This short fictional work was originally written for a course on ekphrasis. Ekphrasis is a Greek term for a literary description of a work of art. Whether in poetry, fiction, or criticism, vividly describing a particular painting or statue can serve as poignant subject matter for a writer or as a device to emphasize the writer’s own themes. In the following text, I utilize a historical, fictive voice to meditate on Yale Gallery’s Lion Relief from the Processional Way (562 B.C.). I imagine the relief from the perspective of someone who might have been present at the Babylonian Ishtar Gate, a wonder of the ancient world originally lined with fierce, gold lions.
This happens when I have been alone too long—the words start to leak out of everything and they will not stop. I cannot look around, I cannot take a single step, without it becoming prose, and it is not welcome. It thrusts me into a place where language imposes this acute separation between me and everything else—leaks its ink out of the bark, the pavement, the sky, flowing directly from itself to me in the form of a stream of words, and it will not let me rest.
The roots of my Dinovember experience probably date back to a conversation a few years ago with a friend about dinosaurs. This turned into a running joke about anything T. rex related. A couple weeks ago she said to me, “You should do Dinovember this year with Paul.”
I’ll be honest: It was Norway I’d begun dreaming of. My imagination was taken captive by images of fjords and pines, of iron and snow and bears, of iced sea light and a refreshing, starry cold. I was certain this was the next place beauty would greet me.
In 2013, I attended an intense, all-day, week-long training in Paris. The upper-floor classrooms hovered over the train tracks of the Gare de l’Est, and while we were too distant to hear the hustle and bustle of the train station traffic, one sound rang through the open windows in regular intervals: SNCF’s four-tone jingle that introduces train announcements to passengers. This audio sound serves as a friendly alarm, always followed by “Mesdames, Messieurs …” (“Ladies and Gentlemen …”) and useful train-travel information, such as on which track a train is arriving or an alert to a dreaded delay.
Living a few blocks from one of the most iconic bridges in the world, I often stroll to the harbor’s edge, spot the Sydney Opera House, and watch ferries come and go into the Circular Quay. Add the backdrop of the crisp, blue Australian sky as sun glistens across the water, and a poem should practically write itself each day.
But when the pandemic hit and we were told to self-isolate, going out only for essentials, the last thing I felt was inspired.
MADE: A series of conversations with artists about how they navigate impasses and discover breakthroughs in their work.
To reach Karen Dolmanisth’s studio, I must first navigate a series of stairs, metal doors, and maze-like corridors in an old mill building in Florence, Massachusetts. Then follows a tunnel of books, artwork, costumes, and other ephemera gathered and carefully placed over the twenty years she has worked in this space.
Since meeting her seven years ago, I’ve admired painter Amanda Acker’s ability to tell a story through a single image, as well as her sensitive use of color, which has the effect of teaching me how to see the vibrancy in my own surroundings.
Despite my inexperience, what I made is beautiful to me, in part because it accomplished something I’ve strived for in my poems for a while: radical simplicity, quiet, and room for the reader to think about a single image or idea at a time. I also enjoyed engaging with the visual elements of these spare essences of language, seeing them as art objects as much as I see them as poems.