what the art books don’t tell me…

A few months ago, Mom told me she finally got rid of Dad’s old books.

Well, given the way I reacted – with horror and crushing disappointment – she fished them out of the recycling bin and gave them to me.

I flip through Dad’s gorgeous art books time to time, hoping to learn a bit more about him.  I slide the open palm of my hand across the glossy pages of his art books, wondering about the man who looked to these books for inspiration.

Dad was born in 1949 in South Korea. He is the fourth child among seven. His father died in a ferry accident when he was young. Despite his mother’s hard work, they grew up poor, and Dad bounced from one relative’s house to another.  Mom tells me that when he was a young man living with his married elder sister, there was a famous artist who was interested in teaching him. But the family could not afford to support such an opportunity.  So, that was the end of his artistic aspirations.

My family immigrated to the United States in 1989, when Dad was 40 years old. For over ten years, all he did was work. Long 12+ hour work days. In his fifties, he decided to paint again. No training. No classes. At home, he claimed a small space near the sliding doors for natural light. His art stuff spilled into the dining area: paint, canvases, multiple easels, finished and unfinished paintings on the wall, sketches, and stacks of art magazines and books. After long work days, he would spend evenings and late nights painting. He wanted to travel, to see things with his own eyes so that he could paint them. Later on, he even bought a fancy camera. But traveling was not a luxury he could afford.  So usually he turned to magazines and art books to find his muse.

Many times, I would come out of my room in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or to get a drink of water and catch glimpses of him, sitting in the dark except for the lamp shining on his canvas. A glass of scotch in his hand. Neat.

This is the image of Dad I cling to. From that man sitting in the dark, I learned what it means to have passion, to have creativity inside you that needs expression.  And this is the image that I recall when I read birthday cards and letters he wrote to me – always encouraging me to live a full life, to live a life without regret, to live this one life with everything I’ve got. He was also a bit of a poet – and his cards and letters were never ordinary. They were written in beautiful handwriting, always with a flair of poetry.

On my 19th birthday, he warned me that there’s nothing sadder than existing neither here nor there, in a state neither this nor that. He told me to make decisions carefully and to act upon them with passion. He reminded me, “Your life is all yours. All of it.”

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Dad himself found inspiration in Claude Monet. And the art books reflect this inspiration: Monet and the Mediterranean, Monet’s Giverny, The Garden of Claude Monet, and simply Claude Monet.  He didn’t paint in the style of impressionism. Nonetheless, now I can see the resemblance in the brush strokes and of course his love of painting nature. Like Monet – or perhaps because of Monet – he was interested in painting waterlilies. Later on, he became very focused on painting water falling over rocks.  He said it was challenging – getting the strokes just right to represent the motion of water falling over the hardness of rocks.

I wish I had taken the time to ask him more about his art. I wish I had asked him, What makes you paint? Why water lilies?  Why waterfalls? Why Monet? Are you happy? If you could do it all over again, what would you do?

These are questions that these beautiful art books do not answer for me.  They are not telling me as much as I want to know. Still, I turn to them, as if a response will emerge and I will know a bit more about the man who was and always will be my inspiration to live a life of passion, compassion, faith, love, and optimism.

Poetry Day 30 – in my own words

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On the last day of the National Poetry Month, I am sharing something I wrote a couple of years ago and have been tinkering with since then.  I have never claimed to be a poet and I won’t start doing it now.  Just seems right to share this on the last day of a 30-day challenge of reading, watching, listening to, talking about and thinking about poems of others.

The Persimmon Tree

1

In the sloped backyard

Under the unforgiving July sun

The tree yields fruit

Smallish and green

Quite feeble –

She says over and over

“It’s too soon” –

They never make it to the

Size or color

Worthy of the ceremonies

She must now observe in

October

This new kind of October –

Because it’s not their time

Because it’s their time

They fall

Unceremoniously –

And this leaves her yearning

Disappointed

Even guilty

Though she doesn’t know

What she could have done

What could she have done? –

2

This new kind of October approaches

Again for the third time – she

Keeps sorrow at arm’s length

With her attention on the ceremonies –

She prepares the fish

just the way he likes it – the fruit

just the way tradition demands – the  photograph

just the way he used to be – the smile of Buddha

3

For the man who left

Three Octobers ago

When October was just October –

He seems to leave again and again

Each October

Though he had not fulfilled his destiny –

Because he had fulfilled his destiny

4

Quite unexpectedly

As the finishing touches

Grace the ceremonial preparations

The tree yields fruit –

Quite unexpectedly

Again – this time to grow large

Turning from vibrant green

To warm, mature orange –

Just in time she plucks the fruit

Stacks first three

One on top –

When the white smoke rises

She pours a drink

Which she will later empty into a bowl –

And for this gift of grace

Of the persimmon fruit –

She kneels

Bows her head

Folds her hands together in prayer

Of thanks

5

If this be October – and the fruit bears again

She just might make it to another October

And another October

And another October

And maybe even another

———————————————-

Laura Yoo

October 27, 2013

Poetry Day 29 – “Kindness” by Yusef Komunyakaa

                When deeds splay before us
precious as gold & unused chances
stripped from the whine-bone,
we know the moment kindheartedness
walks in. Each praise be
echoes us back as the years uncount
themselves, eating salt. Though blood
first shaped us on the climbing wheel,
the human mind lit by the savanna’s
ice star & thistle rose,
your knowing gaze enters a room
& opens the day,
saying we were made for fun.
Even the bedazzled brute knows
when sunlight falls through leaves
across honed knives on the table.
If we can see it push shadows
aside, growing closer, are we less
broken? A barometer, temperature
gauge, a ruler in minus fractions
& pedigrees, a thingmajig,
a probe with an all-seeing eye,
what do we need to measure
kindness, every unheld breath,
every unkind leapyear?
Sometimes a sober voice is enough
to calm the waters & drive away
the false witnesses, saying, Look,
here are the broken treaties Beauty
brought to us earthbound sentinels.

Poetry Day 28 – “Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall

(On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)

“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”
“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”
She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.
The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.
For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.
She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”

Poetry Day 27 – Walt Whitman’s “The Great City”

For Baltimore –

The Great City

by Walt Whitman (1819-1892)

The place where a great city stands is not the place of stretch’d wharves, docks, manufactures, deposits of produce merely,
Nor the place of ceaseless salutes of new-comers or the anchor-lifters of the departing,
Nor the place of the tallest and costliest buildings or shops selling goods from the rest of the earth,
Nor the place of the best libraries and schools, nor the place where money is plentiest,
Nor the place of the most numerous population.

Where the city stands with the brawniest breed of orators and bards,
Where the city stands that is belov’d by these, and loves them in return and understands them,
Where no monuments exist to heroes but in the common words and deeds,
Where thrift is in its place, and prudence is in its place,
Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,
Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,
Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons,
Where fierce men and women pour forth as the sea to the whistle of death pours its sweeping and unript waves,

Where outside authority enters always after the precedence of inside authority,
Where the citizen is always the head and ideal, and President, Mayor, Governor and what not, are agents for pay,
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on themselves,
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,
Where speculations on the soul are encouraged,
Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men,
Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men;
Where the city of the faithfulest friends stands,
Where the city of the cleanliness of the sexes stands,
Where the city of the healthiest fathers stands,
Where the city of the best-bodied mothers stands,
There the great city stands.

Dominique Morisseau’s SUNSET BABY – A Special Presentation with Discussion/Discount

HoCoPoLitSo

SunsetBabyAdA unique one-night only special presentation of Dominique Morisseau’s Sunset Baby, engaging and connecting Howard County and Baltimore audiences, will be presented at 8:00 p.m. Friday, May 15th, 2015, Smith Theatre, Horowitz Center, Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, Md 21044. SPECIAL 2-FOR-1 tickets are available at http://www.repstage.org/Productions/sunsetbaby/ using code: HOCO. General Admission is $40.00. This program, presented in partnership with the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), Rep Stage and Center Stage, is made possible by an Outreach Grant from the Howard County Arts Council through Howard County government.

The Guardian calls the play, “Smart, entertaining and moving as it grapples with the tensions between past and present while asking penetrating questions about the nature of liberation Morisseau’s script, sings with intelligence.” Morisseau, who received the Kennedy Prize for Drama in 2014, is a playwright and actress. Her literary work…

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Poetry Day 26 – “Incident” in Baltimore

Incident
by Countee Cullen

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”

I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.