A Little Ekphrasis:
A few years ago I was lucky enough to see an exhibition of artwork by the amazing surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington. I have loved her works for years, studied them in books and prints. But seeing them in person was a whole different experience. Her colors are both more vivid and more subtle in person. There are also many details in the paintings so faint or intricate that they are lost in reproductions. For example, in the image below – you can’t really see that through that doorway (in fact you can barely see the doorway at all) to the far right, is a night scene: a fog-rimmed moon and a figure outlined against the horizon. Here is my attempt at an ekphrastic prose poem for this painting.
Grandmother Moorhead’s Aromatic Kitchen, by Leonora Carrington
(Click to enlarge)
Grandmother Moorhead’s Aromatic Kitchen –
It started when I was five. A little shuffle, a tapping sound coming from the kitchen. I crept from my bed and down the stairs through the dark house. The whole house was sleeping. In fact it felt like the whole world was sleeping. Except in the kitchen where the Aunts were – chopping stirring, decanting. Not my Aunts. Though some beneath their robes and hoods may have been human, some were obviously not. Auntie Wensley-Water was a giant Goose. Auntie Alberdine was a sort of Antelope. I stood at the edge on the cold tile and watched them, trying to be small and quiet, inhaling the smells of cilantro and chili. Near dawn, all at once like a flock of birds, they turned to look at me, small smiles on their various faces. The air between us went gelatinous—their eyes saw what was really inside my skin. Auntie Amelia-Pine fed me a bit of chocolate from her spoon.
In the morning I thought it was a dream. Until the next night. And the next.
Each night they come. Each night I wake and watch. I grow stranger. My sight in daytime poor. I wear my dresses backwards and refuse to go to church. I carry baby chicks in my pockets and sew lavender into the hems of all my dresses. I turn eighteen.
The Aunts are around the kitchen table again. The smell of garlic mixes with the smell of cornmeal frying on the comal. The discussion returns to the bottle of 80-year-old eau de vie they buried in the back garden and the pear tree which sprouted from its cork stopper. Auntie Periwinkle has just brought in a basket of these special pears, which the other Aunts mix with chocolate and chili, cinnamon and garlic to make a sauce.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk … counterclockwise,” says Bertha to Amelia-Pine who frowns and stamps her foot.
Aunt Bertha adjusts her glass eyes, polishing them with a silk handkerchief. I have grown bold. I stand at the table; I hover near the stove. They are waiting for the message to come clear in the soup.
“Can you see it yet?” asks Wensley-Water.
“Nor in, nor out,” replies Alberdine and looks at me. “It’s time to choose your side little girl,” she says.
I begin to peel my nightdress away, stitch by stitch, lace and flannel. Then I peel back the skin, follicle by follicle, mole and freckle. When I step out of my camouflage, my feathers are soft gray and stippled brown, still damp from my hatching.
http://www.leocarrington.com (official site of the artist’s estate)
http://christiengholson.blogspot.com/2012/04/world-of-leonora-carrington-part-i.html (3-part blog by Christien Gholson about her life and work)