J_Litaker

Every Picture Tells a Story

Mother and Child, James Litaker

Back in 2010 I had the pleasure of participating in an art exhibition premised on the Greek notion of ekphrasis,which is essentially a written representation of a piece of art, a response of sorts. Stare at a picture long enough and a story may well take shape. If not a story, then a poem maybe. Representational or abstract, a piece of art can strike an emotional chord. Memories are jarred. Images become words, which in turn become images all their own.

No Moment Will Ever Be like This One

after James Litaker

Ouch! says the girl, to herself. If she complains, her mother will only pull harder, hurting her more. It’s the nature of the comb, her mother will say. Something to be endured. Just for once she wishes her mother would let her go to school with her hair loose. A classroom is no place for unruly hair, her mother will say.

Already nine and hungering to be nineteen, says the mother, to herself. She runs her fingers through strands of her daughter’s hair, a soft tangle that reminds her of nothing so much as the swift passage of time. The more impatient her daughter seems, the more the mother is inclined to slow down, teach her a lesson about beauty, the kind that comes with precision, the rhythmic comb and weave, comb and weave of a perfect braid. Now she stops, just to savor the moment. To the girl this feels like punishment, maybe even torture, a braid that gets longer with each twist. To the mother it is a kind of release, a morning ritual that gets her through the day, each and every one the same, with its hopes for her daughter, maybe a teacher or a secretary or a beautician; anything but standing behind the counter of a delicatessen, dishing out macaroni salad or ladling soup into a container, slapping slices of turkey or ham onto bread slathered with mayonnaise or mustard, sometimes both. She feels like a surgeon, cutting through the bread. There is nothing so unnatural as making sandwiches through a filter of latex.

She picks up the pace again, comb and weave, comb and weave. Pictures her daughter at nineteen, braids gone, hair cascading to her shoulders.

Sherondas

Secret Circles

I learned recently that the moon wobbles. Observing a simulation of that rocking motion – libration, it’s called – via a NASA app on my iPad is a cheap thrill indeed. Connecting this mottled image in my hand with the glorious, full orb in the sky tonight is a stretch . . . .and yet.

I can’t say whether the moon in my hand is in collusion with the moon in the sky, but I can say I feel wired, jittery. Wobbly. The sense of time passing grounds me.  The possibility that so  much still lies ahead lifts me.  I loved coming of age in the Sixties, for all the personal and political strife it presented. I am now in my sixties, the full moon coinciding (give or take a day) with my birthday this year. Next year, astrologically speaking, may be a big one: 12/12/12.

You Reading This, Be Ready . . .  A poem by William Stafford  would be welcome any day of the year,  but I take the timing of this one’s appearance personally, a gift as mysterious as the moon itself, with its reminder of waxing and waning and, yes, wobbling.

Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?

My understanding of the phenomenon dubbed moon wobble is that the face I see in the sky tonight is ever-so-slightly different from what I saw yesterday or what I’ll see tomorrow.  Of course, this is not visible to the naked eye. What ever is?

A few weeks ago I sat across a table in a light-filled NYC restaurant, looking into the face of my longest, dearest friend. BFF, yes, even before (and without) the short-hand.  Sure, we both look (a little) older, but the smile I always recall when I think of her, the one that taps at a heart as golden as it gets (and gives), has not changed.  We talked as if we had seen each yesterday, not  years ago, when she relinquished to me that cherished volume,  ‘The Sherondas.’  Inside the pages, a little fragile now, is a weekly record of our club meetings. We collected dues. We argued. We planned parties.  We watched “American Bandstand.” We cried about boys. We were preteens caught up in the music of those great girl groups. It’s hardly a stretch to hear echoes of the Shirelles in the circle we became, the letters of each of our names strung together to form the Sherondas circa 1961.  My stint as recording secretary would never lead me to believe I had the stuff real writers are made of : “We were eating and eating till we decided we needed some good, rude arguments.” Then again, it wasn’t my job to comment, just record, though each of us, in turn, did manage to bring a little of her own flavor to the minutes, my BFF the most spirited of all.  We let the memories roll as we sipped our drinks and nibbled on food.  I handed her the treasured record of a very innocent time. She wants to share it with her daughter, recently married. She plans to make two laminated copies, one for each of us. The information it would retain, for someone’s future curiosity, is less important than the fact of its existence.

My daughter, it so happens, works on a TV show about a group of teen witches, “The Secret Circle.” Innocence may not be what it once was, and, yes, birthdays have a way of making me feel “captive on that carousel of time.” And, whether or not Marlo Morgan’s account of her walkabout in Australia, Mutant Message Down Under, was a hoax, one lasting impression it made on me was the suggestion that the nomadic Aboriginals she wrote about do not celebrate getting older each year. “We celebrate if we are a better, wiser person this year than last.”