A descent from the cross

(Click to enlarge)

William H. Johnson

From Wikipedia: William Henry Johnson (March 18, 1901 – April 13, 1970) was an American painter. Born in Florence, South Carolina, he became a student at the National Academy of Design in New York City, working with Charles Webster Hawthorne. He later lived and worked in France, where he was exposed to modernism. After Johnson married Danish textile artist Holcha Krake, the couple lived for some time in Scandinavia. There he was influenced by the strong folk art tradition. The couple moved to the United States in 1938. Johnson eventually found work as a teacher at the Harlem Community Art Center, through the Federal Art Project.

Johnson’s style evolved from realism to expressionism to a powerful folk style, for which he is best known. A substantial collection of his paintings, watercolors, and prints is held by the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which has organized and circulated major exhibitions of his works.


I love his work–it is a unique vision but one that lets me in as the viewer. This was painted after the death of his wife, speaking to personal suffering. Today it seems to speak to the communal. This painting is in the Smithsonian. I saw a group of his works two summers ago at the art museum in Delaware.

won’t you celebrate with me by Lucille Clifton

Published on Academy of American Poets (https://poets.org)

won’t you celebrate with me
what i have shaped into
a kind of life? i had no model.
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did i see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay,
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

Lucille Clifton, “won’t you celebrate with me” from Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton. Copyright © 1991 by Lucille Clifton. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of BOA Editions, Ltd., boaeditions.org.

Marking Time

This is the second call I’ve seen from a museum for pandemic material–


The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) is pleased to launch Women Writing History: A Coronavirus Journaling Project, an initiative designed to ensure that women and girls’ unique voices and experiences are not left out of the telling of the COVID-19 story. Through this project, women and girls of all ages can participate through the simple act of recording their daily thoughts and experiences during this time in order to document the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on women’s lives.

You can fill out a form on their website to participate.

But it got me wondering again about journals and marking time. And now I wish I’d started a knitting or textile journal at the start of the pandemic (although I’ve never gotten this kind of thing to work!).

How are you marking time? Are you? Last week I started a new one-line journal–it is five years but I’m aiming for one. I like this kind of thing, but am not always dedicated to it. I always have a notebook in hand, but it isn’t always much of a diary. Of course I’ve published two books of journals, Dirty Laundry and years later A Hundred Cups of Coffee. But these were limited by time as well as marking it.


I’ve always wanted to keep a super secret journal…Now that my papers are archived in the Wittcliff Collection in Texas I sometimes throw out something too personal so I’m not tempted to send it.

come saturday morning in my corona virus journal by Susan Nalder

come saturday morning in my corona virus journal

blue corn piñon pancakes
green chile scrambled eggs
the last of the good coffee

saturday morning chores written
on the back of the envelope from
sierra club reminding me of membership dues

the dog leash beckons as does
the fresh air with a nip around the edges

some pages of history get ink finality
how people will remember this unfolds
a kind of altercation between life and death
making and spending money

some ask if this will be a unique chance
how people will shake loose old ways
partake of a clean slate

others whine and beat their inner drums
how, you might ask, can governance threaten them more
than a great chance at a choking lonely death – adults
doing a two year old’s rebellion
railing at do and don’t and wash your hands

saturday’s list.  walk dog.  trim dog.  vacuum.
do art.  make a dozen masks.  call my sister & a friend
plant seeds.  do stretches.  drive around some backroads.

daydreaming the feel of a hug.  a pat on the back.  a lover’s glance
the mystery one feels looking into a candle’s flame
and wonders at how it all works
while saying prayers on bended knee

I’m Not Writing About The Pandemic

But I’m also not NOT writing about it, if that makes sense.
That is, I have no policy.
I write about what comes to hand. Put another way–I write about consciousness.
Ideas aren’t a big thing for me in poetry. I once told poet Tony Hoagland–yeah, well, ideas in poetry are just kind of a grab bag…a little bit of Aristotle, some science, it’s all sort of metaphor…
He looked bemused and then just said: That’s true of YOUR poetry, Mir, not ALL poetry.
I was taken aback, as I tend to extrapolate my own experience into the universal. Something which seems less and less wise.
I never wrote anything about 9/11. I’ve just finished revising a novella in which the back story is the war in Bosnia. That surely says something about long it can take me to process world events.
Current events aren’t that inspiring to me, although history is. Cossacks tend to ride through my poems to this day. For me, the past is part of the present moment–how I perceive. I experience comparison–metaphor and simile–as compassion.
I started writing seriously in high school. I didn’t write about the war in Vietnam, although I have since. Instead I wrote a poem about my mom taking me for an abortion and published it in the high school literary magazine. My mom taught at my high school, and we both got a lot of flak. Of course, this had never happened. I was not pregnant in high school, and if I had been I’d have gotten an abortion by myself, not with my mother.
My mother could be very harsh towards me, but she could also be transcendent. She shrugged off the gossip. “It’s a POEM,” she told me. “It isn’t literally true.” We shared a love of literature, its ability to create other worlds, other truths. In my high school young women did get pregnant–get forced into marriage, try to miscarry, consider killing themselves. In my poem my mother provided a solution that allowed autonomy.
Then with publication she rose to the occasion, and to my most positive view of her.

How Fun Is This! Poem by Ace Boggs based on my question.

“Can I Find Myself Less Annoying?”
question asked by Miriam Sagan 

After a conversation, I measure

every word I spoke, each gesture,

how my nonexistent eyebrows 
lifted, forming fleshy triangles

of surprise, amusement, scorn

I was never very good at this

being-a-human-being thing.

Fear first. Doubt follows

with endless obsessing.

Did that last joke go too far?

Of course it did. Why couldn’t I lie

when a kind word might silence
ome deep bellow of blues?

All exists between charm & rudeness:

null set, self-fulfilling humiliation.

I wanted to be one of you,

but I’m still sitting in a corner, 

wearing my rebel suit of disappointment.

Ace Boggess is author of five books of poetry—Misadventure, I Have Lost the Art of Dreaming It So, Ultra Deep Field, The Prisoners and The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled—as well the novels States of Mercy and A Song Without a Melody. His writing appears in Notre Dame Review, The Laurel Review, River Styx, Rhino, North Dakota Quarterly and other journals. He received a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts and spent five years in a West Virginia prison. He lives in Charleston, West Virginia.


Memorial Day–In This World–by Miriam Sagan

We drove the high road. I burst into tears when I saw Truchas Peaks. The mountains were still covered in snow, and still there–even though I’d been locked away from them. Rio Santa Barbara is a bit of a private joke between me and Rich. The first time he tried to take me there I got freaked out by the remote dirt road and made him turn back. It really isn’t very remote, and we’ve subsequently walked there twice–both times in autumn in the rain of golden aspen leaves. In spring, the leaves are green and lots of sturdy purple lupine abound.
Every little run down house or trailer, every shack, is graced by a huge lilac bush in full blossom. A set of three bushes outside a cabin–the middle one white. On the trail, wild columbine and fields of dandelions. I can’t help but admire that weed that was once a decorative import. Its little fried egg suns turn to silvery moon globes. And it is edible. My father hated dandelions, and we’d torture him by sitting on the lawn and blowing the seeds.
I walked a little further than the last time, uphill, then sat for a while on a fallen aspen. My Slavic nature doesn’t go in for silver linings, but the pandemic has been good for my ability to hike over different kinds of terrain as we’re walking a lot more. Driving back out, we passed a traditional graveyard–fenced, hard packed dirt, with bright decorations. A group of men were cleaning a grave. At first I thought they were burying someone and I looked out the open window of the car feeling very sad. They caught my glance and all of them waved, friendly and almost cheerful. I simultaneously realized it was Memorial Day weekend, and they were most likely veterans.
Memorial Day does mean something to me. As a Brownie and Girl Scout I marched in the town’s parade. Then my family would march in protest of the war in Vietnam. My little brother, maybe 3 or 4, had asked for an American flag and my dad had bought him one. Tired out from walking, my brother straggled along, dragging the flag. A vet–opposed to the protestors–yelled at my brother. My father, who passionately opposed the war, was uncharacteristically polite and kind. He had my brother hoist the flag off the ground, and apologized. My father must have seen something in the man’s face beyond anger–suffering. A suffering my father was trying to prevent with his protest.
We got takeout from Sugar Nymphs, and drove home. Near Las Trampas more people were cleaning graves. A woman had a truck bed full of paper roses for adornment. We took a piece of carrot cake home wrapped in foil and ate it later.

I haven’t read Defoe’s “Journal of the Plague Year” but luckily my friend Victor Ialeggio has. And he has curated some salient bits for us in this post.

Victor says:
I am reading Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. I might as well be reading today’s paper:

Supermarkets, Amazon, Meatpackers:

“It must be confessed that though the plague was chiefly among the poor, yet were the poor the most venturous and fearless of it, and went about their employment with a short of brutal energy. I must call it so so, for it was founded neither on religion nor prudence; scarce did they use any caution, but ran into any business which they get employment in, though it was the most hazardous.” (p.128)

Preparedness, Competence:

“Surely never a city, at least of this bulk and magnitude, was taken in a condition so perfectly unprepared for such a dreadful visitation, whether I am to speak of the civil preparations or religious. They were, indeed, as if they had had no warning, no expectation, no apprehensions, and consequently the least provision imaginable was made for it in a public way.” (p.131)

Noblesse Oblige:

“It must be acknowledged that the absent citizens, who, though they were fled for safety into the country, were yet greatly interested in the welfare of those whom they left behind, forgot not to contribute liberally to the relief of the poor,…and, as I have heard also, the nobility and the gentry in all parts of England took the deplorable condition of the city into their consideration, and sent up large sums of money in charity to the Lord mayor and magistrates for the relief of the poor.” (p.133)

(facsimile: Boston, London, Ginn and company, 1895.)