Tuesday, August 15, 2006
My mother's favorite painter was Paul Gauguin and those moody, strange tropical paradises hung in her bedroom, two framed posters that I bought for her birthday when I was a teenager, until she died. I didn't know anything about Paul Gaugin except that he was a genius and could paint one hell of a mango. When I got older, I learned his story, that he had left his wife, four children, and job as a banker for the South Pacific to live where he could "eat only fruit and fish for free." (The free part is how you know he was an artist even before he became successful.) He'd been a weekend painter before the move, his weekend painter friends being Van Gogh and Cezanne. In Tahiti, he took many girls to be his mistress and the most famous one that he painted over and over had a name that meant "untroubled paradise."
One cannot live in paradise, which I suppose is the point of it. His young mistress suffered night terrors and miscarriages and being infected with venereal disease by the great painter. The island was far away from everything he knew and so it became the thing he knew. My mother's bedroom became her sick room, became softer and softer to cushion the increasing difficulty of her life. There were tiny stuffed animals surrounding her television, prayer cards on the dresser, sweatshirts in the closet. It wasn't at all like her near the end, the her she had been. The most violent transformations can take place anywhere. But the Gauguin reproductions remained, a remnant of the old life, a paradise framed with bamboo. It wasn't untroubled, but something of it had lasted.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"I shut my eyes in order to see. " Paul Gauguin
1 shot of mango vodka
1 shot of raspberry vodka
1 splash of raspberry liqueuer
Serve chilled in a martini glass.
Benedictions and Maledictions
The Heat Outside
At the baths in Hot Springs, a skinny woman
in a sheet tells me she passed out her mother’s face
on flyers, begging people to pray that she would live.
I made a thousand copies and stood on the corner
until they were gone. We lay in on top of tables like corpses,
waiting for the hot towels, placed wherever we hurt.
The attendant gives us hot water to drink, and we
stomach what we can, hoping to make our insides match
the heat outside. Before long, we gather our things. The woman
asks me to hand her a huge black purse. I was tired
of not having enough room for all my garbage, she says
with the saddest smile. It’s lighter than I would have
imagined, a deflated thing she slings over her shoulder
out of habit before she starts off for whatever might be next.