Ekphrasis X 2021 Online Exhibition
SET 1. Visual Artist Initiators and Writer Responders
A. MARY T ANDERSON, Bad Hair Day, etching. Response by author Holly Tannen: The Vulture and the Raven
B. KAREN BOWERS, Coast Call II., collage. Response by author DOUG FORTIER: Our Needs
C. PAT TOTH-SMITH, Swan Dive, photograph. Response by poet MAUREEN EPPSTEIN: Angel Wings
Bad Hair Day, etchings, by Initiator MARY T ANDERSON.
Response by author Holly Tannen: The Vulture and the Raven
A pair of turkey vultures settled in a dead pine overlooking Big River. The beach was littered with the bodies of unvaccinated tourists, so they feasted, and reared three chicks instead of two.
But Fuddlehead’s Cafe closed, and the birds reverted to their traditional fare of dead squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and the odd labradoodle. The downy white chicks huddled together, waiting for Mom and Dad to return and regurgitate meat for them. If a hawk circled overhead, Veronica, Violet, and Victor hissed like snakes and frightened it away.
One foggy day, their mother said it was time they learned to hunt. Veronica, the eldest, took off first. She flew down the beach and found the carcass of a harbor seal. But try as she might, she couldn’t tear through the thick skin. She headed back to the pine tree, wet and dejected, and her mother had to disgorge dinner for her.
“Sissy,” said Victor. “I could have opened that carcass with my mighty beak.”
Then Violet set out on her first feeding flight. She scoped out Highway One until she came upon a cat carcass. But whenever she took a bite, a log truck whizzed by, and she had to take wing. She flew home, cold and downhearted, and her mother regurgitated food for her.
“Wuss,” said Victor. “I’d have flapped my fearsome wings and scared off those trucks.”
Then it was Victor’s turn. He soared up Big River until he smelled a squashed skunk.
“I’ll show those girls how to deal with carrion,” he chortled. He glided down and landed next to the carcass. Tearing off bits of flesh, he gorged himself. Then he saw five black birds overhead. Ravens! Must be that Stanford bunch. They landed on the ground beside the skunk.
“Flock off,” he hollered. “You get plenty of scraps at the Inn.”
“Tofu gives me the runs,” said a female raven. “And don’t get me going about kale.”
Instead of keeping a respectful distance, the ravens huddled close by. The female left the group and hopped past him. She’s probably headed off to take a pee, Victor thought.
He tore through fur and skin into the skunk’s insect-filled intestines. All of a sudden he felt a searing pain in his rear end. He whirled around and snapped at the raven, who jumped sideways and flapped into the air, kworking.
He chased her into a redwood tree. By the time he made his way back to the road, the other ravens had pulled the carcass under a blackberry bush and were daintily lunching.
He returned home, wings drooping, turning round and round the nest cavity in a vain attempt to hide his missing tail feathers. His mother preened his head. “Tomorrow your sisters will show you how to do it,” she said. “Have some nice vomit.”
Coast Call II., collage, by initiating artist KAREN BOWERS.
Response by author DOUG FORTIER: Our Needs
A woman with white hair walks in Keystone park in northern Omaha and sees a woman with an unveiled hijab covering her head. She is selling paintings done in green-blues, dark and light, with variations of tan splotched with white and the tiniest bit of ocher. The abstracts don’t jump out at the older woman and she continues her walk, but the subtle images percolate in her subconscious as she moves farther along the path. Still within sight of the paintings leaning on a bench, she stops and thinks, this Muslim woman needs money.
She returns to examine them more closely then picks one. It could be seen as mountain tops above the clouds, with rocky details represented by collaged paper that may have come from a phone book, painted over in the shades of green. She pulls a check book from her purse and selects the painting as she says, “I’ll take it. How much is it?”
Without hesitation the woman covering her hair says, “Three hundred dollars,” then averts her eyes.
The well-dressed older woman writes in the amounts and signs it. “Would you please fill in your name, and I’ll write it in my check register.” She hands the check to the painter who puts a name on the payee line then holds it up for the woman to read: “Bahija al-Ahmad.”
In unnatural English, the painter says, “Thank you, Miriam Smith.”
Miriam later returns many times to the name written in the register, fixing it in her memory and wondering how this woman happens to be in Omaha.
Several days later, Miriam is reading in the front room facing the residential street. A twenty-year-old Toyota with several dents and faded blue paint stops in her driveway. Walking toward her, the woman painter holds a piece of paper in both hands.
“Come in, please,” Miriam says after opening the screen door. She leads her guest toward a pair of chairs then gestures for her to sit. Neither speaks, each waiting for the other.
Miriam says, “I know how your name is spelled, but what may I call you? Please call me Miriam.”
“Thank you, Miriam,” the painter says in halting English. “My first name is Bahija. It means ‘happy’ in Arabic.” She hands Miriam the paper, the check written for the painting. “I can not take your money.” After a long pause, Miriam accepts it.
“Is there something wrong?” Miriam asks.
Bahija stands. “I’m sorry. I must go now. I want you to keep the painting.” She moves toward the door, but Miriam steps in front of her. ”Don’t go. Won’t you keep an old woman company for a few minutes and tell me how you came to live in Omaha?” Bahija looks into Miriam’s eyes and returns to her seat.
“The painting is not worth what I asked,” Bahija says. “My aunt brought me here five years ago from a refugee camp. The painting is my memory of first seeing the edge of the camp.”
“Those are tents between the sand and the water?” Miriam asks. Bahija nods agreement.
Miriam puts the check into Bahija’s hand and says, “I don’t need the money. Please keep it.” Their eyes meet again and Bahija smiles for the first time.
When Miriam asks if her guest can stay a while, she nods in agreement.
“I’ll make tea.”
Swan Dive, by initiating photographer PAT TOTH-SMITH
Angel Wings by author MAUREEN EPPSTEIN
Brother Caedmon scowled as he heaved himself up from his desk in the scriptorium. Gold had been given to the monastery for a new psalter, which was to have as its preface a picture of the Virgin and Child attended by angels. A mother and infant he could paint. But he had never seen an angel, nor even a picture of one. What shape were their wings? The abbot was no help. “God will show you,” he had said.
Seeking to clear his head, he plodded out into the garden. Overcast sky, dark as his mood. Bees hummed in the betony. A butterfly flittered between hyssop and dill. Too flimsy, he muttered as he stumbled down the path to the mill pond. At water’s edge, ducks dabbled among the reeds. A dragonfly dipped to the water. Further out two swans floated, coldly aloof. A whoosh of spray as a third swan flew in, webbed feet planing the surface, wings outstretched to slow its speed. Time itself seemed to slow as Caedmon took in the shape of the wings. Roundness at the top where feathers covered bone. Joint like an elbow. Long, shallow curve from wingtip to base, flourish of curl at both ends. Yes. He sank to his knees.