Monday, May 26, 2014

The Sideway's Glance

At the same time I've been working on my painting based on my friend's Holocaust memories, I have also been playing with  images related to sight, some on canvas and some in a sketchbook. I also began to write poetry about my friend's loss of central vision and the way she needed to use her peripheral vision to see. In the sketchbook I made use of an image of my inner eye and magnifiers that are so important in her ability to perform daily functions. I am often surprised by her sudden unexpected sight. Using her peripheral vision she can often pick up on contrast or movement, always when I least expect it. 

Shrouded in darkness,
Never seeing what lies in front,
The aleph of a face

Closed to you.
You find your light elsewhere,
That of an enlightened mind
Burning brightly.
No mere flicker,
It is an insistent flame.
You are forced to find your sight
in the peripheral,
The sideways glance,
Surprising unsuspecting Sight.
Often surprising me, as well.
You can use those? you ask,
As I grasp the chopsticks.
You can see those?

I reply.

One day I asked her what she sees, trying to think how I would paint it.  How does one paint what one doesn't see?  An odd concept.  Truly negative space.  She told me to squint, squint until I could barely see.

What do you see? I ask.
What does it look like?
Squint until you can barely see.

I close my eyes,
eyelashes flutter.
Graying the world into flickers
Like an old celluloid film.
Can you see my face?
No, I have never seen your face.
I move to your side.
Now, can you see me?
Not clearly,
And yet,
you see me better than most,
who I am,
You recognize
the core of me.

I found myself thinking of the concept of inner light. I recalled her recounting her deep despair over the gradual loss of her sight and her discovery of the Library of Congress books on tape that represented a renewal of her inner light.   

Thirty years ago you knew that
Sight was fleeting,
A gradual loss,
Each year worse
Than the one before.
The year you stopped driving,
A watershed.
An independent woman
In need of others.
You despaired,
Unable to re-imagine
yet one more time,
Chaffing at the losses.
Sight the first but so pervasive.
How does one live when your world changes
in every conceivable way.
Where is the light
when there is only darkness?

I did a profile, then a still life of her magnifier and her magnifying glasses. I first began by filling in with imagery of the things that enrich her life today and then didn't like the imagery so painted over it. Then I began to paint a plant which seemed to work, representing new life. Finally I added the suggestion of me, but greyed out as she sees me. Many times I've sat across from her in her study just like that.

My friend has an amazingly rich life today, reading books on tape, studying the Talmud with her study partner by telephone and talking to groups on the Holocaust. She calls her lack of sight her "handicap", but with a strong will and an interest in the world around her, she has reconstructed a life of deep meaning.  I don't know how I will finish this painting or if it will be one of those unfinished ones that leans lonesomely against my studio wall, but I like her queenly profile.

But after despair came light,
A new vision
Of life without vision.
Your inner light burns brightly,
A tape player
like a cornerstone
On which you build this new edifice.
Reading regained
Through ears, not eyes.
You take it all in,
Stoking your light
Til it roars like a furnace,
Talmud by telephone,
Translation by magnification
Embraced by family
And friends,
to your light.

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