koi sidebar
koi sidebar

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 1, March 2014


Gary LeBel
Cumming, Georgia, USA

In Living Color

I. Dance Step

"Detachment in art is the safeguard that prevents us
from turning windows into mirrors."

Gerard Brille, The Testament of Eva

While I was away he pruned the two maples that split the property line. He made them so pretty they look like ballerinas. With their puffy tutus, Degas would have loved them.

But here's the thing: 'pretty' is always a lower rung than 'beautiful,' just as 'cute' is the caboose of 'gorgeous.' Why do we persist in giving nature a face lift and turning it into a landscape fit for miniature trains? Do we have a pathological fear of 'wildness'?

To think we were once as free as the Sioux, a tribe imagined in the dark, inscrutable eye of a horse: what can we expect other than what we've handed ourselves on a chipped plate, too immature for technology, too violent for peace, too righteous for tolerance and utterly indifferent to nature?

When I see my neighbor again, the cast of his eyes will tell me that he wants to be thanked for his handiwork, for his flourish with pruning shears. He'll circle me like a border collie but I won't deliver. That would be hypocritical.

So I'll pretend I didn't notice; I'll bite my tongue and refrain from saying, "Now that you've retired, you need a part-time job, something to do instead of denuding trees of their wildness: let branch and leaf keep a little. After all, it's in short supply."

As if in the footsteps
of an old Lakota woman
the autumn day
slips past me
in gravel slippers

II. Mountains

A slate-colored sky, mountains, heavy rain. As it drums on the car, my imagination sprouts legs and suddenly I'm walking through a forties movie

where it's raining, the sky, of course, still gray. But the mountains are playing dress-up in walls of high-rise concrete plunging cold and pitiless out of a dark dystopian wound in permanent clouds.

Soaked to the bone, I wander by a hotel's seedy lobby, then past a row of windows to one whose curtains are drawn aside, where leaks an ooze of bluish haze. Inside, an old man sits on the edge of his unmade bed, his hands clasped tightly together. He's watching TV, and on it, these mountains . . . .

Irresistibly, the tall oaks
quicken to the pull of the wind:
some claim the puppeteer is god
but how many others believe
in a gospel of strings?


III. In Living Color

The trip is long. Traffic is heavy but brisk. I look at drivers as I pass them for something to do. Call it nosy but I prefer 'curious.' So much for semantics. Framed by their driver's side windows,

some are in sepia, others in black and white. This goes on all day, and the black and whites with their brow-beaten faces are starting to outnumber the sepias as we near a large metropolis.

Just before nightfall I pass a Mustang, fire engine-red. Inside it, a young woman is swinging her head ecstatically to the beat of whatever she's listening to, her long dreadlocks spinning like a pinwheel or a lab's ears shaking off rain. She looks over at me and cracks a huge, beaming smile, all teeth:

now, we're both in color.

Whose dreams are these
that run over the open fields
on 'swiftrunning feet'
to gather in clearings
or slip off alone into mists?

IV. Zero Sum

A spill of lilies, fields freshly plowed, the aroma of broken earth in dark straight rows. And bordering the fields, the united nations of trees. Though choked with vine, how much sky there is between the branches! Yes, it's true: our lives are mostly space.

V. The Weight

Whenever I pass Queen Anne's Lace along a roadside I feel refreshed and reassured. It's not because they're shaped like umbrellas, or even that they might be parachutes delivering miracles. It's because the generations step through them on their way to woods like these,

to love, to war, to wander, to flee, to hide or be found:

these flowers remember them all, as they'll remember us, too, every footstep and brush of legs. Laden with so many memories, they sway with the weight of them. It's just too much.

500 miles today
and of all the souvenirs I'll keep
as fine as a pristine whelk,
an old graveyard with all its stones
aslant in evening rain

Image: Un sphinx plus anciens (2013) "A sphinx more ancient," montage/collage with an altered film still from The Seven Ups.



| contents page | next tanka prose |

koi sidebar r
koi sidebar r