X is for X-Acto knife

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

My mother disliked cutting mats more than almost anything except vacuuming and cutting glass. In the late 1980s and early 1990s my grandmother lived two doors down in Alexandria, Virginia. My mother took over part of the basement for matting, glass cutting and framing. Times right before shows included complaints about cutting mats and glass, her saying that she didn’t have enough things framed (though she always did) and at least one piece of glass broke. The X-Acto knife was the tool for mat cutting at that time. My mother usually cut herself at least once for each show. She was particularly annoyed if she bled on the freshly cut mat or the painting or etching.

Hanging the show involves a lot of time out words as well, but she would get excited once it was hung. Then it was time for dress up. Shows were a command performance: my sister and I were to go as well. We dressed up and talked to people politely and ate the strawberries when my mother was not looking. The opening of the show would include food and usually wine. In small glasses. And no, we weren’t allowed to have any. We had to look at the art and be polite to adults.

The photograph today is another of my poems with my mother’s etching. And look, she has avoided cutting a mat. She bought special frames, with two slots. One holds the glass. The second holds the mat with the mounted etching. If the glass rests on the etching, it can ruin it. She mounted all of our ten prints and poems this way. Clever artist and they look wonderful.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #Christine Robbins Ottaway #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

talking about silence

we are talking about silence
yours deliberate
you don’t want people to know
how you make your money

you are angry, I notice
at how people treat you
you are a self made man
with a lot of money

I don’t much care
about your money
happy for you
& etc

I am more interested in silence
I go silent in Kindergarten
because I am too weird
have no tv
and want to sing

I do not bother to lie
because people don’t listen anyhow
and they don’t believe me

I listen, you say
I read everything you send me

That is not enough, I think
I don’t say it
I think about saying it
I don’t say it

I stopped sending you my poems
months ago
when you got angry
I asked if you would respond
something
a positive
a negative
even just “Read it.”
I don’t understand
why you got angry
and I am not scared
so much as surprised

I guess you brook no criticism
ever
I wonder why you must be perfect
seems tiring to me
at any rate
I am not sending you any poems
any more
since then

you could read my blog
I post some there
selected ones
unexceptional
less personal
though I suppose you could still
be angry

you say you know I am angry
when I go silent

I go silent, thinking about that

you are right that there is anger there in the room with us
you sense it
it is yours, not mine
the bear chained in the dungeon
roaring

poor bear
I send it love
and it is crying
bitter tears
wet and cold
in a pool of tears
I can’t free it
only you can

for a moment you are aware
that I am silent about my poems
then you slam the dungeon door again
and talk about guns and science
and what you will do next

and what you will do next
with your bear
and without me

___________________

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: distorted.

N is for Normal.

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

My family was not Normal. No, no, not normal. I don’t think anyone is normal, really. In clinic one year I think, wow, all of my people are SO interesting. Why am I so lucky to have all of these wonderful people? And then I think: OH. Everyone is interesting. No one is “normal”. They may try really hard to pass for normal. I certainly had MY work cut out. And why is that, you say. I am so glad you asked that question!

My parents were both obsessed. My mother was obsessed with art. With music, a secondary joy. My father was all about music. Mathematics and language was his secondary joy. By age nine I discover poetry and that is it for me. That is the be all end all. I am so obsessed that I am amazed at age 40 when I make a discovery: poetry is not it for everyone.

I am fired by the hospital for fighting a clinic quota of patients. I might have kept the job if I had shut my mouth and been diplomatic, but I was not diplomatic. I write a protest song and sing it at the open mike and sing it into the CFO’s voicemail. I think I could be the poster girl for the opposite of diplomatic, right?I thought about quitting and then thought, no, I stay and fight this for my patients. I am fired the next day.

A group of people try to intervene and get me rehired. At some point I suggest sending one of my poems to the hospital commissioners. Six people email: NO!

I am confused: What do you mean, no? Why not?

YOU DO NOT COMMUNICATE WITH HOSPITAL COMMISSIONERS VIA POETRY.

I am still confused: I communicate by poetry. Poetry is the highest form of communication.

HOSPITAL COMMISSIONS DO NOT LIKE OR UNDERSTAND POETRY.

Ok, THAT is mind blowing for me. I call my father. What is this about?

My father says People are afraid of poetry.

I say You are kidding me.

My father says Poetry is magic. People are afraid of magic.

I say I’m not afraid of poetry.

That is because you are a poet, says my father.

And I really look at my thoughts on writing and poetry. I realize that writing and poetry are SO IMPORTANT to me that I assume that EVERYONE WANTS TO WRITE AND BE A POET. I ask my group of people trying to get me reinstated. None of them want to be poets. I ask my father. He does not want to be a poet. I am completely floored. I realize that I thought my mother loves art but wants to be a poet. My father loves music but wants to be a poet. Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

It must have been rather weird for my sister Chris, three years younger. She has three people who are all obsessed with their form of art. My sister Chris was a brilliant writer, an excellent musician and an artist. But I don’t think she was obsessed with any of them the way the rest of the family was. That must have been a little lonely.

The photograph is me and my sister in 1965. I am four and she is one year.

I say to a counselor once that in spite of alcohol problems in the family, the music was amazing and my sister and I learned it. The counselor replies, “Children connect with adults where they can.” I think OH. That is amazing. My sister and I see my father praise my mother for knowing all the words to the songs. She is always be the last one singing because she knows verse 8, 9 and 10. My sister and I assume that this is a woman’s job: memorize the words. We did. We photocopy the back of Beatles albums and on long car trips we memorize ALL THE WORDS. I think I can still sing Yellow Submarine start to finish.

I start school. I know there will be singing. No one knows my songs. The songs they know are the songs to television shows and we do not have one. I quickly go silent. I play flute and I sing all the songs in my head when I am bored, but I do not sing out loud. And I choose medicine because I want to understand people, for the writing. I still think people are very very weird. But I have written the whole time, every single day. And that is how my mother did art and how my father did music. Every single day.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link

I am a poet

I am a poet and the world is my oyster. I eat it daily. I take my knife, dull but strong, insert it twisting into the shell, and pry the world open. I admire the glistening juicy living contents. A splash of lemon or pepper, I cut it from the shell, tilt the shell to my open mouth. This living glistening world slides into my mouth and I taste it’s salty goodness, it’s raw oysterness, roll it around my tongue and teeth, bite and chew it, and swallow this delicious world. And eye the plate, choosing my next victim.

Maybe

Maybe
You could be a cat
Independent
A bit snotty
Refusing to share your thoughts
Keeping your secrets
Enjoying refusing to answer questions
Macavity the mystery cat
when something happens
He’s never there

You could be an elk
Guarding the herd
While the elder ladies
Lead it through the woods
At certain times of year
You bugle
And want them
And they/we/I mew
And you find me
And we both enjoy it
Very much

I am a cat too
independent
I will travel alone
If you won’t travel with me
I will find other music
If you won’t play with me
I enjoy it when you come round
Very much
I keep my claws sharp
Just in case I need them
If I long for cuddles and purring
That is my problem

I am a lady elk
Confident in the woods
I let you do the guarding and bugling
While I lead the herd
Up and over the ridges
The spine of the mountain
The spines of the dragons
Elwha and Sol Duc
I know them well
I hear you bugle
And think about whether this time
I will mew
Or not
I have found new forage
And the loggers are changing the forest
You bugle anyhow
Even if I am distracted
I like to work
But I like to mew too

Maybe we will come together
Now and then
Cats
or elks
or humans
Maybe.

___________________________________________________________________

My father read me T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats when I was little. He loved Macavity the mystery cat, called the Hidden Paw. And my goodness, the cat outfits in this show are quite something!

wearing sunglasses in the rain

Trigger warning: this is about dementia. I wrote this over ten years ago.

wearing sunglasses in the rain

I am weeping for you both

you have cared for her
for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health

and she has lost her memory

you told me on the phone
that it’s not that bad

you say it again in the room

I knew before I saw her
that it was bad, very bad, much worse
she is only 60

she becomes agitated when we try to weigh her
old style doctor’s scale
frightens her to try to step up.
gentle caregiver that you have hired
pushes her, until I say stop, stop, stop
her weight does not matter

shuffling gait
she is frightened to be in a new place
I ask her questions gently
she does not want to sit in the chair in the exam room
“No!” she says “No!”
I leave the room until she’s calmer

when I return
I give her choices
“Shall I examine you first with my stethoscope
or shall I talk to your husband?”
I choose for her, the latter
she relaxes, a little
later, I tell her each step before I do it
she is slightly tense when I lay the stethoscope
on her thin shoulders, but she doesn’t fight

she tenses as I ask her husband questions
about the memory loss
ten years now, a steady course
I ask him what he understands about the prognosis
he shifts uncomfortably
and I ask her if she would like to wait in the waiting room
while I talk to him
Firm and clear: “Yes, I would.”

She is not in the room now
he says that she is not too bad
the picture comes slowly in to focus
mild memory loss, is what he thinks

there are three stages of memory loss, I say
mild, the short fibers, where short term memory is affected
we forget what someone just said
moderate, the medium axons
we forget the recipe that we’ve know for 50 years
we forget how to do math
we forget names and how to get to the store
we forget how to operate the car
severe, the long axons
executive function
we do not initiate things
we forget to get dressed
we forget how to speak
we forget our potty training

his eyes grow sadder and sadder

at last, we return to being a baby
we forget everything
at last, we remember the womb
we no longer want to eat

is she forgetting to eat?

he is not ready to answer

as we leave the room
he says that she is not sleeping well
she seems to be awake at night
eyes closed
but her fingers are moving, as in play
he doesn’t speak to her
he needs to sleep and thinks she should too

should he give her a sleeping pill?

maybe she is happy, I say
maybe in bed in the dark
you are there and it is safe
no one is making her get dressed
no one is making her bathe
maybe that is where she wants to be awake
I would not give her a sleeping pill

the dogs are in the room
he says
and the tv is on just a little
maybe she is happy

he is wearing sun glasses
as they cajole and help her in to the van

he is wearing sun glasses
though it is overcast, low clouds and raining

sometimes it is so hard
to say what I see
to try to say the truth

sometimes the truth is not gentle
but sometimes the truth is love

I am weeping for you both

written 2010

gristle for my mill

I think
you are my muse

another muse
in a series

like the men
who have young girls
in series
muses

I think
you are gristle
for my mill

I will grind your bones
to poetry

you don’t like my poems
I don’t care

hopefully you won’t read them
your bones
ground

Valentine

I am thinking of you
my love my valentine
on valentine’s day
at two in the morning

two to too
much to bear
I want to be a tiger
not an ox

disabled
but still strong
I settle into the traces
again

the load is placed
I look at my path
gather my strength
turn on my oxygen
and pull

no one expects
an ox on oxygen
to be able to pull

you don’t either

why do you think
so little of me
why do you scorn
what I do

when you return
you find
traces of the wagon wheels
on the ground

but once I am on the road
you can’t follow
you can’t find me
any more

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt slender, as in slender hope.

The photograph is neither an ox nor a tiger, but a sea lion, off of Marrowstone Island, Washington.

Dinosaur dreams

Dinosaur Dreams

The problem
With Intelligent Design
Is those old bones
Those dinosaurs

Also that of 10,000 dreams of creation
One would be right
And the followers of all the others
Consigned to hell
If so, I go gladly, clutching
Dinosaur bones to my chest
And will enjoy the diversity
Not the narrow heaven with a narrow
Small-minded deity

But is evolution right?

Well, I think it’s on the right track

But wholly done and all correct?

After all, think how often
Medicine has been wrong
Think of tobacco and vioxx
Think of Galen, over 2000 years ago
Thinking that evil humors built up in the uterus
Causing hysteria
External pelvic massage was the cure
For over 2000 years
For old maids, widows and nuns
Who had no male to cleave unto
Massage was a treatment into the early 1900s
And now we wonder about prozac too

Evolution is an evolving science

I think of when my son was four
And he watched “Jurassic Park”
Against my wishes
Because I thought it was too violent
He studied it carefully many times

One day he asked me, anxiously,
“Mom, is DNA real?”
To check that it wasn’t another of those Santa stories
I was able to reassure him
Yes, I think DNA is real
He was pleased

A few days later he announced
That when he grows up
He wants to be a plant and animal scientist
Extract DNA from amber
And grow those dinosaurs

A laudable ambition
For any four year old

If God left the dinosaur bones
Around to fool us
And they never lived
She has a nasty sense of humor
And my son and I will not forgive

I believe in evolution
And dream of dinosaurs

written in 2009