the manipulative ability of the hand which gives us hunger for meaning …
an old woman whose children died at birth and whose husband was lost at sea … one night she looks through an artist s window. when night comes, james ensor puts on a mask.
we work our fingers by remote control … the muscles are elsewhere. the fingers are connected by strings, like a marionette.
before choosing, james ensor touched the masks with his fingers. the old woman watched as he ran his fingers along the slack jaws and collapsed noses. as he pushed his thumbs through the vacant eye holes.
creation of meaning from nothing, we owe this to the hand. to reach, to pursue, to seize, to hunt. it takes nine muscles to control the thumb, an appendage so astounding that sir isaac newton believed it proved the existence of god.
for james ensor there are disadvantages. behind the mask, his face sweats. breathing is harder. but imagine the donkey relieved of its burden in the momentous painting of the christ s entry into brussels.
the artist is free. the old woman sees it.
Theresa Williams has poems and stories published or forthcoming in Gargoyle, Lilliput Review, Prime Number, Midwestern Gothic, The Sun and many others. Her novel, The Secret of Hurricanes, was a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize. The above letter to her friend Nancy reflects her interests in James Ensor, masks, and hands.
So I have sailed the seas and come…
It is labyrinthine. It is a snake dropping its long winter drawers to moon literary travelers. Inside the labyrinth are points of light like stars. I see them all along the walls.
Inside the labyrinth is chilly. Clouds hang, and mist, like a cold breath of uncertainty.
Gass, your name makes me think of indigestion. You must be cranky and old, having been born in 1924, having had your trees decapitated for the sake of progress, and having seen I don’t know how many depressions, despots, and wars.
In your story, what names you call students. You write Callow Bladder, Prince and Princess Oleo. I am a teacher, but my attempts pale beside yours: Gurdylocks, Mayhew, Lumber Region, Miss Fancypants. I have not your wit or your candor. Prince of Subscribe, Princess of Download, Mr. Manage-your-Kindle, Miss Twitter-heart. Yes, it is true, birds sit like fists on the wires of the world, and scientists say cell phones are the killers of honeybees. iPhoney, iPaddy, Mr. Ring-Tone-Ring-a-Dingy. Oh, Gass, I drift on your raft.
The Same Person
As you establish: I repeat, combine, and recombine. It is 2011, and I am surprised to find you still alive. What else to say? I, too, live in the heart of the country. I, too, wander amid the corn rows, believing in the brevity of life. I chant, I beg, I orate, I command, I sing—My hands glide along the esophageal wall of the great snake I am in. I touch the points of light. As I read you, William Gass, I am coming out of my retirement from love. I want to learn you. I want take you with me to the end.
Theresa Williams has poems and stories published or forthcoming in Gargoyle, Lilliput Review, Prime Number, Midwestern Gothic, The Sun and many others. Her novel, The Secret of Hurricanes, was a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize. She has lived in the heart of the country (Ohio) for more than twenty years. She first learned of William Gass from her teacher, Phil O’Connor, in 1987.
dear i m a superhero,
thanks for the mailart depicting the minotaur with the menacing head and slim, innocent body of an adolescent. it put me in the mind of a photograph i once found of the baby minotaur sitting on his mother s knee, his little head turned toward her breast. he looks sweet as the baby jesus. he looks like the baby jesus wearing a mask he made in kindergarten.
you probably know about pasiphae, his mother and minos his father, but don t think of this married couple hurting each other. think of the minotaur who wasn t always a beast. once he was a baby. once he was even a god, worshipped by the cretans.
Theresa Williams has work forthcoming or published in Barnwood, Contemporary Haibun 12, Gargoyle, Paterson Literary Review, The Prose Poem Project, This, Segue, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and many others. This poem is part of a collection of prose poems she’s working on called “the eternal network” in which the unnamed speaker writes a series of letter responses to the mail art community. The image accompanying the poem is an original collage by Theresa and an actual piece of mail art.