To reiterate from my previous post for those of you who start here:
From 2012 to 2018, I participated in an annual prograqm called The Exquisite Project, hosted by the Bill Library in Ledyard, CT and organized by the brilliant and talented Andrea Hoshaw Buka. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the idea is based off the Victorian parlor game “Exquisite Corpse” in which one person draws part of a body on a piece of paper, folds the paper so the next person can’t see what they’ve drawn, and then the next person continues, doing the same until the last person is finished and the paper is unfolded to reveal the composite creature. (Think “The Telephone Game,” where one person whispers into the ear of another, and that person relays what’s been said to a third person and so on, until the end, where the last person reveals what they think has been said and it’s compared to the original statement.)
The project was a lot of fun and wonderfully creative, with Andrea providing the initial prompt to the first person in line, then alternating writers and artists in each track with the subsequent creators not knowing the prompt and only the piece that directly preceded theirs. We all were deeply saddened when she informed us that EP would not continue past 2018 due to budget constraints imposed by outside forces. (The library is located in a town where some of the people in power would dearly love to close it down. Can you imagine?!)
Fast forward to 2020 and the onset of Covid and all the other things we’ve endured. As I’ve addressed elsewhere, I found myself unable to write during much of the past two years, and was almost physically ill at the thought my ability might have deserted me. In an effort to be creative in some small way, I asked for, and received, Andrea’s blessing to exhume EP and try it on my own. I sent out invitations for five writers and five artists to volunteer, in order to form two tracks. Track 1 would run Artist/Writer/Artist/Writer/Artist, and Track 2 the opposite. Both would be initially generated by a prompt supplied by me to the first person in line, and unknown thereafter to all the others. I’m happy to say that those who signed up were deeply enthusiastic and gave it their all. And now we’re ready to reveal!
Woodland Recital Disturbed
He reminds me of a centaur I once knew
but in profile—so I can’t be certain
Head a thatched cottage filled with rhymes
plashing about like fish in a stygian bowl
With perfect performance posture he sits before
a splintered upright littered with curling leaves.
I’d like to find a three quarter portrait of Bowie
torn from a fashion mag—paste it atop the bare torso
But any movement of my own might disturb
the brittle leaves as they dance across the keyboard
A ghost mantis leading with mahogany legs
taps along the spear of sunlight piercing the copse.
I peer between two leafless boughs
and wonder—how is it I’m not seen
The centaur is too intent upon his song
nor does he take notice of a sudden gust
Gathering its skirts and lifting the spent leaves
high above him to create a spiraling crown.
But the clever mantis saves itself.
Digs its claws into the centaur’s shoulder.
Turns its pyramidal head to look at me.
It must have been a dream, but how could it have been? A thousand years of
memories, my people, the wars and triumphs, the famine – the great
coalescence. Yet here I am. As I try to wipe away the dream with the sleep in
my eyes, I cannot shake it. How could I dream for a thousand years? How
could I wake from a lifetime? How can I return to the dream?
I grab fleece and recall the feel of linens in the palatsi, soft, like clouds.
The blanket, coarse, jagged, rakes across my breast. Nothing feels smooth.
Nothing feels real. My foot reaches the floor and recoils. When did it get so
cold? Where is the comfort of grass and sand? I know I am here, but,
somehow, I don’t feel I am here. I still feel the warmth of the suns and gentle
breezes of the hinterland.
“Siunaus talle paivalle, olkoon kaikki elava.” I whisper.
I don’t even know what that means. It’s slipping away from me. I’ve made it
as far as the door, and I want to walk backward and crawl into bed. A song,
one from this world, reminds me, “…Once you wake up, you just can’t fall back
to sleep anymore.” And I push forward.
Somewhere inside the motions, muscle memory tells me I have always been
here. The coffee gets made, brush teeth, run water for bath. When my toe
breaks the surface tension of the water, I feel I could slip back into
Kalandria. There is it again. What is the other that I feel? Bath, water,
gestational fluid, welcomes me back home.
I slip beneath the surface, the embrace of Aiti. Ayatee? Mother? I feel the
words. I recall the oath. “Maailmat Yhtena.” “Maialmat Ushtena.”
Worlds as One.
I rise from the waters gasping for breath. I was there. I know I was. We were
all there. Ding. What? Coffee. Coffee is done. Standing, I feel the waters, the
memories, drip from my naked soul. Towel is rough. Air is cold. Where am I?
And why do I still bear the mark of the Druidi?
The only time she got relief from the masks and shields and gowns and gloves, from
the phone calls with fraught loved ones (both her own and her patients’), and from the
struggles of the dying was in her dreams. There
the clock ran backward, and strange glyphs danced on its face that were almost, but not quite,
familiar. Every night her exhausted brain
took her to a mirror world where all the terrible events of the day
reversed themselves before her eyes – patients sat up and smiled, coworkers
removed their masks and laughed with each other. Her father
walked from the cemetery to her childhood home and puttered in his garden.
She felt the fear ebb and hope flow in, a counter-tide to her days.
After a twelve-hour shift, she raced home through the empty streets, stopping only
to get take-out, which she devoured after showering. Feeding her body in anticipation of slumber
and the door.
In her dreams she stood before a door, able to make out
a yin-yang carved into its surface on both sides. On this side
the lighter yang was more prominent. She knew on the reverse that the yin prevailed,
warning of the darkness. It was the boundary
between dark and light, stress and relief, pain and joy.
Every day she woke to the same – masks and shields and gloves and gowns, patients
dying no matter what she did to help them. The fear and exhaustion
filled her as if she were drowning. And then, inevitably, one day she awoke
on a gurney – her coworkers rushing her to the triage area – fever and low oxygen, breaths
that were hard to pull in, and fatigue that permeated every atom of her body. Closing
her eyes, she thought of the door and the strange clock that ran backward. Then
she was stepping across the threshold. She soon found herself walking
up the front steps of her father’s house and hearing him call out “Hey kiddo, are you hungry?”. Joy
flooded her heart until it burst from her chest, like in the religious paintings of Mary. Her emotions
took tangible form, becoming objects she could touch.
After a time that felt both long and short, she made her way back to the door and turned
the knob. It was locked.
Once more, inexpressible gratitude to the artists and writers who gave their time and talent to this project. In order of appearance:
Shifra Shaman Sky has this to say about her piece: “What immediately struck me was the mannequin’s resemblance to a young, shaggy-haired David Bowie.” Shifra’s first chapbook, Touching the Nooksack, was published in October 2021 by Finishing Line Press. You can learn more about it here: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/touching-the-nooksack-by-shifra-shaman-sky/
Theresa Dupont is a versatile artist whose endeavors include sea glass/driftwood boats, small stone Christmas trees, and portraits of her dog, Princess Bubba. She really knows her way around a kitchen (as I have good reason to know), and should really have her own bakery.
Ryan Twomey-Allaire, aka His Lordship, is a jack of all trades who can turn his hand to any craft or repair job and have it come out (occasionally with some swearing) better than it was before. He enjoys cooking, but won’t touch dessert. In addition to a full time job or three, he’s helped run a small press, Bookateer Publishing, along with his beloved main squeeze M.J. Allaire (from Track 1). He lives in the back of beyond where he’s renovating an old house when he isn’t doing one of a million other tasks and cursing the chiggers.
Robert Farace is, by his own admission, “never entirely happy” with the art he produces. Those of us who have followed his work for years beg to differ. In addition to being an accomplished sculptor and musician, he’s a talented handyman and mechanic, restoring life to an old house or a reluctant engine. In his day job, he’s a “word mechanic, but others break them faster than I can fix them.” He’s also one of the world’s nicer people. He plays bass guitar as a member of Post Traumatic Jazz Disorder, along with his partner Lorain Ohio Simister. See them here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCN7E-gOQ3muY3VWyRWAOMyA
Andrea Hoshaw Buka is the instigator behind the original Exquisite Project. She’s talented at more things than is fair to the rest of humanity including sewing, cooking, participation in Society for Creative Anachronism, makers’ workshops, library cataloger (including Chair of the Consortiums Catalogers Committee), history buff, re-enactor, and let’s not forget full-time wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. Drey doesn’t know the meaning of the word “no” and will always help in a pinch.
OMG, I LOVE how this one came out. Such FUN to be a part of these types of things, EVERY time!
I’m delighted you chose to take part, MJ. It felt like old times.