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On the back of a shingle
ripped from the side of my house
is a drawing in carpenter’s pencil:
two stick figures wearing ball caps,
walking, the left hand of one
and the right hand of the other
joined in a small, near-perfect circle.
Is it love, these two strangers,
this message hidden for 67 years,
their faces looking out at me,
happy, their secret message found
at last?

found poem: to create


fringed figure by jikThe drawing is undated, but my mother’s notations on similarly-fringed crayon artwork suggest I might have been between 3 and 4 when I made this one. How constrained it is, already. How tidily the blocks of color meet, but do not overlap, one another. And the palette — no red, no green, but these dark hues, and two pinks and a generous lozenge of yellow. Who was this girl and what did she see, without or within?

Home from several intense days at a huge writers conference, I leaf through a tattered scrapbook until I recognize this small figure rendered in such odd colors. I’ve returned with stuffed pockets — materials and conversations and the words of fine writers to be sorted and recalled, considered and absorbed.

Still buzzing and overwhelmed, not yet bursting with concrete ideas, I feel the electric pull of possibility as I lean into the wide canvas of morning.


DAK self portrait with blue eyes
My mother did hundreds of self-portraits. Holding a hand mirror or even standing in the bathroom with her sketch pad, she recorded her face over and over, in pencil, crayon, ink, pastel and every kind of paint. No matter how abstract, how few lines, how little color she committed to these images, they are universally recognizable as Dorothy.

I’ve always liked this one. Escaped from page-center, it captures something uniquely Dorothy with a few quick lines and smudges. It is a bit less haunted than many of her self-portraits, with the bright blue around the eyes and the upswept line suggesting a wry smile. Every mark seems essential; what would it be without the odd red smudged slashes below the eyes or the darkened shadows on chin, cheek and forehead?

While she could be counted on to smile for the camera, most of her studies find her staring, unsmiling, raw. But here Dorothy was able to capture something contented, to find within her face a scrawl of beauty, and to suspend, for just a moment, her unforgiving judgment.

Saturday morning…

jik by jik
Not much to say about this drawing made when I was 3 or 4,
except to note that I have grown up to become this person,
right down to the hair, glasses, earrings and, of course,
the smile.

what we make…

DAK drawing rock-potato-chickenThe sketchbook is old, the once-yellow cover torn loose from the spiral, page edges furred. My mother’s name is written on the cover, her surname that of her first husband. Sometime in the 1940s she made these pencil drawings, probably in a class, exploring perspective, light and shadow.

Most of the drawings are recognizable, precise: an onion, a book of matches, a lipstick, a trashcan. But this one is a mystery. Not quite a potato, not quite a rock, sometimes it looks like a raw chicken lying on the hard platter of its shadow.

The local library, along with its catalogued holdings, houses a row of bins in the basement where visitors can leave, or claim, magazines. I frequent the bins in search of images for collage and the quirky combinations of words that turn into found poetry. I carry away piles of magazines and later return them with small rectangles excised from their pages.

I recently picked up several 5-year-old copies of a large-format photography magazine. The photos are crisp and well-composed, each capturing a moment’s vision; a few are very fine photographs. As I browsed through them, I saw an absolute parallel with poetry, with music: we set out with our tools — camera, vocabulary, notes — and from the infinite possibilities we attempt to capture something unique. Tell of sunset, chickadee, voyage, grief, in a way not quite envisioned by anyone else.

Occasionally we succeed. We find the narrow window, the slash of light that turns our vision into something recognizable, something that resonates. More often, we fill the air with dust, scratchings, rock-potato-chicken.

drawing inspiration…

DAK and Twombley

In the last years of her life, her sensibilities diminished, Dorothy continued to draw, occasionally and, with her impaired vision, awkwardly. She drew with thick pencils, crayons or black Sharpies on blank sheets of fine paper, or on the back of used sheets, or on top of other drawings, or sometimes, like a child, in the pages of her art books.

A large book of drawings and paintings by Cy Twombly often sat open on her table and became a veritable sketchpad, Twombly’s scratchings and scrawlings and loopings inspiring her own. Maybe she even believed they were hers. It’s only where her crayon or pen strays outside the printed painting, or a wash of watercolor has left the book page slightly deformed, that these emendations become apparent.

She also spent hours of every day sorting things, a small pile of drawings, both old and new, providing her with endless possibility. She turned from one to the next, studying the runes of each image, sometimes lingering, or stalling, or falling asleep. She eagerly showed the drawings to visitors, turning four or five sheets, then replacing them on the pile and starting again. With painful and poignant simplicity, she seemed content in these modest pursuits, her recollections shortened to the moment, each image a discovery: fresh, surprising, delightful.


jik by DAK ~ detailFor the first time in more than two decades, I am doing some sketching. Invited to join a weekly drawing and painting group, I’ve discovered a cache of colored pencils, partially unused pads of paper and within me the desire to explore a skill never developed but always admired.

My hand feels like a club, my eye dizzied by the complexity of texture, layer, line, everywhere I look. I pretend to be patient with the struggle. This is not about technique. It is about attention, focus, seeing.

Of all the artwork my mother did, her drawing was most her own. She had an acuteness of eye and a delicacy of hand that was unique and consistent, whether she was scrawling in charcoal or doing a quick pencil sketch on the blank page of an annual report.

As I draw, feeling clumsy and half-blind, I look down to see her hand holding the pencil and, here and there, her lines settling light upon the paper.
jik by DAK © 1968 (detail)


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