There’s a painting I love by Brian Kershisnik called Fool’s Confession. I love the coy dignity of the main figure’s gesture – which I wish I could copy and show you, but you'll just have to imagine (or remember) - his hand so humbly to his chest and his eyes downcast demurely, taking us into his confidence to tell us his shameful secret: from his mouth a slender pale scroll where we can read his just-above-a-whisper, “I am a fool.” And yet he couldn’t have kept that knowledge from us: his belled cap and motley tunic proclaim what he is so loudly. It's always been obvious to everyone but him.
I've been lagging two weeks behind and my “publish dates” are unabashed works of fiction – as unnecessary a confession, surely, as when I admitted a few weeks ago that I wrote at too long a length. (It’s been suggested that blongs are what I write – not blogs).
But now I'm almost caught up once again AND I’ve posted poems and other writing at this more anonymous Imaginary Bicycle site. I’ve left out the poem the husband calls "Oh, That One," as well as the one he calls, "Oh, No, NOT That One." But I think the earthiness of the others is all within bounds - though doesn't that make you just slightly curious to read them through in the off chance ?
I have been reassured however that everything is appropriately tedious and to-be-expected – nothing errant – or would that be arrant and in reference only to the nonsense?
As for this week – ah! – mostly I’ve caught my breath. We heard Sam Payne sing jazzy Christmas carols at the Venetian Theater – that was fun. I’ve cooked nothing anyone can remember – except when the girls invited their friends over to study and the teenage boys filled up on seconds and thirds of Shepherd's Pie made of Thanksgiving leftovers. And I finally decided where to hang the print of Kershisnik’s painting Nativity.
And I came across an article that traces so well the shape of my feelings for this painting. Here’s an excerpt from the article (actually by the same Sam Payne we heard this weekend) written last year about Kershisnik’s Nativity. (See link below for the entire article.)
For several minutes, I’m the only one there. Me and the holy family, and a glittering heavenly host, hair all unkempt (they’ve been flying, after all), and white clothes that look like they’ve been pulled from the temple bags of my wife and my mother and my grandmother. The angels are streaming rapidly in from the left (their tears are windswept back across their faces), rushing in to be close to the baby and his family. In the center of the painting, the angels gather like family at a baby blessing — all awe and congratulatory hush, and helping the other angel-kids to see. The angels, as they exit to the right of the painting, are singing (“they’ll keep singing all the way out into the hills, where they’ll startle shepherds,” I thought). The painting is predominantly solid angels, but down in a gentle, dark pocket rests the Holy Family. Mary is there. There are midwives there too, their hands in a pail, the blood from the birth clinging to them as they clean up. The women all wear gentle smiles, and there is a soft triangle in their focus that includes the women and the baby.
And there’s Joseph. Oh, Joseph. I’ve been in the delivery room for all our baby boys, and there’s always this moment after the birth: I’m standing up where I can dab at Kris’ forehead with a damp cloth and feed her ice chips. She’s exhausted. And for a moment, the weight of responsibility for a new life, the weight of Kris’ trust in me — the first glimpse of a path that you know widens into an all-consuming forever — presses down on me. I love the new child with all my heart, but that moment feels for all the world like agony. And while men in Brian’s paintings often seem, well…befuddled (or confident in a way that makes them seem foolish), the bewilderment and nerves and love and portent of every delivery room experience I’ve ever had is there, writ large on poor Joseph’s face. And among the myriad angels pushing past to see the baby and his mother, one angel (unseen by Joseph) stops to place a comforting hand on Joseph’s head — on mine.
I’m deep in that place (a shared experience between the work and the observer, in case you’re not paying attention), when I realize that I’m not alone anymore. A couple has come into the gallery room behind me. Val and Alice.
I ask what they think of the painting, and Alice is smiling, but can’t speak for her tears. Val, like me, begins talking about what happens in the delivery room. Only Val is an honest-to-goodness pediatrician. “Look,” he says, “The women are cleaning up. There’s blood on their hands, and the baby — so new that he hasn’t been washed [Val points out the blood on the baby’s head, and his deep, red coloring] — is put immediately to the breast [he turns to me] you have to do that, you know; [back to the painting] it’s bloody, but it’s not gruesome. It’s a close, holy time — look at those women, and you’ll see. Mary is flushed, and there are circles under her eyes. The greatness of it all is tumbling in on Joseph. It’s here. It’s all here. He’s told the story as it happens — in stables and in delivery rooms. And he’s reminded us that it’s holy.”
Alice blinks back her tears, flings her arms out and says, “And there are angels everywhere! There we are [‘there we are,’ she says], and we’re trying to be as quiet as we can, but there are so many of us! It’s as if we’re cheering for the holy family. ‘He’s here!’ we’re saying. ‘Joseph, you can do it!’ we’re saying.” Alice lapses into silence, and then says, “I wish Brian would paint one like this of Gethsemane, with all of us there too.”
Do you think you were there in the host that sang Hosanna that silent night 2000 years ago?