"Outside, a sudden wind
scatters the memory
of summer birds.
Your words seek
a similar departure
but the leaf of my heart
does not let go"
When I was teaching art in the public schools, I worked on a series based on images drawn by my young students. The expressive qualities - eliminating realism's details and expressing the essence of things - inherent in their images still attracts me. One of the pieces from this series, In the Forgotten Garden, is a call to remember a child’s way of sensing and being. When poet Mobi Warren first contacted me to request permission to use this image for the cover of her new book, Thread and Nectar, I was elated. What was in the visuals of In the Forgotten Garden that made her choose this image? Mobi graciously shared the manuscript with me, even though it has yet to be published.
The chapbook presents 26 poems. Her poems are delivered at an intentionally slow pace. She guides the reader through the steps to unpack the poems. Under her guidance, I carefully removed the ribbons and tape to alleviate damage to the packaging so it can be reused. I peeled away the wrap to expose the contents, delaying the pleasure in order to recapture the experience of surprise with a child's heart.
Mobi is a keen observer of nature. Her love for the natural world is evident in her ability to identify local flora and fauna by name. She goes further to express how they are part of the spaces we see daily but may not have taken the time to know. She employs the body to harvest the riches of our sensual world. The hands, ears, and eyes are all engaged to gather the textures, sounds, and colors from the environment. Hands are rubbing rosaries or worry beads, knitting a shawl or clutching a thermos. Ears are listening to silence, to the voice of a needle through silk, and the murmur of shallow tides. Eyes are seeing "fiery marigolds", peering inside oak galls, examining the blistery tumeric sap of a lightning-struck oak.
A forgotten garden brings to my mind spaces that do not bear the hands of the gardener, so the possibility of finding things that were not intended is high. I recently noticed on the outside corner of the house where I had cast some winecup seeds with a 50-50 chance of survival, they not only have survived, but last year's sproutings had expanded, visually evident in the multiple leaves. As my fingers turned over the leaves I found one seed head that was still intact. My jeweler's loupe allowed me to visually come down to a micro 10x look. Each seed head pivoted around a center point with just a few seeds missing. I was struck how the forms reminded me of the mouths of fledging barn swallows. Monumental qualities in tiny fragments of nature. Mobi encourages these connections. The hands of a friend become the dance of lunar moths. The beating heart of a hummingbird becomes the pecking sound of a pencil racing to put it on paper. Mobi masterfully keeps us in the moment -- to look at our humanness, but equally to consider how non-human lives double back to inform and enrich ours. As an artist, I look for these kinds of connections, to find a deeper understanding of what might be missed when considering only the aesthetic qualities of nature.
Much of a gift's appeal is anticipating its arrival. We will have to be patient. Pre-orders for Thread and Nectar will start in May 2020, and will be delivered in September 2020.
In the meantime, the gift of nature is out there. Take some time to look up between the branches of trees. Perhaps you will see, as I did, the silhouettes of papel picado that are uniquely San Antonio in the negative spaces of the sky.