Which came first…

An ekphrastic poem inspired by The Egg by Susan Doolittle

Which came first…

Who better to guard
the mountains than
Ursa Major?

Great She Bear
mothers over
oak and pine
where Noctua / Owl
keeps watchful eyes on
swayed grasses
grown by Eridanus.
Sister river flows
clean and pure,
sings bubbling songs to
Grus and Vulpecula
crane and little fox —
running nearby

We can almost imagine Aquarius,
great water carrier
divine this lush, verdant sphere,
pour life from a star-crystal pitcher.

But man gives and man takes
hardly in equal measure —

The ghost of Lepus, rabbit,
runs quick from Orion
hunter and destroyer
wondering: is this your Eden before
or our Eden finally after?

Poem ©2020, Jen Payne. Poem presented at the Guilford Poets Guild Fantastic Ekphrastic event at Guilford Art Center, March 1, 2020 in response to its 2020 Student Art Show. IMAGE: The Egg by Susan Doolittle. Susan’s stoneware egg is carved, painted, and glazed with animals, trees, plants, rivers, and oceans. It’s crowning glory is the cobalt blue sky with stars. Throughout the years, there have been hundreds of constellations named in the sky, some with familiar names, some with Latin counterparts, like Ursa Major/great bear, Noctua/owl (noke-tua), Eridanus/river (eri-dah-noose), Grus/crane (g-roose), Vulpecula/Little Fox (ool-peck-oola), Aquarius/water bearer, and Lepus/rabbit (lay-poose) who is said to be chased in the sky by Orion/hunter.

The People

There was a certain simple order to The People. They had a system and a routine, and all of their expectations were so neatly contained within the walls of The House, The School, and The City that I never once wondered what happened behind the scenes or why The Lady never let her hair down. Seeing them all together again — The Lady, The Dog, The Grandma, the Boy with the Pot on His Head — evoked an odd combination of nostalgia and utter despair.

Photo + Musings ©2019, Jen Payne. People collection from Mound Museum, Mind of the Mound exhibit by Trenton Doyle Hancock, MASS MoCA, July 2019.

Just Sit for a While

She’ll sit in this sweet green chair for a while, safe in the knowing that she’s constructed good, strong boundaries. That doors sometimes shut for a reason, and windows stay closed on purpose. There’s plenty of space for more chairs, of course, a sturdy table on which to set the glass of wine, and room to dance, dance, dance, so don’t be too sad. It’s not an empty room, more like a blank slate ready for whatever comes next.

Photo + Musings ©2019, Jen Payne. Photo from MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA.

A Short Riff on Doors

What if, in another life, I was Harold…and I’ve come back now with an affinity for chalk and not purple crayons? Should I knock three times as the door’s come-hither-and-knock tease suggests? Will there be Opportunity on the other side? Or am I, by that very act, Opportunity itself? Then again, I might be Tony, and Dawn’s just on the other side, waiting to belt one out for old time’s sake. One never knows when it comes to doors like this, now does one?

Photo + Musing ©2019, Jen Payne. Photo from MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA.


Here Among the Ruins

An ekphrastic poem based on the painting After the Storm by Silvia Drewery, on view at the Madison Art Society’s Annual Art Exhibit, August 2019.

Oh, sure, I could tell you
what I used to see when
I looked out the window
each morning —

……….that wide expanse of marsh
……….fertile green against blue sky
……….with its apt companion of clouds

……….the ebb and flow
……….and ebb and flow
……….of predictable tides

or what I admired then,
collected on shelves for posterity,
cultivated in my springtime

……….remember the flowers
……….remember the flowers
……….remember the flowers

But that’s all faded now,
the sure and bright palette
of what we thought we knew —

because seasons topple
and crash into each other,
bring storms of change

storms that demand more
than a cursory reach for familiar
than a hope and prayer for perfect

Oh, sure, I could tell you…
I could tell you all of that
or stride straight out of frame.

Let there be cakes!

Cakes, Wayne Thiebaud, 1963, oil on canvas.

Wayne Thiebaud is an American painter widely known for his colorful works depicting commonplace objects—pies, lipsticks, paint cans, ice cream cones, pastries, and hot dogs — as well as for his landscapes and figure paintings. See more of his work here.

Time Flies

In her article 8 Things Most People Take A Lifetime To Learn, Melissa Ricker writes “When doctors tell patients that their time here on earth is nearing an end, a whole string of regrets immediately start flooding into their minds. The life that they had taken for granted is coming to a close, and most people immediately wish they had learned a few key lessons earlier on.”

What are those lessons?

1 – Failures Are Lessons in Disguise
2 – Live in the moment
3 – Live for yourself
4 – Work Hard, But Don’t Work Too Hard
5 – Procrastination Turns You into a Slave
6 – Actions Speak Louder than Words
7 – Kindness Is So Important
8 – Show Gratitude

For more, please read the full article, 8 Things Most People Take A Lifetime To Learn, from A Conscious Rethink, which works to identify the lessons that life tries to teach us about self-growth, self-discovery, and the pursuit of inner tranquillity.

IMAGE: Self Portrait – Time Flies, Frida Kahlo

For Want of a Bowl Garden

Ah, this.
Yes. This is what I need.
A garden of bowls!

Small enough just
to hold the pieces of stories
I hunger to tell you.
The rhythms and rhymes,
etched in fine detail,
their mark-made patterns
like notes to self:
the whats to remember,
the whos and wheres
to scoop from delicate vessels.
These patinaed memories,
complete and incomplete —

holy, one might say —

swaying like blossoms,
await the bee and me
to drink their sweet nectar,
propagate prose or poems.

Yes this, this is what I need.

Thank you!

Poem ©2019, Jen Payne. An ekphrastic poem read at a Guilford Poets Guild event. Inspired by Linda Edwards’ sculpture Bowl Garden (pictured) at the Guilford Art Center 2019 Faculty Exhibition.