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.
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.
Collectif members, send an image (or a few) of very recent work to firstname.lastname@example.org 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.