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More About Tapestry Unicorns

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lady0001I did not begin with unicorns.  My fascination with the tapestries began when a friend gave me a souvenir bookmark from her trip to Paris.  This lady is at the center of one of the six panels of the “Lady and the Unicorn” series.

What entranced me was her fly-away hair.  Why would a weaver of tight threads fuss with such a detail?  Why would a lady be portrayed this way?

Each of the six ladies in these panels is flanked by a lion and a unicorn.  These unicorns are not hunted.  They are tame as can be.

This set of tapestries had no original connection with the Hunt of the Unicorn Series in the Met.    Yet writers who discuss one set usually also refer to the other. Their connection is that they are close in age and have survived.

There is much to discuss: style, technique, symbolism, significance.  My reading went in many directions.

I learned that guilds are basically conservative.  Innovation was frowned upon because it may give one artisan an advantage over the others.  Designs and methods did not change quickly.

 

I also learned about the dyes:

From “Colors”:

Red made from roots of madder,
yellow from everything but the roots
of weld, the challenge is blue:
woad leaves dried, fermented, spread
on stone for nine stinky weeks.

From India Vasco da Gama
brings indigo, a better blue.

Before science can prove
the chemical’s the same, central heat
warms walls; tapestries are not needed.

Other colors were made from these three, as we learned from the color wheel in grade school.  The lion is some shade of yellow.  The unicorn stands out because he is white.

Encounter with Unicorns

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DP118983 Healing croppedA unicorn uses his horn to purify a stream of water.
Section of a tapestry in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

For about two years I was obsessed with unicorns.  Not just any unicorns.  I was studying, writing about, responding to, two sets of unicorn tapestries from 500 years ago.  These are the Hunt of the Unicorn series in the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Lady and the Unicorn series in the Musee du Moyen Age in Paris.

These unicorns are a different species (yes, species) from those imagined in our time.  Today’s unicorns look like horses.  The unicorns of circa 1500 are goats, with beards and cloven hooves.

They also can be dangerous.  They have magic as well as physical power, and complex symbolic meaning.

Their horns were believed to heal.  For lack of actual unicorns, the tusks of narwhals, creatures who live in the north Atlantic sea, were sold as unicorn horns.

In A Natural History of Unicorns Chris Lavers has identified some one-horned animals in east Asia.  After discounting a number of theories about the origin of unicorns as errors and mistranslations he cites a 19th century letter from an English explorer who recounts how unicorns are created by humans: the herders choose a newborn goat and bind his horns together.  Having one horn in the center of his head instead of two angling out apparently gives this kid an advantage and he becomes a leader.

When did these feisty beasts turn into gentle horses?  Was it Disney, with his stuffed animal creatures in Fantasia, or did it happen earlier?  I see it as part of a modern human tendency to reject mystery, and to insist that nature, even imaginary nature, can be tamed.  Another loss from the so-called Enlightenment.

Spring Walk and Story

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In the arroyo behind the dam people have walked, ridden and run their dogs for years.  The city has recently been improving this area, making fixed trails.

P1010120The coursing water does not always agree.  Neither do I.  I want to say, “If you want me to stay on the trail, don’t pave it.”

P1010117There’s a section still only graveled along a fence which keeps people from wandering into a conservation area.  Except when it doesn’t.

P1010118There’s a story here:

Something was built.
Something was broken.

That’s the essence of story, but I have no idea of the particulars.  Make them up for yourself; the possibilities are numerous.

purple mat0119On my recent walk I found the first bit of purple mat “in the wild.”  It is already flourishing in the sheltered space of my back yard, where I have been encouraging it for years.purplemat home0121

Reading a Poem: Barrett’s “The American Dream”

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One of the pluses of getting accepted in a print journal is receiving a small book of poems by many poets, at least some of whom are likely to be new to me.

scan0002I am currently reading my way through the 2017-2018 issue of Red Coyote, out of the University of South Dakota, which includes two of my poems, “Hold On, Let Go,” and “Corners.”

I’m finding a lot to like.  One poet new to me is Carol Barrett.  Of her three poems I am particularly impressed with “The America Dream,” a short and subtle piece.  Here is the poem, by permission of the author:

The American Dream

Frosted grasses
bear the shadows
of pines

once peopling these plains.
Cars laden with dust
loom on every hill

along the path
paved to make our journey
swift.  A bluing sky

melts the crystalline
landscape, and on we plow
oblivious to those

who forage here,
to any shade
or sorrow.

As I was reading this, my mind made a series of pictures, some way off base, it turned out.  In the first stanza—what’s the connection to the title?—the immediacy of the grasses made me think of walking beside them.  Having this image in mind, I saw those looming cars on an Interstate above the path.  Paved?  Yes, where I live they persist in paving walking paths.

It’s only as “swift” sank in, and I felt the distance of “landscape” that I “got it.”  The paved path is a road; I’m on that Interstate, if it is one, not beside it.

Because she doesn’t name it as road, and because she delays the fact that the pines are gone and doesn’t spell out why or how (removed for farming? cut down to build the road?) I have wandered inside her poem and so find myself complicit at the end in all that taking the fast road ignores or denies.

Thank you, Carol Barrett, for this reading experience.  Carol has two books, Pansies, just out, and Calling in the Bones.  I’m looking forward to reading both.

First Spring Blooms

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It’s March and the wind is blowing.  That’s how you know it is spring in Las Cruces.  And yes, things are beginning to bloom.

P1010110

The first flowers to appear in my yard are volunteers.  My neighbor across the cul-de-sac is a very diligent and experienced gardener.  Last summer he planted these bright orange flowers in the section between sidewalk and road.   He pulled them out when they began to get shaggy, but they had sent out seed.

Orange 2This spring I have one between sidewalk and wall, and two tiny ones between sidewalk and road.  My next-door neighbor has a few in what used to be his lawn.  The neighbor across the way has several.  I’m waiting to see if he pulls them out.  As I’ve noted before, I like volunteers and won’t pull these.  But they won’t last long.Orange0112

 

 

Two days later I find the first poppies in my back yard.  Spring has definitely arrived.

P1010114

Sin Fronteras Journal Issue #23 is Out

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SF 23 coverSin Fronteras/Writers Without Borders Issue #23 has just arrived from the printer.  It features the work of 48 contributors, mostly poets.  Six are from southern New Mexico, seven from other parts of the state, a few more from the greater southwest.  Others are from all over the country, from Washington State to Massachusetts to Florida, and three live beyond our nation’s borders.

Some poems speak directly to southern border issues.  Others focus on different kinds of borders: between people, their communication and miscommunication, or between people and wildlife, or people and their pasts.  The editors were pleased to have a rich mix to draw from.

The cover art is by Deret Roberts, local artist and gallery owner.  You can learn more about his gallery at www.artobscuragallery,com.

If you’d like to obtain a copy of this issue, or submit for the next annual issue, go to the Journal’s own website: http://www.sinfronterasjournal.com.  Be sure to check the guidelines and notice that submissions sent to the email address before April 1 will not be read.

 

 

 

 

We Love Lit in Las Cruces

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It’s February and once again the Sin Fronteras folks will be presenting a “For Love of Lit” reading as part of “For Love of Art Month.”

The event will be Saturday, February 23, 10:00 to 12:00, at the Branigan Cultural Center, 501 N. Main Street, Las Cruces.  Outside the Farmers and Crafts Market will be in full swing.  Come inside and sit down for a while.

Fifteen readers have signed up to read.  If you’ve attended in previous years, you’ll notice a mix of familiar voices and new ones.  Here is the line-up, if all goes as planned: Dick Thomas, Lee Ann Meadows, Peter Goodman, Joanne Townsend, Richard Miles, Alice Wallace, Gerry Stork, Ellen Roberts Young, Joe Somoza, Dael Goodman, Charles Harper, Joanne Turnbull, Bruce Holsapple, Michel Wing, Frank Varela.

Michael Mandel will be the master of ceremonies.

 

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