Covid Creativity: 19Sep2020

by Larissa Douglass

During the spring 2020 COVID lockdown, I unboxed artwork by my mother, Natalia Magera Douglass. Most of Magera’s artwork has never been exhibited and her career was cut short by a tragic accident in Montreal in 1970. I wrote this poem in memory of my mother and her paintings.

Title of artwork unknown

Locked down in the lockdown

Locked down in the lockdown, 
Alone in the house, 
I thought I would organize everything 
From the past one hundred years. 
I have mementos from you 
And other, resolute ancestors 
I know them only from their black-and-white photographs 
And their remnants from seven different houses, 
The oldest being the one in England, 
Which had a hole in the basement 
And a stream running through it. 
Relatives I never knew 
Left behind things they bought and made, 
The arts and crafts of past generations. 
Great great Aunt Amy’s cabinet needs fixing 
A cabinet from Detroit when Detroit was grand. 
Great grandfather’s rocking chair, 
That he made by hand. 
In the spring of the lockdown, 
I unpacked what you made. 
After a long winter and nineteen years before that 
Mementos from you, a dead survivor. 
And nearly everyone who did not understand 
Is now dead too. I’m glad you’re not here to see this 
You’d be undone to see me like this. 
You wanted so much for me and never thought 
It would come to this. Maybe for you, you thought, yes. 
But never, no, never for me. 
It wasn’t supposed be like this 
For me. Paintings you made 
And sculptures, thrown in the basement, 
Negated yourself, mouse-eaten, 
When each rodent-urine-stained page 
Shows such great elevation. 
I cleaned them off and saw the difference 
Between base living and being 
Between doing and creating. 
There is a dignified legacy, 
A foundation not wasted on ego impulses and junk 
That needs to be sold and thrown out 
But real products of a precious mind. 
It’s been twenty years since you died. 
I want to honor you, do you justice, give you back your voice 
Ironic, to bring these paintings back to life
When everyone is masked, social distanced, and silenced, 
Their accounts unaccounted for, sleepwalking through 
Summer into a bankrupt, infected winter. 
The line between failure, loss, death and enduring foundation 
Depends on how you see things. 
In the spring of the lockdown, I picked peonies, 
Put pink petals in square vases before your pink paintings. 
Daddy said when you saw things 
You spoke with absolute authority 
He spoke with respect, said no one 
Could question your decisions 
About color and light. 
Your voice was made voiceless 
By betrayal, abuse, accidents, 
No justice or recovery. But your paintings speak for you 
After daddy died, I took them out of storage
And hung them up, room by room, colors overlapping. 
You taught me how to see colors as layers of light. 
It makes me think of living in Leipzig, 
Lost, on a lonely afternoon. 
I had wandered off the street map 
Of visited places into an unknown quarter. 
Grey-green leaves fell all around me 
A gift from you, your view sent from above. 
Because I saw that color 
That grey-green, unique, yet familiar, 
It was something only you could see. 
And because you taught me how to see what you could see, 
In Leipzig, in that atmosphere of gathering rainfall, 
The parked cars arcing along the curved street, 
The way back home lit up for me. First, the grey-green, 
Next, the antique stores with music box birdies in cages 
Pluming their metal petals for feathers 
Doggies and pigeons and folded-up signs, 
With arrows chalked in neon yellow 
Pointing to red velvet bags drawn shut with embroidered ribbons 
In a bay-windowed junk shop. 
When I remember it now, I’m not sure it even existed 
Or if I was ever there, lost, retracing my steps. 
You taught me to see things as colors, and colors as light, 
And it meant you were there and I wasn’t alone. 
You left me those signs so I could find my way home. 
I looked up, past my umbrella, 
Segmented, up at the free-moving clouds. 
And because I knew how to see, I made my way home. 
Home makes me think of Italian window cookies 
And walnut thimble cookies, dabbed with apricot jelly 
Edible love and stained glass. 
One year, you preserved wild grape jelly 
A perfect violet, the art of natural royalty. 
And wild apples from the hedgerow, 
I can scarcely believe they existed, 
Magic apples in their syrup 
Gold-blush preserves, ready for winter 
With their cinnamon sticks for company. 
You studied under someone 
Who studied under Josef Albers 
So when you cooked, everything looked like a colorist painting. 
You made meals we remembered for decades. 
Simple nights recalled for forty years. 
We ate colors as flavors, 
Transmuted through commitment and love. 
It’s not enough to say, 
“That was so good.” Each color brought us closer 
And closer to seeing in mapless, non-linear ways. 
Now I see, it wasn’t the food or the paintings 
The chairs, photographs, cabinets, 
The stuff tossed in the basement. 
Nothing we owned or made 
Mattered more than the colors you captured in things 
Made manifest. And in each color, a light 
Made manifest. And in each light, a sight 
Made manifest, like the great work, 
The magnum opus that merges color with color
In stages of separation and transformation, 
To change how we see. 
Black confronts white, 
Which turns white-silver to gold, 
And gold, so challenged, becomes 
Rose, in purple-pink petaled sunsets and sunrises. 
A clear light revealed from blue depths 
In lives lived beyond symbols 
Past language and politics, 
Past money, past death. 

Artist Natalia Magera in 1960.

Collectif members, send an image (or a few) of very recent work to cagac.ca@gmail.com with up to 100 words describing what you did, materials used, inspiration, etc. Maybe share how you’re feeling & how creativity helps. We’d like an informative, inspiring show & tell. Writers, send us poetry, lyrics, a short piece or excerpt.

3 comments

  1. Oh my! You have painted a very poignant picture with your words.
    Beautifully done with much that I could relate to and it touched my heart.

    Like

  2. Hello, Larissa Douglass

    I haven’t time just now to read through this poem, but I will save it and read it later. But as I skimmed through it, I thought I would prefer to read it in company with your mother’s paintings. I thought it would make a lovely book, combining prints of the paintings with lines from the poem.

    Ruth Stanton

    >

    Like

  3. What a beautiful painting! Your mother was very talented and you have obviously inherited her talent with paint and transitioned it into a talent for painting with words. A very moving poem indeed. You were so fortunate to have had such a mother to teach you the joy in light and form and colour.

    Like

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