Painting and Poetry Folded in Time

Monday Morning Musings:

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

–Leonardo da Vinci

“I dream my painting and I paint my dream.”

–Vincent Van Gogh


My sisters and I call each other

“No one’s dead,” we quickly chirp,

a macabre affirmation of life,

a precaution for my perpetually panicked sister-niece,

(she answers the phone expecting disaster)

we laugh—because what can you do?

but then comes news of two deaths over the weekend,

my husband’s former colleague and a college friend,

we’re of a certain age now,

most of our friends have lost at least one parent,

some both,

middle-aged orphans,

I think about links to the past,

disappearing the way beads slide off string one by one


and I watch a miniseries about the Gay Rights Movement

see again the AIDS quilt,

memories squared and love-knotted,

blanketing the National Mall,

a memorial, a declaration

we protest with poetry and art,

against wars, against injustice,

fighting for the right to live

and to die in dignity,

(love is love is love is love)

in the epic story of our lives,

we are the heroes,

and its tragic victims


We dream and we create,

our lives, like intricately folded origami

unfolded in a split second,

a discovery that the crane

is now simply a wrinkled bit of paper


We take my mother to our daughter’s house for brunch,

my mother, once a child, now the matriarch,

a ninety-four-year-old orphan

her parents, her brother, and many of her friends are gone,

she can barely see, but still she paints

the vision must be in her mind and hands

felt, rather than seen,

poetry in paint,

tactile sensibility,

she has her first mimosa


and we talk of this and that

old hairstyles, Dallas nightclubs,

stories my daughter has never heard before

of a world and people that no longer exist,

I imagine a mirror with endless reflections

and the world through the looking glass


We’re through the looking glass in a mirrored room, transported to an 18th century French palace. Philadelphia Museum of Art


we laugh over misunderstood words

the kind of laughter that brings tears,

and we are entertained by pets,

sitting in the kitchen,

a domestic scene,

that could come from the past,

generations sitting around a table



My husband and I go to an exhibition of watercolors

an amazing show, 175 paintings on display,

the show traces the history–

how watercolor became an American medium

from what was essentially work done in the home,

by women, decorative artists, as well as illustrators

becomes much more after the Civil War

and Philadelphia,

with publications and art schools

becomes a center



The exhibition describes the painters’ techniques

the importance of the paper in the watercolors,

various textures and colors

watercolors are luminous, but fragile

reflecting light,

but also, fading in light,

the picture dies

the image no longer exists,

and I think of the building, landscapes, and people in the paintings

that no longer exist

except in these depictions


where the sun still shines and wind still blows

and alligators huddle together in the mud,

lethargic beasts with deadly grins


at night, I dream of light and art,

I paint my dream into a poem,

a dream of misty luminosity with opaque spots

brushed by the artist

(look there closely at the strokes)

on an unusual type of paper, with texture both rough and smooth

folded over and over,

to form different creases,

like wrinkles on faces in time

endless, like reflections in a mirror



We watched the miniseries, When We Rise

We saw the exhibition, “American Watercolor in the Age of Homer and Sargent”

You can see a trailer on the Philadelphia Museum of Art Website.

It is a stunning exhibition, but because watercolors are fragile, it will only be seen in Philadelphia. No photography is permitted.



30 thoughts on “Painting and Poetry Folded in Time

  1. It occurs to me poetry and painting will outlast us. You can tell that to your perpetually-panicked sister-niece. Your mother is darling with her evolving art oeuvre and that first mimosa in her hand.

    I especially liked the mirror with endless reflections, maybe like the pebble in the pond, influence spreading infinitely. One of Cliff’s art instructors said his style mimicked that of John Singer Sargent. You are so fortunate to be so close to Philly and the rich culture there.

    • Thank you, Marian. My daughter took the photo of Mom–it is a good one.
      I love Sargent’s work. I will have to compare his watercolors now to his oils. My niece is not a painter or poet, and I don’t think that idea would quell her panic. 😉

  2. That origami crane image is wonderful.
    It’s funny, my uncle called last night and I froze. My aunt is still among the living, though, still in her Alzheimer’s descent. He wanted to talk. I’m grateful that he can use me as a sounding board. He feels confined by her illness, as my father was with my mother, as so many others I know. Is this our destiny?
    Which is why seeing your mother is such a breath of fresh air, knowing she is still an integral, living, part of the life of your family. May it continue to be. (K)

  3. paper – on which to write or paint or print – that may dissolve or fade in time is the image that came up for me reading this beautifully expressed piece, but hopeful that the memories will never fade. Thanks Merril, lovely!

  4. More wonderful musing; especially the painting/poetry theme and how you introduce the idea to your mother’s continuing to paint with waning sight. (My Mum, the same age as yours, struggles with her sight, too).

  5. No one’s dead… this is something I’ve probably said to my sisters, as well. Humor helps minds wrap around frightening concepts; nothing wrong with that! Your writing touches nerves inside, and I, too, have looked at old paintings and mused about those now no longer living. You write with such sincerity and openness, Merril. I’m swept away by emotions and withdraw within myself as I ponder your excellent thoughts.

    P.S. I love how your tall husband towers above you; your lighthouse. xo

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