Follow by Email

Exchange of Values

Exchange of Values
acrylic on board 48'X96'

"Structure of Color Perception"

"Structure of Color Perception"
48'X96' acrylic on board

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Psychopomp of Crows, by Daniel Imburgia (after Vincent)


*** “The church is beautiful but it has it’s dark side....”  From an NBC newscaster talking about the Pope’s resignation, sex scandals among Cardinals, child abuse coverups, financial ‘irregularities,’ etc..  It reminds me somewhat of a line from that insidiously anti-semitic movie ‘Schindler’s List.’  Schindler defending Colonel Goeth, the commandante of the concentration camp says to Colonel Goeth’s Jewish house slave Embeth Davidtz, “You have to understand, he’s under a lot pressure.  Under normal circumstances Goeth wouldn’t be like this...It’s the war.”  Oy Vey!

*** Since I ‘rightly pass’ as a Roman Catholic it seems apropos to keep posting from that great old movie, “The Shoes of the Fisherman,” one of my favorites (although I did just finish watching "The Thorn Birds" recently too).  The Shoes is a story about the election of a new Russian Pope in the middle of the anti-communist cold war. The cardinals gather from across the globe for a Conclave, and Cardinal Camerlengo, and Cardinal Leone, meet together to discuss the future of the Church.  In a moment of reflection they ask one another what they would do should they have their lives to live over.  Cardinal Leone answeres:

Cardinal Leone:  “I’ve thought about it often,” said Leone heavily.  “If I didn’t marry--and I’m, not sure but that’s what I needed to make me halfway human--I’d be a country priest with just enough theology to hear confession, and just enough Latin to get through Mass and the sacramental formulae.  But with heart enough to know what griped in the guts of other men and made them cry into their pillows at night.  I’d sit in front of my church on a summer evening and read my office and talk about the weather and the crops, and learn to be gentle to the poor and humble with the unhappy ones…  You know what I am now?  A walking encyclopaedia of dogma and theological controversy.  I can smell out an error faster than a Dominican.  And what does it mean?  Nothing.  Who cares about theology except the theologians?  We are necessary, but less important than we think.  The Church is Christ--Christ and the people.  And all the people want to know is whether or not there is a God, and what is His relation with them, and how they can get back to Him when they stray.”

Kiril Lakota: (Anthony Quinn, the new Russian Pope):  “It costs so much to be a full human being… one has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.”

Fr. David Telemond:  (the character that plays the censored Teilhard de Chardin ) You know even God has not spoken his last word about his own creation.  I believe in a personal god, I believe in Christ, I believe in the spirit, but if by some perilous internal revolution, I lost my faith in god, in Christ and in the spirit, I think I still would believe in the world. Yes I do believe in the world. In the goodness of the world. In the values of the world. That in the final analysis is the first and the last thing in which I believe. This faith I live by, and it is to this faith that; at the moment of death, mastering all doubts, I shall surrender myself.  The dying is easy, it is the living which defeats us.”

*** I recently Discovered the word “psychopomp” and I am always seeking just the right time and place to insert it into facebook or blog posts.   "Psychopomp" (from the Greek word ψυχοπομπός - pschopompos, literally meaning the "guide of souls") are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage” (safe from what?).

It seems that every culture has psychopomps of a kind that guide souls either to heaven or hell.  The Welsh have Gwyn ap Nudd the Inuit speak of Anguta, the Chinese call them Hēi Bái Wú Cháng, the White and Black guards of impermanence.  And in the Talmud they are called “Lailah.”  Rabbi Hanina writes that Lailah are the angels in charge of conception who take a drop of semen and place it before God, “Lailah chooses an already existing soul from the Garden of Eden and commands it to enter the embryo. Lailah watches over the development in the womb and shows to it the rewards and punishments available to the individual. Then right before birth, Lailah strikes the newborn above the lip making it forget all past knowledge and creates the philtrum [so that’s how that little divot over our lips got there!].  Lailah serves as a guardian angel throughout a person's life, and at death leads the soul into the afterlife.”  Generally speaking there is some consensus in the Talmud that God leaves one thing undecided at the birth of a human being, whether that human will be righteous or wicked.  God keeps that secret not only from us but form God’s own self (another aspect of tzimtzum I reckon? I wonder how Calvinists explain the purpose of a philtrum?).  

*** Among my most expensive books is the three volume complete letters of Vincent Van Gogh that my dear wife bought me many years ago (all available on-line for free now btw!).  I read from it almost as devotionally as I do from Benjamin, Mother Teresa, and Rabbi’s Shapira and Sloveitchik.  This letter seems to have some resonance with the rest of the post above but I reckon I will let my few dear readers figure out for themselves  how all these klediments may fit together.     

From Vincent to Theo, form Arles, 9th. July 1888

My Dear Theo

For my own part, I declare I know nothing whatever about it. But to look at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots of a map representing towns and villages. Why, I ask myself, should the shining dots of the sky not be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France? If we take the train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. One thing undoubtedly true in this reasoning is this: that while we are alive we cannot get to a star, any more than when we are dead we can take the train.
So it doesn't seem impossible to me that cholera, pleurisy and cancer are the means of celestial locomotion, just as steam-boats, omnibuses and railways are the terrestrial means. To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.  Now I am going to bed, because it is late, and I wish you good night and good luck.
A handshake, Yours  Vincent

Cancer or heart attack, even a car wreck, or a pistol fired point blank into your gut, may be  welcomed by us as psychopomps to the stars.  Thank you for that my dear brother Vincent.  The painting above is my copy of Van Gogh’s very last painting called “Crows In a Wheat field.”  He didn’t call it that or give it any title of course.  Every year they have a forgery art show here on the island and a few years ago I chose to copy this one by Vincent.  He finished working on it, then set his brushes down and walked out into that very field and shot himself.  He died three painful days later.  To me that wheat field is like an icon of a crucifix after Christ’s body has been removed.  I have thought about painting the wounded, bleeding Vincent into that wheat field, I am still thinking about it....  

*** “I leave a piece of paper behind, I go away, I die: it is impossible to escape this structure, it is the un-changing form of my life. Each time I let something go, each time some trace leaves me, proceeds from me, unable to be reappropriated, I live my death in writing” (J Derrida, “Learning To Live Finally” pg. 58). From Derrida’s last interview before cancer carried him away to the stars.  Vincent lived his death in his painting, Derrida lived his death in language (I live mine in both words and paint as well as music).  And although in Derrida’s writing it may seem that not only the corpse but also the cross is missing, weren’t there always secret traces of psychopomps hovering around his words patiently waiting?  Even though he told us often in so many parables that the secret is that there is no secret, can be no secret, no “pure” secret just like there can be no “pure” gift, even of death (see Kierkegaard’s version of Abraham and Isaac for example).  But how, as the rabbis tell us, do you keep secrets from yourself if you are God?  What does a self-less God sacrifice to keep that “pure” secret, to live a “pure” death?  To give a “pure” gift?     

Pope Kiril Lakota: How does a man ever know if his actions are for himself or for God? 

Cardinal Leone: You don't know. You have a duty to act. But you have no right to expect approval, or even a successful outcome. 

Pope Kiril Lakota: So, in the end, my friend, we are alone? 

Cardinal Leone: Yes. I have seen three men sit in this room. You are the last I shall see. Each of them, in his turn, came to where you stand now, the moment of solitude. I have to tell you there is no remedy for it. You are here until the day you die. And the longer you live, the lonelier you will become. You will use this man and that for the work of the church. But when the work is done, or the man has proved unequal to it, you will let him go and find another. You want love. You need it, as I do. Even though I am old. You may have it for a little while, but you will lose it again. Like it or not, you are condemned to a solitary pilgrimage, from the day of your election until the day of your death. This is a Calvary, Holiness. And you have just begun to climb.

*** it is hard to tell in Vincent’s (and my own) painting of the wheat fields, if the crows are flying towards us or away from us.  Crows act as psychopomps in many cultures and if they are flying away from us then perhaps they are shepherding Vincent’s soul to the stars he painted so often and beautifully.  But if they are flying towards us, perhaps coming for us, then we have been caught out in that wheat field with Vincent, and we are just as alone and afraid and as needful of love as he was, and we also do not know if we have the faith to believe in a pure gift.

Much Obliged

(p.s.  I would not keep this secret from you.  But even though I am the creator of those crows in the painting I do not know for sure whether they are coming or leaving).

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Letter from Vincent van Gogh to Theo van Gogh.  Arles, 28 September 1888

“My Dear Theo....It does me good to do difficult things. It does not prevent me from having a terrible need of, shall I say the word - of religion - then I go outside in the night to paint the stars and I dream ever of a picture like this.” 

This poem is the second in a series of lenten reflections.  I will leave it to y’all to make any necessary connections.  Obliged

Dying For Beginners (a guide from the stars)

Eta Carinae: No. 4U 1037–60 (A 1044–59)

From the catalogue of dying stars
I chose Eta Carinae
To pray for
Experts are predicting her death
Within the next 3 million years
But her core is already collapsing
Ending this cycle of her life’s journey

She is beautiful
I have seen the pictures
It was Rublev the Russian astronomer
(Not Rublev the painter of God’s shadows)
That first described her beauty
Mapped the contours of her body
But also foretold her dissolution
And later reduced her to a numerical coordinate
It is harder to pray for a number

The Chinese once called her “Heaven’s altar”
Noting In the Book of Jin
That she was second in glory only to Sirius
But she was first named
‘The Vermilion bird of the North’
Her changing colors were believed to
Predict the future of our lives 

Bandits from the north ringed the city of Jiankang
They demanded gold and young women
Or they would destroy the whole town
As the gate began to fall
And all in the city faced destruction
The brave young woman called Ming-huá:
Chose to sacrifice her life for her people
She Leapt from the high tower over the gate
Stretching wide her arms as she fell
Miraculously they were transformed
Into vermilion wings of fire
All witnessed the blazing flames and fiery embers
Tracing the arc-light of her flight through the night sky
Burning enemies to cinders and ash 
Then she soared up into the near-eternal heavens
Nesting in the Northern sky
Where she still watches over her people, for now

There she has birthed her own offspring
A luminous blue variable
Together they dance as they die
Flinging into the cosmos all their matter and light
Giving their masses over to disintegration 
A display never seen before by human eyes
Stars spiraling in a magellanic cloud of witnesses
As Sirius weeps for the loss

I am told by the doctors that
When she dies there will be 
One magnificent burst of light that
Will outshine the entire galaxy
In that momentary flash
All her energy will dissipate
Transforming again into elementals
What makes stars what they are 
Heartbreakingly beautiful

It takes 80,000 years
For light to reach us from Eta Carinae
But prayers travel faster than light
We have time to seek divine intervention
Even if what will happen has already happened
Time is no matter for a God
Of colliding galaxies and falling sparrows 
It is a great gift and sorrowful burden
To be given a heart 
That can mourn the death of stars
Like our own mothers


Note*  I am sorry that the word “awesome”
was no longer available for use in this poem
But Like stars words also dissolve and die
Though it may take years for our ears to notice

Later in this same letter Vincent writes:  “...The Benedictine father must have been very interesting. What would, according to him, be the future religion? Probably he would always say the same as the past.  Victor Hugo says God is an eclipsing lighthouse, and certainly now we are passing through that eclipse.  I only wish that someone could prove to us something calming which comforted us, so that we stopped feeling guilty or unhappy and that we could go forward without losing ourselves in the solitude or nothingness, and without having to fear every step, or to nervously calculate the harm we may unintentionally be doing to others.  In odd Giotto's biography it said that he was always suffering and always full of ardour and ideas.  I would like to arrive at this assurance that makes one happy, cheerful and alive all the time.”

Ever Yours, Vincent."

Up above is my latest painting. It is pretty big at 8 feet by 3 feet (perhaps I should consider selling art by the square foot?). I was inspired by both Caspar David Friedrich’s “The Monk By the Sea,” and Rublev’s, ‘The Trinity,‘  though I aught let others recognize and say that.  It was said of Friedrich though that, “Here is a man who has discovered the tragedy of landscape.”  I was not trying to evoke tragedy here but I will not deny it if others find it there.  I don’t have a title for the painting and I would appreciate suggestions.  Ever yours, Daniel and obliged.    

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Antonio Ciseri.  Ecco Homo.
I was determined to write 40 poems during lent as a kind of votive reflection and discipline (though this seems more of a burden and sacrifice to anyone who might try and read them then it does to me to write them).  I wanted to again use the motif of the “Stations of the Cross” I have used before as a springboard into these poems.  I have not completed my own series of paintings on the stations yet so I decided to use some other well known works of art, starting with Antonio Ciseri’s “Ecco Homo.”  I got this one poem finished I think, and I have started two or three more.  I got ideas for another half a dozen but I’m already running short of time and inspiration and my heart is waning.  Again, another lenten commitment I won’t be able to keep and we’re barely 4 days into the season.

First Station of the Cross, Jesus is condemned to death:

Ecco Homo

I.  “In the beginning darkness covered the face of the deep.”

As Ciseri painted it
His robe has been stripped back
Exposing his naked shoulders
An Intimacy
Like you might expect at a strip club
Or slave auction
Specimen spectacle spectators
But the way we’re situated
No one meets our eyes
Everyone traces a different vanishing point

As usual his hands are tied behind his back
Lost is any chance to take up the sword
But the seed of temptation to call on Michael’s army
Will soon be sown into his body and
Others will take and eat of it
And they will make the bastards pay

Although compositions like this one have multiple perspectives
Each stroke of the artist effects interpretation
But the Spirit is not in the picture yet
How much else is missing?

II.  “And God separated the lights into lesser and greater lights.”

The Roman is as smug as any empire
Sure it all collapses eventually, they all do
Just a matter of running short of capital
Number crunchers misallocating resources
Until then we’re all caught up in this blood feud

But this is not a tale of simple revenge
It’s the story of a family
A drama about the Jews and their God
The rest of us are bit players
Bystanders without any real say
Even Italia’s potentate is a flaccid member
Like you and me
Too much a friend of Caesar

III.  “And God separated the light from the darkness
and called it good.”

Sometimes as a necessary expression of democracy
The empire let’s us choose
Which kind of savior we prefer to kill
A decision we celebrate as freedom
The votes for Jesus or Barabbas are harvested like
Ripe grain swaying in the wind
Maybe the smart move was to just kill them both
Wash our hands of the whole affair
But lasting empires need willing executioners
To make sure everybody gets some skin in the game

Each crowd is a peculiar species of organism
But lynch mobs are all pretty much the same
anonymously lethal vigilantes and orgiastic lovers
I have seen an entire nation of ‘civilized’ people
Change into crazy-eyed killers

But they loved this man once didn’t they?
Felt something real for him
Some combination of desire vanity and affection
Mixed in with fantasy fear and hope
Is there another kind of love more real than that
A love that doesn’t eventually end in pain and
Despair descending into anger
Or worse, sentimentality

IIII. “Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”

But as Ciseri painted it
We don’t really see anyone’s face
Except for that one woman
Who has already turned her back on them all
The tableau is so crowded
There’s no easy way to fit our selves into the frame
Ciseri has got us all crowded into the wings
Instead of witnesses
The artist has made us into stage-hands
Or props

I wish I knew where we are in this story
Our arrogance convinces us that we are the final act
Faith commands us to abide in expectation
But the road is longer and harder than we prepared for
(Not that we weren’t told)

V.  “And there was evening and there was morning of the first day
And God saw what was made and that it was good.”

Maybe death doesn’t get the last word
But who got all those other words between
“In the beginning...” and that last “...amen”
Who's responsible for all those words
That have caused so much confusion and grief
Yes, and the word love too
Whose word is love?


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Ewing Road, Whidbey Island

My poem of the week:

Nature/Grace: Under the Influence

The cop pulled me over for erratic driving
Crossing over the center line
I wasn’t drinking or on the phone
I was writing a poem while steering
With one hand
Writing blindly

It was a poem about the usual
Sin and suffering, love and death
Nature also and not just the bad kind
The one that is always trying to kill us
The nature of urges and yearning flesh
And murder
But the other nature too

While the cop was running my plates
I stopped work on the poem and began
Composing my defense
I lie, we all do, it’s how were wired
But I’m not a natural liar
And this story must be believable
Or it will cost me

It was the morning mist back lit by the rising sun
Threading through the tall firs
That caught my eye and
Compelled me to start writing
And then a coyote loped into the open field
Zig-Zagging after a rabbit or a vole
Using his nose more than his eyes
Following the path in the changing wind

I don’t think anyone will buy that story though
I may have to take what’s coming to me
Like the rabbit or the vole
I have regrets about how all this has worked out
And I'm sorry for my part in it all
Although there are others who should be sorrier

But if the truth
If any of what actually happened comes out
It could cost me more than I can pay
So I am willing to confess everything here
Hope for mercy and forgiveness
But if grace is not granted
If no one speaks up on my behalf
Then this story must be worth it
Even though it costs me everything


***I will go out of my way to drive on Ewing road to get to the Maxwellton valley and beach.  That is the setting of this poem and where I took the photo above.  This landscape along this road is quite remarkable and a bit peculiar to the island I think.  A mixture of woods, wetlands, cow pasture, old barns and chicken sheds, silage and hay fields.  There are always eagles and hawks patrolling the fields and estuaries. This landscape could be in a woody part of Northern Ireland, or at the base of the French Pyrenees, even northern Italy (perhaps parts of China too, but I’v never been there so I don’t know). The ‘Long farm’ is on the South-West side of the road.  That’s where to buy organic beef bones if you’re wanting to make ‘beef bone broth,’ something I want to perfect as a base for Pho (the availability of good Pho-Saigon in the US is one of the few positive consequences of the Vietnam war).

“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? (Mathew 6, 26).

“You can only romanticize nature for so long before something gets bludgeoned or eaten” (J.B. MacKinnon).

***Perhaps the same goes for the ‘Cities of Men’ too?  Still, “nature” is a very problematic concept, but then what isn’t?  Right now I’m looking out my picture windows at the pleasant sight of some big grey squirrels, smaller native brown squirrels and even one of the new, wee, baby chipmunks all peacefully munching on the bird food I put out for them and the birds.  Near me is my quite wild Siberian Husky named Tehya glaring hungrily at all the tasty and vulnerable wildlife just on the other side of the glass.  Now I’m almost sure that Tehya loves me, but if I was only about a foot tall and she looked at me the same way she looks at those squirrels I think the algorithms that sustain the balance of power in our master/pet dialectic might be insufficient to sustain our current relationship.  Meanwhile the big ferrel cat that roams through our neighborhood and probably some coyotes are biding their time just behind the tree line.  Overhead eagles lethally glide casting swift threatening shadows.  Any rats wisely wait in the ferns for darkness to make their move.  As the food in the feeders diminishes tensions grow among all these adorable bushy-tailed critters.  I’m hoping to get to the store by tomorrow, but if the bird food runs out before then things could get bloody.

***Interestingly, buying wild bird seed raises one’s credit rating.  I heard a report claiming that credit card companies track all of our purchases and rate our credit worthiness according to what we buy. I reckon they figure that folks that feed wild birds are kindhearted and altruistic and more likely to honor their contracts and pay their bills on time.  Of course, it also suggests that those that buy wild bird seed also have homes, mortgages, jobs, and are already deeply insinuated into the ideologies of commodity capitalism and have interpolated the precepts of virtuous consumption and monetary atonement.  I suspect that some of the people that feed wild birds do so as a substitute for any sort of meaningful resistance to a dehumanizing and unjust economic system.

***What say we end this post by lightening things up with a little humor?  Here’s an old joke form the days of the Soviet Union:

Khrushchev was giving a speech denouncing the cult of personality around Stalin.

‘Atrocious crimes took place under Comrade Stalin,’ he said.  ‘Many innocent people suffered and there were terrible breaches of socialist legality.’

‘And where were you when all this was going on?‘  A voice from the back asked accusingly.

‘Who said that?’ snapped Khrushchev.  And then there was dead silence in the room and you could hear a pin drop.

Khrushchev nodded and said:  ‘That’s where I was.‘