Searching for Comfort in The Devil’s Workshop

One dark day, you’ll discover
the forehead fits perfectly
into the palm of one’s hand,
as if the Master behind the skin
and bone designed it for just
that purpose. That Master will come
searching for solace and sanctuary
when it no longer can find any within.
But, it may find nothing there
but idle thoughts, calloused responses,
and more deep depressions.
Perhaps it will detect a tremor
or numbness in the caress of its servant
so long ignored and abused.
I suppose one really should expect,
after all the brooding over its
servant’s imperfect interpretations
of one’s heady imaginings, to find in those
final downturned and overcast days
the stony slag in a Devil’s Workshop
of your own forging?

Free write blather, inspired by my pressing of my uninspired head into my dry and arthritic hands. The perfectionist gets his perfect comeuppance.

Whatever the Heart Has Left To Take

The gentle man always was
a tick slow on the uptake,
blind to the foibles
and shortcomings of the angels,
fallen and otherwise, who
he believed encouraged him,
with a virtual handkerchief drop,
to voice his feelings
to (about) them.
But that exposed the soft anatomy
of his misplaced humanity
to their talon-sharp vanity.

So to unspoken words he turned.
Not the gesture, the expression
nor the tender touch the angels
always returned unopened.
He spoke instead to
the tissue-thin mirror
of a notebook’s page,
which sometimes reflected
his words to a keyboard
which echoed them
to you and you…and You.

You may read them
as love letters if you wish,
even though they’re unaddressed.
Read them today or whenever
you wish to feel what
he never got to…
except from the page.
The page always takes
to its heart whatever his heart
has left to take there.

Written on the 7th, but felt like sleeping with it. My poem-a-day run continues, as well as my weekly piece for Annie Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines Challenge. This week’s prompt is that illustration up there.

With Dreams Inside My Eyes

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I have a bed, my very own.
It’s just my size.
And sometimes I like to sleep alone
with dreams inside my eyes.” ~ Mary Oliver

The doctor says I could go blind,
and for a moment my mind races
in frantic paces where sight
no longer graces my life like
random tones do a composer’s.
But then I realize I’m already seeing
such things in this darkened room.

There’s robin’s vermillion breast
coming to rest from azure above
to green below. And here’s your face,
unburdened by the toll of years,
the paths of tears, inviting yet
another riff on things only I
can see in you. The doctor says
we can arrest the coming darkness,
but what’s already lost
is gone forever.

I thank her and walk outside,
wearing what’s probably an odd grin.
She doesn’t know it’s at night,
with my eyes closed, I see
my life’s places and faces
so clearly. You may
tear away pieces of my sight,
but you’ll never steal my vision.

This piece was inspired by the final line of the first verse Mary Oliver’s Every Dog’s Story suggested my friend Annie Fuller. 

 

a·ban·doned, adj.

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The crisp heartbeat rhythm
he’d hang pictures upon
dulled to a matte thing
reflecting nothing but
whispered brushstrokes.

In its place,
an amber-light ache,
a cautionary Don’t
raising its hand,
a bleary ellipsis en route
to comma and then
the silencing dot.

In the white field’s
vacant stare,
he thought of then,
of that, of her, of them,
of eyes, of laughter,
of tears.
Of abandonment, of regret.

So he turned from them,
dipping his pen into the well
of almosts and sortas.
But what good were imprecise
words if they couldn’t
bring that face into
his inky hands again?

Nothing happening here today. Nothing to see. Nothing to hear. Move along. Move along…

Dramatis Personæ

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The man emerged from Grand Central Station, ran through puddles reflecting city lights to the line of cabs, jerked open the door of one and jumped from the rain into its back seat. The cabbie, texting his girlfriend in Queens, jumped a bit in surprise. He got a little more startled by that sort of thing lately. Didn’t used to, but now he did. You could never be too sure about anyone anymore, he would say.

In the rear view mirror he sized up a typical out-of-town business type, probably upstate insurance or real estate, just a little wetter than usual.

“Hey, buddy, you want to quit shaking that little umbrella back there? You don’t see me blowing exhaust into your office, do you?” he said.

“Oh, sorry,” the out-of-towner said.

“Yeah, well…So where we going?” He usually didn’t have to ask. In this town people get off the train knowing they’ve got to be somewhere ten minutes or ten years ago. From the looks of this fare–late 20s, not really expensive raincoat, white shirt, red tie, phony Ivy, like maybe Syracuse or Albany–the hack figured he would say Fulton, John, or William Street, something in the insurance district. Not cool enough for Wall Street. Not flashy enough for Broadway. Not hipster enough for Chelsea. Besides, he thought, the last two types would have taken the subway and he’d have never have them dripping on the back seat.

“Um, I’m not sure, actually,” the fare said.

“Look, bud, you can’t sit back there just to get out of the rain. There’s a nice coffee shop back inside the station and another twenty in every direction you look. Unless you’ve got somewhere you know where to go, I ‘m sure I got other fares who know where they’re supposed to be delivered.”

“Actually, I’m looking for a woman.”

“Whoa, pal! I don’t know what you’ve heard, but every hack in this town ain’t got a deal with the The Emperor’s Club. You can still find a pro at any of the bars that are probably next door to all those coffee shops I told you about. Come to think of it, you could find a few semi-pros inside those coffee shops.”

“Oh, no. Not that kind of…of course, not that…I’m sure not…”

“Sir, please,” the cabbie, a part time waiter-writer named Gianetti according to his hack license, turned to the rear and said. “While you’re still fairly young? Shit or get off my pot.”

“Look, I met this girl two months ago on-line. Very pretty. Very friendly. She said she worked here in the city. I don’t work here. I’m from Albany. I know her name, but not an address. I know, I know. Really, I’m not a stalker. She said it would be great to meet someday. I thought I’d surprise her and visit the City. Call her when I got here. And then I went and left my phone on the shuttle to Beacon. That’s where I caught the Metro North to here. For all I know she’s been trying to call me, you know? And…”

“Is there some point to this poignant tale of lost love, other than you need a new phone, I need another fare, and we’re all looking to get laid in this hopeless, heartless city?” Gianetti said.

“Of course,” the young man replied. “She said she worked at a big law firm. Heather said–that’s her name, Heather, Heather Townsend–Heather said she worked for Plotkin, Webster, Something. Or Something, Taylor, Plotsky. Pinckney, Something, Something? Her Facebook page show’s she’s about 25, brown hair, gorgeous brown…”

“Buddy? Excuse me again? But there’s only about four or four and a half million women in this town. Another couple million come to work here each day. I mean I seen ’em all over the past five years, but I can’t say I’ve ever met a Heather Plotkin.”
“Townshend. Heather Townsend. She..”

“Whatever. Look, you got an address for this babe’s…this girl’s law firm?” he said.

“Oh, sure. Sorry,” he said, fumbled in the pocket of his Burberry knock-off (Gianetti could tell because, as he would tell some of his fares, “I know these things.”) and pulled out a sheet of paper folded in quarters. It looked like a leftover miniature taco, oozing black and red.

“Oh man, I must have gotten it wet running from the station to your cab. Shit!”

“You ain’t kidding, mister.”

“I’m sure it was on 6th Avenue and one of those 40-something streets, 42nd, 43rd, 47th, one of those” he said. “Look I’ll pay whatever it costs to find her.”

“Well, at least that’ll keep us out of Harlem…maybe. You’re sure it wasn’t 142nd, right? Long as you’re paying, I’ll drive.” Gianetti hit the meter and deftly pulled into traffic.

“Look, pal, I’m no romantic. I’ve seen the best and worst of people in my rear view mirror for the past five years. Seen them hug, punch, kiss, yell, sing, cry, fuck. Some nights all in the same fare. Even had one die back there. So nothing really surprises me anymore.”

Gianetti was pretty sure this guy was dopey or delusional, probably both, but it was a slow day and a fare’s a fare. Especially with his rent due Friday. At the stop light, Gianetti pulled out his phone and searched for law firms on 6th Avenue. There’s only about twelve fucking thousand, he thought.

“You don’t get outta Albany much, do you, pal?”

“No, just north and west, for the..uh, you know, business.”

“Figures,” Gianetti said under his breath.

“What say? Oh, and the name’s Michael. Michael Behan. Folks call me Mickey, though. Don’t ask,” he laughed and waved his hand at the back of Gianetti’s head like guys do when they actually want you to ask.

“Okay, I won’t,” the hack said to Mickey Behan’s disappointment.

Gianetti promised himself he wouldn’t rip this kid off. Even though he seemed as dim as the inside of a confessional, he was a fare, and he remembered when he came to this town for love from a place even more folksy than Albany, New York.

At the next stop, Gianetti scrolled down the list of law offices to the P’s.

“Why are we on Avenue of the Americas?” Mickey asked.

“Buddy, 6th Avenue and Avenue of the Americas are the same thing depending where we are. And there’s no Plotkin, no Webster, no Pinckney. There is a Day Pitney, though. But they’re on Times Square”

“Hmmm, I’m not sure. Maybe.”

“There is a Patterson Bellknap Webb & Tyler on…”

“That’s it,” Mickey cried, leaning into the between-seats plastic shield. “How far away?”

“Behind us a half-block and on this very street, actually,” Gianetti said. He pointed to the towering silver building shining in the rays of sun that had just broken through the clouds.

“That’s the Grace Building, 1114 6th. Says Patterson Bellknap’s on the 22nd and 23rd floors.”

“Aw, man. Thanks a million,” Mickey said. He reached for the door handle to exit the cab and heard Gianetti clear his throat.

“Whoa, there, Romeo. The meter says you owe me fifteen bucks. Sorry, but that’s how it is in this town.

“Wha..? Fifteen? For three blocks? Fine, fine, no problem. Here’s twenty. Keep the change.”

“I should think so,” Gianetti said.

“Thanks a million, really.”

Mickey jumped out of the cab in front of the Starbucks on the corner of 42nd and 6th and walked briskly back down the block toward Grand Central, checking his look in each store window along the way. When he reached the entrance to the Grace Building, he smoothed his hair in his reflection as he peered within. There, in the lobby, he saw a reception area and three guards between the entrance and the banks of elevators.

“Holy shit,” Mickey whispered through his teeth. “This is really some joint. Heather must be something really special.” Pushing his way through the heavy glass doors, Mickey shuffled up to the reception area and stood behind three men speaking what he thought sounded like Arabic. He scanned the marble walls with their brass fittings.

He had just about finished his reconnoiter when he heard…
“Sir? Can I help you, sir?”

On the left side of the reception desk, past the blue velvet rope, Mickey saw a 40-ish black woman peering at him over her glasses. She smiled a practiced smile and said, “How can I help you?”

Mickey scuffed up against the brass post upon which the rope was attached, giving it a bit of a half-spin totter, grabbed it and returned it to a steady position a few inches left of its original spot and walked his red face to address the receptionist with as much aplomb as he could muster.

“Uh, yes. I would like to see Ms. Townsend, please. She’s with Patterson Bellknap.”

“Yes, sir. Do you have an appointment?”

“Umm, no. But we’re good friends. Just let her know Michael Behan from Albany is here to see her.”

Dropping her chin to touch her orange and green patterned silk scarf and peering over her glasses once again, the receptionist caught the eye of the building security man standing just behind Mickey and raised her eyebrows. Mickey turned and looked over his shoulder and saw the guard sizing him up, for just what he wasn’t sure.

“Yes, sir. Let me ring Ms. Tomlinson’s assistant,” the receptionist said as Mickey and the guard exchanged glances. “Would you please take a seat over there?” She pointed to a row of benches near the left-side wall.

Mickey knew the guard was now keeping a closer eye on him as both moved to the side.

Within five minutes, a young woman exited one of the elevators and walked to the reception area and talked to the receptionist, who pointed to Mickey and then raised her chin toward the nearby guard.

The young woman slowly walked toward Mickey, who felt she was checking him for weapons or worse.

“Sir, I’m Ms. Tomlinson’s assistant’s secretary. We have no record of your having an appointment with us, nor does Ms. Tomlinson  know a Michael Behan. If you would like to see…”

“Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. Tomlinson?” Mickey said. “I’ve been speaking with Ms. Townsend–Townsend–for some time now. We are very good friends. Do you understand? There must be some mistake.”

“No mistake, sir. Dealing with international clients on very detailed subjects like intellectual property, we make a point of not making mistakes.”

“But..”

“Thank you, sir, but unless you have some business with Patterson Bellknap I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“But…”

“I’m sorry, sir.”

“But…”

Mickey sagged and was about to make another plea as the young woman turned and clicked away on the marble floor tiles in what Gianetti would recognize as Jimmy Choo pumps, definitely not knock-offs.

“Sir?”

Mickey heard a deep, authoritative voice behind him. Startled, he turned and stared directly into the red tie of the navy-blazered security guard, who was at least a head taller than Mickey.

“If you don’t have any more business here in the Grace Building, sir, I’m going to have to ask you to please leave the premises. I’m sure you understand.” He smiled that polite kind of smile cops do that carries the inference of an impersonal dose of personal injury.

“Sure, sorry. I just don’t know why…”

“Sir?”

“Um, yeah. Have a nice day.”

“You, too, sir,” the security man said with a bare touch of professional sincerity.

Out on 42nd Street again, Mickey, jaywalked through the stop-and-go heartbeat of the city’s vehicular circulation, pulled his raincoat beneath him and sat on one of the upper steps of the broad stairway entering Bryant Park.

“What the hell was that?” he said to himself.

Mickey counted up the front of the building 22 floors and scanned the shining section of glass facade right to left and back again on the 23rd floor.

“Wonder which is hers?” he said.

Mickey had planned to meet with Heather and maybe have lunch, but it was still only 11:00 or so. He had a return ticket for the 5:15 PM to the Beacon train station where he’d catch the shuttle to Albany. He stewed that he had nothing to do for the next six hours. He recalled the cabbie mention a coffee shop everywhere you look and the Starbucks down the block where he left the cab.

“Might as well get a cup. I’m sure that’ll cost ten bucks around here,” he mumbled as he walked along the length of the park to the corner of 6th and crossed to the Starbucks.
The smell of coffee and the sound of busy people refueling on caffeine revived his spirits a bit, even though he was tenth in line to place his order. Mickey noticed the speed and no-nonsense attitude of the crew behind the counter and the light-speed clickity-clack, whirr and milk steamer shhh of the two girls working the barrista station. He looked back toward the end of the line and saw the secretary who had just shooed him from the Grace Building entering the shop. She noticed him, too, but made a point of looking right through him to the menu board.

“Yes?” the smiling young Hispanic woman in the green apron said as the two guys in front of Mickey went to wait for their Americanos. Despite her rictus smile, there was no mistaking the tone of voice wordlessly expressing her interest in moving this line along.

“Uhhh…”

Her smile turned to a thin line.

“Oh, right. Venti double hazelnut latte, please.”
“$9.43, sir.”

“I fucking knew it,” Mickey mumbled as he handed her his card and she slid it through the reader. He tossed a buck in the near-empty left-hand tip jar that signified he supported a strict interpretation of his Second Amendment rights.

He watched the barristas crank out the capuchinos, caramel macchiatos, and another pair of lattes. When his order was completed, the barrista looked up to hand it over. Her eyes opened wide and she nearly dropped the cup.

“Michael!” she said.

Mickey looked up as he grasped the cup and saw what may have been the face of the woman he had traveled to New York to see.
“Heather?”

He saw a name tag on her apron. Sure enough, it read: Heather. But she didn’t look exactly like the young woman whose face he’d been messaging to on Facebook for the past weeks.

“What are you doing here?” she asked. “Wait right there. Clarissa can I get my break soon?”

The Hispanic woman looked at the line, dwindled to seven, and three people waiting for their espresso drinks, including the secretary, who stood over by the cream and sugar station out of Mickey’s sight.

“11:30,” said the shift manager.

“Michael please wait. I’d like to explain.”

Mickey found an empty seat next to the door and sipped his latte, never looking up as the secretary scurried past his irritating annoyance. The cool air coming through the doorway as she left felt good on Mickey’s red face.

He stood up as a women in her mid-30s approached. No longer was there longish brown hair, but rather an asymmetric cut short on one side and almost buzzed off on the other. She was putting on her jacket when he noticed the tattoos stretching their flora and fauna down her arms from beneath the short sleeves of her top.

“I’ve only got ten minutes. Please walk with me outside,” she said.

Mickey stood and pushed through the door, allowing it to close on Heather. Outside, he stared across 42nd street and at the traffic.

“Michael?” Heather said.

“How dare you try to fool me like this?” Mickey said. He couldn’t look in her eyes. “I traveled all the way from Albany to see you, or who I thought was you, spent over two hundred fucking bucks, am embarrassed and tossed out on my ass by security in the Grace Building, and now I find you’re not an attorney at all. You’re a coffee girl at fucking Starbucks.”

“I didn’t think a vice president of a big dairy company would talk to me if you knew I was a wannabe theater MFA from Beekmantown. I play a lot of roles and I never thought you’d leave your office to come down here, especially on a Tuesday. I was going to tell you eventually…”

“You lied to me. My friends said, ‘Why would some lawyer from New York want to strike up a relationship with you, a…dairy guy from Albany?'”

“What difference does it make, Michael? Really. Didn’t we have that connection? You felt it, admit it.”

“How can I face everyone back home? They were right, you can’t believe anything on-line. Look, I’m sure you’re a nice, talented girl, but I can’t abide a liar. If I can’t trust you, I can’t have any sort of relationship with you?”

“Who said anything about a relationship?”

“Isn’t that where this was all heading?”

“Umm, not like that kind of relationship. I mean, I think you’re very nice and we really hit it off, but don’t you think it’s a little premature to be talking a relationship. I mean I’ve only just this week got a play…”

“Yeah, gotta play. And I gotta go. My train’s leaving in an hour and I’ve got to get over to Penn Station. Look, I’m sorry this all happened. All very embarrassing, but I think it’s best if we just forget about all this,” Mickey waved his hands back at the Grace Building, over Heather’s head at the Starbucks and then straight up in the air.

“I’m sorry, Michael. I really like you and I’d like to get to know you better. I was so surprised someone in your field knows a lot about theater and…”

“Yeah, I thought you were some Renaissance woman. Attorney, artist, traveler. Christ, what a dope! Goodbye, Heather. Is that really your name?” He extended his hand.

“Yeah, Heather’s my real name,” she said, grasping his hand and noticing its roughness and its perma-stained knuckles and nails like that of a workman’s. She shook her head and wondered why Mickey was headed east on 42nd Street toward Grand Central when Penn Station was nine blocks south on 6th Avenue.

Jenny Grandjean, following the instruction of her acting teacher to chronicle each bit of emotional and sensory experience of her life to mine and in turn inhabit in some future role, fished in the pocket of her green apron and pulled a little notebook from her pocket. She scribbled in it for a minute, looked back up 42nd Street, shrugged, sighed a contented sigh and went back into Starbucks.

On the page it read: Character study: As M left her in their hotel room for the last time, returning to his wife and her fortune, Heather lay across their bed, taking in the smell of him, recalling the effect of his rough but gentle hands upon her shivering skin, feeling the heat of their passion leave the sheets just as he left her arms, her face burned with the knowledge their love was madness, but it was a beautiful madness…

Here’s a too-long draft of a story I wrote for Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines prompt. which asked for a story revolving around the phrase,  “It was a mad and beautiful thing … “ This one was struggle, not just with coming up with a story, but with wandering around New York City in the street view of Google Maps. Hopefully you didn’t need a map to find your way through my story, yourself.

Between Truth and the Lie

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I’ve told you stories, a few hung on a lie,
maybe they brought a tear to your eye.
Now about these stories, some told in verse,
seems I wrote them in hopes I’d stop feeling worse.

I’ve told you stories, some hooked to white lies,
and I spun them to not be the man we’d despise.
So you see these stories, they just had to be told,
before I forgot them when I got too old.

I’ve told so many stories, I guess most of them lies,
capturing you, you and you in some form of disguise.
I didn’t tell those stories, even the pure lies,
to make you feel angry I might be another of “those guys.”

So, I’ve told you my story, and the truth’s set me free.
I finally told it when I just couldn’t hold it, you see,
struggling to discern between truth and the lie,
when the story ends and maybe that’s you and I.

A wide-body poem about how the artist’s imagination conflates what’s real and what’s not. He ends up creating something perhaps subconsciously (or not) straddling–if not downright erasing–that line between seeing fact and the view through his cracked prism. I think the meter of this piece was informed by the  Jason Isbell’s song Stockholm.

The Artist Awakens

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Last time I saw her was when she gave her Alfred back to the lake. By that time she was living out West. But she told me she’d always remember the poetry of the wind coming down the lake and the color of the water the first time she saw it back in ’08. But she was glad she’d never come back.

I was just a tot back then, tethered by a strap to my mother so I wouldn’t wander into the lake. The lake is Lake George, the so-called Queen of American Lakes. To Alfred’s family and mine it was home, though. Not so much to her.

First time I saw her was one day she walked into Dad’s store in the village after picking up their mail from New York City, where she and Alfred lived most of the year. Like a lot of New Yorkers of any means, and Alfred’s folks had means, they would escape the summer in the city for the wilds of upstate. For many, that meant the Catskills. For others it was Saratoga. But more than a few took the train all the way up into the Adirondacks to their great lodges. The Alfred’s family owned a farm on the lake in the Adirondack foothills. And that’s how I came to meet her.

“She looks like a goddamn man,” my dad would say whenever she came into our store. But that would be well after she left to go back to her studio shed on the farm. And it was kind of true. My big brother Bob said she had what he called a hatchet face. She did almost always wear this most stern and snotty look on it, kind of superior but with the threat of punching you in the mouth just because you looked at her with what she considered the wrong look.

“I think she smells like a barn,” my mom would laugh. “But a new barn, fresh painted with a whiff of turpentine.”

“She’s a painter, Mother,” I’d say. “I’ve seen her on the shore with an easel and paints. And I’ve seen her wandering around the farm then, all of sudden, crouch down and start drawing some flower and then dabbing on some watercolors like grandma taught me.”

My grandma, Mother’s mother, was from a once well-to-do Albany family, canal and railroad money. They lost almost everything in the Panic of ’73. As a privileged girl, she studied music and art, two things she never gave up even after having to move up to their summer place on Diamond Point. She played piano and taught me to draw and paint before she passed in 1913 after she heard about the Titanic. Something about a boy she was in love with as a girl.

I can understand that. You never know when and how love will strike you. Or to whom you’ll lose your heart the first time.

I happened to think this woman smelled just fine. Like an artist, just how I wanted to be. Not like her Alfred, who carried the aroma of rotten eggs around with him. She said it was the chemicals he used to make his pictures, photographs of people and buildings and life. He also made what the visitors to his family’s farm called “images” of people with no clothes on, including his wife. I never saw those until she invited me in one day when I came across her having trouble carrying her equipment from the lakeshore back to her shed studio.

It didn’t bother her one bit that I saw her naked there in shades of black and white. She even put on a little grin because she knew how scandalous it was to someone who didn’t understand art. But the photographs that captured my imagination were the ones Alfred took of her beautiful hands. He captured those long fingers in various poses, almost like ballet dancers, sometimes just against a dark piece of wood or canvas, others framing her somber face.

“Thank you for showing me what you and your mister do up here,” I said before I headed back down the lakeshore to the village. “It means a lot to me because I want to be an artist someday, myself.”

“What kind of artist, uhh… What did you say your name was?” her face took on a somewhat softer expression.

“A painter, just like you,” I replied. “And my name is Catherine.”

“Well, Catherine, the career of an artist isn’t for the faint of heart. In fact, your heart has to develop a skin as tough as the sole of your shoe because rejection and isolation is as much a part of it as an easel or even a camera,” she said.

“Well, that’s what I want to be,” I said.

“Then stop by Tuesday and meet some of the New York artists Alfred is having as guests for the week. They are a motley bunch of malcontents and zealots, but they all are, by definition ‘artists.’ They make art.”

I left the shed stumbling on my “Thank you, ma’am”s and “I’ll surely be heres.” But I didn’t tell Mother or Dad because if they found out, they’d lock me in the root cellar until school started again in September.

I think it was that day I fell in love for the first time.

Even though I’d watch her work from hiding every day, it was Tuesday I wandered up to the farm and heard a commotion like a meeting in the village hall about raising taxes.

There were a couple of painters, a dancer named Isadora, a newspaper lady named Agnes Meyer, a writer named Kerfoot and in the middle of it all was Alfred, like he was a conductor——railroad or orchestra, it didn’t matter——keeping the conversation, or argument, going. She sat on the outside, taking it all in.

“Come on over, Catherine,” she said over the clamor of the artists. She beckoned me forward, leaving my fear down by the lakeshore, with a balletic wave of her alluring left hand, something I doubt Miss Duncan could manage.

She patted a spot on the porch step next to her and I sat there, eyes wide and dry mouth agape, I’m sure, at the sight and sound of what I would later learn were some of the movers and shakers of modern American Capital A Art.

“This is Catherine, a schoolgirl from the village. She wants to be an artist someday. I thought she might learn something about ‘Art’ from listening to you birds,” she said.

The group gave me a nod and sideways look and continued their chatter. It was intoxicating and I’m certain I looked every bit the country schoolgirl they considered me. I began to feel out of place and was about to slide off the step and head back down to the village and my pencils and books when she put her hand atop mine and gave me a knowing look. I do believe I melted in that August shade.

“Alfred,” she sternly said, piercing and taking the air from the palaver like a sewing needle a balloon, “before we potentially lose this girl to the drudgery of a humdrum existence here on your beloved Lake George, would you please address her question of a life in art?”

Alfred, even then not a young man, his silver mustache bristling, seemed knocked back by the strength of her order. It definitely wasn’t a request and even he, a giant in modern art, seemed to quail in her power. He then gathered his own shattered power off the porch floor and directed his attention upon me with his whole being as any artist, or wolf, might a lamb.

“Young lady, the people you see here today are artists, but not because they are deemed such by a society who may never fully accept us. Photography is not an art. Neither is painting, nor sculpture, literature or music. They are only different media for the individual to express his aesthetic feelings…”

I’m sure he could here me gulp as a stony silence came over not only his guests, but seemingly the entire lakeside.

“You do not have to be a painter or a sculptor to be an artist. You may be a shoemaker. You may be creative as such. And, if so, you are a greater artist than the majority of the painters whose work is shown in the art galleries of today. Probably better than anyone you see before you right now,” he said.

“Yessir,” I said and got up to run home armed with knowledge I wouldn’t appreciate for more than a few years as a failed painter and a reporter for various New York newspapers. But I couldn’t run. Her strong hand clutched mine and I was her prisoner.

“Come with me Catherine,” she said, leading me to her shed, which had taken on a golden glow as the sunlight sifted down below the pines atop Prospect Mountain.

“Ah, the Golden Hour,” Georgia said. “Light, illumination, is everything to an artist, Catherine. I hope you’ve learned a lesson, been illuminated, today.”

“I…I…think so,” I said, and I didn’t mean strictly about my future as an artist, but my future, period. I was totally smitten with her, her piercing eyes, her confidence, those beautiful fingers that now held mine.

“Look, I’m not sure I’ll be back here next year. No offense, but I think I need to open my horizons and head back west, both for my art and myself.”

“But you can’t,” I said, suddenly panicking that I’d never see her again.

“I see a lot of me as a girl in you,” she said. “I see a seriousness, an inquisitiveness, a certain kind of yearning about art and life that instinctively puts on a new trail each day, like a wolf maybe, while we hunt for and take a big bite out of the objects of our desire.”

And then I kissed her.

Her face took on that hatchet hardness, but her eyes a sadness I’d never seen her show.

“You’re young, Catherine. Spread your wings, never settle for the first sketch, the first draft. Obey your mind as well as your heart. And always, always listen closely to the sound of this earth, so closely you can hear its poetry, even hear its colors. Tell the world its story however you decide to make your art.”

She pressed a wooden case into my hands and nudged me toward the barn-like door of her studio shed.

“I’m leaving for New York with some these people you met today, but I want you to have this. Maybe it can help you can find your true calling as an artist. Now, I think you’d better get moving along before night falls all together,” she said, closing the big doors behind me.

I cried all the way home and for the next two days when I didn’t see her by the lake or in her studio. It wasn’t until after I graduated from Skidmore College, where I met and fell in love with my Betty, that Alfred finally died and she came back to Lake George with his ashes that I found her while I was visiting my parents and walking along the shore by what was once the Stieglitz farm.

She looked up quickly, with a dark and suspicious expression on her sun-burnished face, but it softened as I drew closer.

“Is that you Catherine? Have you become one of those reporters who sneak up on people to catch them in moments of weakness or sin?” she said with a grin that I hadn’t seen in nearly twenty years. She turned and dumped something into the lake.

“No. Sorry to hear about Alfred. I’ll never forget the day he, and you, ‘illuminated’ me about being a true artist. I wish I could thank him,” I said.

“You just did. Walk with me and tell me about the artful life you’ve created for yourself.” With that, Georgia took my right hand in her still beautiful left and we listened as the poetry of the morning breeze combed the trees and turned the surface of the lake to blue-green corduroy.

The photograph that accompanied the original prompt (as seen illustrating the poem The Uncertain Certainty of Eternity) reminded me of some of the paintings made by Georgia O’Keeffe while she summered with Alfred Stieglitz up in nearby Lake George. That and the quote from Keats moved my imagination for a couple of hours to come up with this first draft.