Archive for February, 2011

This is the first coloratura passage from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. The word in Italian means coloring. A coloratura is a soprano with a high, bright, flexible voice who can sing elaborate, decorative passages with agility and speed. She is to singing what a sprinter is to running.

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Memphis City Bridge

The following excerpts are journal entries made between Dec. 1, 1981 and June 27, 1982. Most entries are about a friend Linda who married and moved away. Included here are passages about my family. On the inside cover, Linda wrote:

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spirited inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

p. 57 (1981)

I came in from a date tonight with this guy named Kevin Daddy doesn’t particularly like. He said, “Hi Darlin, how you doing?” I thought, “He sure has cheered up a lot since the last time I saw him.” Mamma was in bed. I found a Hallmark card in my room telling me what a wonderful daughter I am. They think of me, they love me but they rarely do anything like this. I’ve given them cards like this in the past, but not like this from the heart.

When I woke Mamma up to tell her I was home, she smiled at me. I’ll keep this card forever and probably even show it at school. I think she was telling me not to stay out late just because she misses me. She tells me all the time she’s sick of me and her and Daddy going in three different directions at once. She’s always the one at home.

I wish I could be the way it says in the card, helpful and considerate and noticing little things. But that’s not me. I just turn them away. Why does this alarm go off every time one of them comes near me?

p. 74

Today Linda left.

Sometimes all I can hear outside are dogs screaming in the distance. Their garbled voices almost seem human. Then everything goes silent.   

p. 84

The most gradual thing in the world is the beginning of rain. It starts lazily in the morning like I do. Then each drop tries to fit inside every other drop until they all fit inside each other. The birds stop singing, and the rain slows down until it becomes a dull pat on the window. The birds start singing again, and each one has a new song. Everything outside seems clean with life.

p. 97

Will you always tell me how strong your mother is,
how she loved the wrong out of her daughter
and swayed away from bullet fire
in younger years. And will you ever grow
to be as stubborn as your father, will he grow
to listen, will you know or care. I wish I could
be there in later years
when all these mystical truths
are revealed and the confusion is gone.

p. 115

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught.
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought. —from To A Skylark, by P. B. Shelley

p. 116

When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! — then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
—John Keats

p. 125

When I was a little girl about seven, my grandmother died. Mamma came into the room. The window was open and the door was closed and there was light shining on the floor. She sat down beside me and told me angels had come during the night to take Granny to heaven. Granny had gotten sick. I remember her blue eyes and how she used to live here with us. She always wore the same blue dress. Mamma says I’m just like her. At the funeral, I can remember weaving in and out the pews. Then right before they shut the coffin, Pa cried.

p. 131 (May, 1982)

It’s my last day of high school. It seems like there needs to be something to make this day special. It’s all so quiet, but maybe I’m just being too serious again. It’s that music in my head. It makes me too intense.

This is my first great step. I didn’t really think it would ever happen. It seems great things like miracles are only just things you read about in books. Now everybody’s telling me I’m making this big step, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. When I was in my music teacher’s office today, I wanted to tell her how scared I was and ask to hold me for a minute, but we’ve never done that before.

Well, anyway, I have to go to work, but I’m afraid this day is going to end before anything really good happens.

p. 132 (May 23, 1982)

This evening John and I went down to the river and sat on top of the Shriner’s building where his father works. John said it was one of the best evenings of his whole life. We sat there and watched the river and could hear the music from Chariot’s of Fire on a radio in the distance. We must have seen that movie five times together.

The river flowed with the music. It danced when the music danced and slowed down when the music slowed down. The sun started to set and lit up the sky in orange and purple. John said it looked like the seaside of another world. The blue sky was the ocean and the clouds was the land.

This afternoon was my Baccalaureate service at school and God helped me get through the Hallelujah Chorus and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. There was this moment when everyone was singing and I was on stage. I went up to the microphone and sang the school song, On our city’s Southern border soaring in the sky stands our dear old alma mater, hail Oakhaven high. Forward ever be our watchward, conquer and prevail. Hail to thee, our alma mater, Oakhaven High all hail.

My father said he was crying like a baby, but God helped me get through without crying. Then they asked me to go back up and give the benediction. I didn’t know they were going to ask me to do that. I’ve only ever heard it in church, but as soon as I started I remembered the words, May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

I wonder if I’ll remember this day. My brother and I walked arm and arm all the way to the car after the ceremony, and he said he was so proud of me. Mamma said she was proud too. I remember looking back at the stage when it all was over and seeing the wood flats laying up there like they’ve always been. It seemed so empty. We wait all our lives for graduation. Then it happens, and it’s done.

p. 141 

Grief knits two hearts together into a stronger bond than happiness ever can.

p. 142 (May 27, 1982)

I wish I could remember what it was like when I was a little girl and used to sit with Mamma in church. I wish I could remember what thoughts I had. I wish I could remember what kind of love she had for me then, what kind of tenderness. I wonder what I thought of her.

Now that I’m older, she doesn’t treat me like that. I can’t crawl up into her lap and hold her or crawl in beside her at night when I’m sick. I wonder if one of these days when she’s no longer here, I’ll regret not being able to do that. She’s here to pass on strength now, to get me ready for the world.

When I finally found her at graduation, she had tears in her eyes and there was some weakness there I rarely see and I don’t know how to describe. We hugged each other and it seemed like she liked me and saw things in me she saw in herself, maybe even her strength.

p. 143 (May 28, 1982)

God helped me find my Scripture Memory Motivator today. He’s been taking real good care of me lately.

Memphis in May Beale St. Music Festival

p. 144 (May 29, 1982)

Tonight John and I went to the Sunset Symphony down on the river at Memphis in May. The weather was perfect, and the sunset was beautiful. I especially liked the 1812 Overture. They shot real canons, and you could hear them echo on the river.

James Hyter sang Ol’ Man River. Then they asked him to stand up and sing it again. He goes to John’s church, and he says James Hyter sits in the back row and tries to sing low but you can still hear him.

p. 150 (June 3, 1982)

Today was my first day of college. It was just like first grade. You walk into a place and can’t imagine what it’s like. The campus seemed like a bunch of old buildings. Everything seemed old. The air seemed stale inside, and the people walking through the halls and campus all seemed old too. They were all wearing old clothes and seemed like they must be in their forties or fifties. I’m taking English 1101, and John got in too.

p. 158 (June 27, 1982)

I got to sit by Maria Van Trapp tonight during a Bartlett production of the Sound of Music. She was so fully of energy. I finally got a car and could drive over there by myself.

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Michael Donaghy (1954-2004)


Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsicord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell’s chords are played away.

So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.

If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsicordists prove

Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move.
by Michael Donaghy

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Stanley Plumly (born 1939)

Men Working on Wings

In dreams they were everything hurt
whose faces were always coming into focus
like a feeling never before realized
offered now as longing; but not spiritual,
like the cloud in marble or the flaws
in sunlight streaking through the window,
but palpable, the way that cloud,
those flaws take on the human.

If I have to choose I choose those nights
I sat in the dark in the Mote Park
outfield waiting with my father
for the long fly balls that fell more
rarely than the stars. We’d talk
or he’d hit the hole in his glove;
a hundred times he’d hit the hole
in his glove. In his factory wool-

and-cotton gray uniform he looked
like a soldier too young to fight,
like his sailor brother and our monkey
uncle doughboy Harry who’d been gassed
in the trenches — too young to fight.
But nobody died. Once, on the Ponte
S. Angelo, leading from the Castle
of Angels across a wrist of the Tiber,

I watched the artisans of the working
classes work with the patience of repairmen
on the backs of the immortelles. Except
for their hands they sat the wings
in stillness, hammer and chisel, like
any other sculptors; the job endless,
infinitesimal, a constancy of detail,
the air itself the enemy, and the long

gold light pouring down. The big flat
dead leaves of the sycamores would whirl
around them in a theme, then drift
like paper to a river. The leaves
might float, in another life, all the way
to the sea, spotted and brown like the backs
of the hands of the old. The wings
of the angels were stone clouds stained,

pocked like a bird’s. My father didn’t want
to die, nor my uncles, in their fifties,
nor dull Jack Bruning, who’d have welded
wings to his back to get another day
of drinking, and who claimed that
in the war he’d eaten a man’s flesh.
At one another’s funerals they were
inconsolable: they would draw from

the scabbard, with its lime-green rust,
a sword against their deaths; in their
flawed hearts they would stand fast:
as on the bridge, with half-closed eyes
and mouths about to speak, the ten
Bernini angels, in their cold and heavy robes,
and wings unfurled with the weight of men,
were in alignment yet reluctant to cross.
by Stanley Plumly

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For The Anniversary Of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
W.S. Merwin (born 1927)

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Mary Craik. 56″ x 44″ Cotton

“My, how foolish I am!” my friend cries, suddenly alert, like a woman remembering too late she has biscuits in the oven. “You know what I’ve always thought?” she asks in a tone of discovery and not smiling at me but a point beyond. “I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when he came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are”— her hand circles in a gesture that gathers clouds and kites and grass and Queenie pawing earth over her bone —” just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.” — from A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote

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Helen Frankenthaler, abstract expressionist, born 1928

“A really good pictures looks as if it happened all at once. It’s an immediate image.”

“One really beautiful wrist motion, that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it. It looks as if it were born in a minute.”
Magic Carpet, 1946. 96 x 68, acrylic on canvas
“There are no rules. That is how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about.”
Rapunzel, 1974. 274 x 206 cm,
arcrylic on canvas

Helen Frankenthaler (right) and artist Grace Hartigan (1922-2008)

1957 From Life
The Bay, 1963, acrylic on canvas

“Whatever the medium, there is difficulty, challenge, fascination and often productive clumsiness of learning a new method: the wonderful puzzles and problems of translating with new materials.”
“You have to know how to use the accident, how to recognize it, how to control it, and ways to eliminate it so that the whole surface looks felt and born all at once.”

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