Naomi Ruth Lowinsky

 

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(USA)

 

 

This series of poems is written in response to

 

 

Emma Hoffman’s paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I See You in the Foothills, Oma

 

 

Da ist keine Stelle die dich nicht sieht

There is no place that does not see you

                                            Rilke

 

I wear you like a necklace with one lost stone

I feel you in my bones, in the slow dance of the vineyards

In the violet hills, how they meander, to the edge of sky—

In the bed and breakfast mirror your nose is my nose—

What brings you back now, with your cranky stomach

 

Complaining all night of too rich food? 

I am with my husband—he manages maps

Schedules, reservations, while you carry on—

In English, in German—about shades

Of mauve, of purple, of green

 

He has taken me away for my birthday.  I’m as old as you were

When I was the age of my grandson.  He’s 10.

And I suddenly need to know—what became of your spirit—

When your husband who managed visas, investments

Who got most of the family out of Europe

 

Dropped dead one afternoon, the smell from the ovens

Fresh in his nose, and me just born?  You were so new

To this far west—so far from all you knew—

With 25 years still to go—vineyards to paint

And mountains and me. How is it I never asked?

 

Your daughter, my mother, can no longer find her way

From yesterday to tomorrow.  Who will complete the story?

I wear you like a necklace with one lost stone

There is no place on earth where you don’t see me

No place where I don’t feel you in my bones…

 

 

 

 

Portrait of the Girl I Was, Age 14

 

Although I don’t enjoy

Looking at you—a clogged life

In a white dress, holding red flowers—

 

(Oma must have thrust

Those blood blooms

Into your haunted hands)

 

Although you sit there—deer eyed

Ready to bolt—Cossacks will gallop through

Nazis will kick in the door—

 

Although the music’s

gone underground, and you’ve lost

That wild horse you used to ride

 

Although you’ll dream

Of spitting broken teeth

Into the road for years

 

Before you learn

The sanctity

Of your own red room

 

Although I’ve never noticed

This before—behind your back

In a far corner

 

Of canvas—there is an open

Window, a hint

Of radiance, a glimpse

 

Of green trees—

You can’t see it yet, but

Oma has painted

Your way out…

 

 

 

Limbo

Cuba, 1940

 

I’m here    

Footstep and breath

Real as the trees

Real as the archway they make

From shadow to glow

Real as my painting in oil

For your eyes

 

Trees are my rock and my roots
Trees are my silent angels

Will the ghosts ever find me?

Will they build their nests in these branches

Here

As they did in Europe?

 

We are refugees from that room

With its single bare light bulb

Will our visas ever be granted?

Will our dead know where we’ve gone?

 

I’m here

Heartbeat and belly

Real as the woman I paint

Passing through shade into glow

Hungry for sun and the sea

And for you yet to be

 

I’m here

Belly and breath

Trees are my rock and my temple

Trees are my vigilant angels

And you     soon to be

Will you make your nest here?

 

 

 

When Trees Go Wild

1938

 

They wander no man’s land

   With suspicious passports

      They clothe themselves in ghost fire

         Orange flames   green flames

 

They forget they belong to the ground

   They deny the skies

      They leap into waters where war lurks

          With crocodile teeth

 

If we ran we would lose our roots

   If we stayed we’d be chopped

      Into kindling

         For the mad man’s fire

 

If our spirits could rise and perch

   In the canopy     like jungle birds

      Like souls of a different persuasion

         Yoruba let’s say

 

We might dance ourselves into trance

   But be lost to our dead

      Forgotten by stones

         By bodies of water

 

When trees go wild

   They burn orange and green in water

      They dive in the dark where war lurks

         With crocodile teeth

 

 

 

 

Brown on Brown

Schreveningen, Holland, 1934

 

Brown is the color of ache

Brown and a touch of orange

Renders my Low Country brooding

In water color

 

Everything hangs in the air

Land water dikes

Somebody’s drifting house

My dead     my dread

 

Brown is the mother of longing

Brown is the mother of blood and its stains

Brown is this sepia daydream

This monochromatic mood

 

I sit by my window reflecting

On brown and its shades of pale

Watercolor won’t hold back the tide

Nor will the dikes

 

Only brown

And the slenderest brush I can find

Only my wistful

Sky reaching strokes

 

Say trees

Say roots

Say someday

Maybe leaves

 

 

 

Ghost Brother’s Complaint

Kassel, Germany 1930

 

Unseen in the wet morning grass

Unheard in the linden trees

Not smelt by the dog

Not hailed by the raucous parrot

 

Nor felt on the curve of your cheek

Little sister

Though I glower and glare

In the studio air

 

Our mother pays me no mind

Nor the holy flares of the sun

She’s dragged you in here

To be painted

 

She’s fixated on your living flesh

Your blue blouse

How your eyes go dark and inward

To the place where I am not

 

Your laughter

Your running footsteps

Have not been heard in this house

Since the day I never came back

 

From the snows.  I know—

I was your galloping joy ride

Your hide and go seek in the garden

Who’d toss you on high

 

To the sky—

Then why

Does our mother

Who knows there are other realms

                                                                          

Refuse to know me

Though I dance in the breeze

Though I glitter and soar

Though I rattle the windows

 

 

And brush the hairs

On your arms

There is no way out of sorrow

Or the shadow that falls

 

On your face—

Much worse is yet to come—

But you’ll hold still, little sister

In the brush strokes

 

Of our mother—

While the life you live

Does a circle dance

Until  one day your daughter—

 

Now a grandmother—

Pulls your sad young face

Out of the closet

And gives me

Voice…

 

 

 

Only the Snow Knows

Kassel, Germany 1931

 

There are no more tears

Only the broken trees

Only the neighbor’s house in horror

At its cold dead load

 

Only the snow knows

Where they’ve gone

Into what black mouth

 

Everything is agitated

Agitated windows

Agitated walkways

Agitated brush strokes

 

Spirit leaks into earth

 

Only the snow knows

Where they’ve gone

My sons in the land beyond sun

 

Everything is torn

Limbs from trees

Heart from house

An agony of oil paint

Gouges the sky

 

Only the snow knows

The treachery of mountains

There are no more tears

 

 

 

 

A Grandmother’s Self Portrait Speaks

 

Flesh is my home.

Flesh, brief as it is, my consolation

I could have painted blue horses, gone galloping off

Into the unseen.  I could have rendered the wings

Of violins or dazzled your eyes with blazes of geometry

 

Even my own Corinth, who taught me to follow the light

Went wandering off  into inner life

breaking it off with Rembrandt, Franz Hals, Courbet

He told me my work was

Overly domesticated.  Why not?

Given that I was to lose

A daughter, two sons, a home, a country …

 

Flesh is my sanctuary

And my communion with you—

generations after the paint has dried—

you pull me out of the closet

you need to see me again—

to mirror my fierce focus

the unbearable set of my mouth

the North Sea light as it falls on my face

the loosening skin of my neck

 

What aspect of you do you seek in my eyes?

 

Notice my palette is dark

I use light and shadow

To define my decline

Behind me divided worlds—the hard edge

of studio wall, and the glow

from the unknown side—that blue green whimsy

where breeze stirs the curtains         

where your eyes go…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

____________________________

 

 

 

     

 

(clic)

 

 

____________________________

 

 

 Naomi Ruth Lowinsky has written poems since she was a girl.  She was inspired to follow her muse by her grandmother, Emma Hoffman, who was a fine painter.  As a child she watched her grandmother, whom she called “Oma,” paint landscapes, portraits, still lifes.  She listened to her stories about all she had lost¾ three of her six children, her country and her way of life.  She was a German Jew who fled from the Nazis with her family¾first to Holland, then Cuba, and eventually to America.

 

Oma still haunts Naomi Ruth Lowinsky’s poems. This series of poems is written in response to Emma Hoffman’s paintings.

 

Lowinsky’s poems have been published in many anthologies and literary magazines.  Her most recent book of poems is called “adagio & lamentation.”  She is also the author of a memoir about her creative life, “The Sister from Below: When the Muse Gets Her Way.”  She is the winner of the Obama Millennium Award for poetry.  She is a Jungian analyst, and poetry editor for Psychological Perspectives, the journal of the Los Angeles Jung Institute.

 

She blogs at www.sisterfrombelow.com

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