What a pleasure for UD, on this quiet Sunday (in bed, recovering from bronchitis), to follow, in the wake of Dorothea Tanning’s death, her life. What a pleasure, having just returned from that same landscape, to bask in photographs of Tanning and her husband Max Ernst in surrealistic Sedona.

The iconic artist’s life – how strong its pull. How one wants to be there – in the house they built beside the hills, or in the squatter’s shack on the British Columbia coast where Malcolm Lowry lived with his wife and wrote Under the Volcano…

Creative intensity and beauty and freedom – it’s all there in the photographs: the ocean, and the hills like white elephants, shining in the background.

Tanning lived for more than a century and had time to reflect on the artist’s life.

********************************

Sequestrienne


Don’t look at me
for answers. Who am I but
a sobriquet,
a teeth-grinder,
grinder of color,
and vanishing point?

There was a time
of middle distance, unforgettable,
a sort of lace-cut
flame-green filament
to ravish my
skin-tight eyes.

I take that back—
it was forgettable but not
entirely if you
consider my
heavenly bodies . . .
I loved them so.

Heaven’s motes sift
to salt-white — paint is ground
to silence; and I,
I am bound, unquiet,
a shade of blue
in the studio.

If it isn’t too late
let me waste one day away
from my history.
Let me see without
looking inside
at broken glass.

************************************************

The brilliant portmanteau title – sequestrienne. The famous artist’s semi-famous widow is sought after in her elderly semi-sequestered life, consulted for her wisdom about iconic times. She rides – an equestrienne – those times, rides them in memory, mounts them, relives them for herself and for those who come to her and want her to cover that territory again. But she begins her poem with a warning:

Don’t look at me
for answers. Who am I but
a sobriquet,
a teeth-grinder,
grinder of color,
and vanishing point?

I’m just wife-of, after all. Just an old woman who grinds her teeth at night and grinds her paints as she still tries to paint, even as her life vanishes. Why assume I have any wisdom? I’m still caught up, in my very latter days, in the daily grind, the ongoing anxious business of trying to understand, and trying to create.

There was a time
of middle distance, unforgettable,
a sort of lace-cut
flame-green filament
to ravish my
skin-tight eyes.

What I can tell you is that there was this past, this undeniable, authentic stretch of time during which I was alive in every conceivable way: erotically, aesthetically. That sharp green incandescent stem – it was actually there, the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, as one of Tanning’s Sedona guests put it. It ravished me, and I saw the world as one great true thing, not as fragments.

I take that back—
it was forgettable but not
entirely if you
consider my
heavenly bodies . . .
I loved them so.

My love keeps that sense of fulfillment – full-filament – from disintegrating entirely; I’ve tried to keep the bodies of my loved ones aloft in the heavens.

Heaven’s motes sift
to salt-white — paint is ground
to silence; and I,
I am bound, unquiet,
a shade of blue
in the studio.

Yet everything reduces and sifts down and fragments. My beloved becomes a mote, fading to the salt-white of death, just as our paintings eventually withdraw into silence. Only I, still alive, remain in the studio, restless, anxious, earthly blue, sadly blue.

If it isn’t too late
let me waste one day away
from my history.
Let me see without
looking inside
at broken glass.

Let me sequester myself away, let me ride away, from history, from the temporal realm with its incoherences and failures and anxieties, and yes, from its mystifications, with which you come to me, wife-of, expecting wisdom. Let me lose this self-consciousness, this always looking inside, this play with fragments. Give me a clear day and no memories.


A Clear Day and No Memories

No soldiers in the scenery,
No thoughts of people now dead,
As they were fifty years ago,
Young and living in a live air,
Young and walking in the sunshine,
Bending in blue dresses to touch something,
Today the mind is not part of the weather.

Today the air is clear of everything.
It has no knowledge except of nothingness
And it flows over us without meanings,
As if none of us had ever been here before
And are not now: in this shallow spectacle,
This invisible activity, this sense.

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One Response to ““In Sedona, at a time before it became a popular destination, they confronted lizards, scorpions and snakes and basked in the town’s ‘landscape of wild fantasy,’ as she wrote in her autobiography.””

  1. Nellie in NZ Says:

    Thank you for this. It put me in the mind of Emily Carr – an artist and her place. Her autobiography is worth finding and her paintings immense, wonder-struck of that particular British Columbia.

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