist Islamists are the bullies of the world, I have to wonder, am I safe for daring to ask these questions? Look what was done to Theo Van Gogh.
And for those who will probably want to label me as rascist, I would ask you to read Irshad Manji’s essay in Newsweek (“Special Edition Issues 2009”) about helping the Muslim world by giving micro-loans to Muslim women to start businesses. I support this and would agree to a special tax–say everyone in the US making over $20,000 pays between $20 and $200 for a special fund just for this purpose alone. Empower the women, and the religion will take on a more tolerant, modern-age-friendly shape: a shape that we can all live with in peace.
It isn’t women who promote constant firing at another country.
So much has been written about Florence that I find myself intimidated… Also, I can’t figure out how to post a picture using my iPad. The little critter is great to travel with, but its functionality, hmm.
So yesterday I stood in the National Museum of the Bargello and quivered. Michelangelo’s Dionysus, Giambologna’s Mercury. A few Bernini pieces. Giambologna’s Oceanus, which I liked much more than his jokey, overexposed Mercury–though I will say that the Mercury in its three-dimensional concrete presence is much more beautiful and powerful than FTD gives it credit for. And isn’t that just the quality of sculpture that makes it so compelling: its presence, the way you bring yourself to it, take a breath, and be here now. And do you know, they are showing Leonardo’s St John the Baptist at the Bargello?! There is another piece of art whose beauty and mastery demand that the viewer shows up and be present.
I am a few minutes from jaunting off to the Uffizi, where I will be ravished by Botticelli! Later today to Santa Croce for the Giotto frescoes. Maybe I will have time to track down the Michelangelo crucifix which, with its elongated physique, is so different from the rest of his work, which shows always the stress and compression of powerful downward anxiety and anguish.
The day really started the night before, at the most delicious restaurant il Santo Bevitore, just over the Ponte alla Carraia, which served the most beautiful glass of Brunello di Monticino. It was dry, round, smooth, rich, luscious–everything wine, like life, should be and seldom is. Last night I had a wonderful meal at the restaurant Buca Mario. I almost left because of a group of 26 American tourists swarming ahead of me, but I hung in there, and I am so glad I did! And I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful Hotel Albergotto, where they are incredibly pleasant and helpful and my room has a large bathroom.
Pictures to come later…
The Newington-Cropsey Cultural Center Foundation held its annual award dinner last night. My husband Sabin and I are friendly with the ineluctable Jim Cooper, as we all share the same taste in art–real art, the kind that takes skill, talent, education, hard work, and an actual aesthetic to develop. Slow art, art that has meaning. Art that is beautiful to behold.
My husband Sabin Howard has been getting a lot of press lately because of the World War I Memorial. Here are some recent Sabin Howard articles, podcasts & videos.
The Wall Street Journal ran a terrific article about him entitled “Conveying Horror and Heroism for World War I Memorial.” If you click here and hit the WSJ paywall, then google “horror and heroism Sabin Howard” and you can get into the full story from the google result. Weird process, but it works.
The article discusses Sabin’s process in his studio, where he photographs models in WW1 uniforms with his iPhone.
You can download the PDf of the article here.
Sabin also got some coverage from News12 The Bronx. A young reporter came to his studio and filmed for two hours. Here’s the brief “Best of the Bronx” Clip and the Extended Interview:
Finally, here’s a podcast that’s pretty good, from the Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists.