Artist's Life

Artist's Life

Gray clouds climbed the back of a peak, rising
slowly we trudged up a rutted road with same design
house of bent and twisted sticks leaned before us
its dirt floor matched sky, road and mountain top
packed mud sealed crooked poles held together by rusted wire
skinny old man sat weaving tiny baskets on gray-dirt floor
working with swollen hands, brown feet, his teeth
faster than any shrewd student's eye could follow
around him stood proud relatives in all shapes and sizes
children played with pine-cone toys in gray-black yard
the best dressed wore rags too dirty to check my car's oil
one little basket inside another little basket until I counted twelve
the largest was three inches square, all the rest fit inside
our group of rich American students stood stupefied
someone asked how much, the old man shyly said, "Two dollars!"
but quickly added, "For all of them, they fit inside one another."
Two weeks later Ecuador was another distant memory
in la Plaza de Cultura a painter brushed pigment on canvas
crowd of friendly faces appeared as color collected color
cobblestones, cars and ancient buildings took on crooked shapes
carefully mixed tints brought tourists and natives together
mesmerized, I watched the brush stroke each detail into reality
cemented in place permanently was the painter's world
among the faces of family and friends sat a carver I recognized
half hidden by a pole near the edge of the painted gathering
I looked out onto the Plaza to find the artist's inspiration
pointing at the painted image, I asked, "Where is that man?"
The painter paused and proudly exclaimed in Spanish,
"I watched him whittle faces from wood in a small Andean village."
I knew the face, the place and recalled watching him work
chipping chunks from blocks, he freed people hiding inside
sitting on a stoop in front of a small shack, the red chips flew
a rough hat, a big nose, a forked beard and knowing eyes
each gained shape and form with the hooked blade of his knife.
Finished, he asked, "Would you like to buy it? Four dollars!"
My hand reached into my pocket before the carver could finish
the painter brushing his name near bottom brought me back
setting the crowd aside to dry, he turned to face the souvenir stands
looked at me, and asked, "Would you buy that for forty dollars?"
Costa Rica sure wasn't Ecuador, so I apologized for being broke.
A year later my date and I waited at the Guthrie for Macbeth to begin
an exhibit by an unknown took up our time on the second floor
numerous sterile empty beige rooms held works hanging from hooks
nothing could have made art less romantic, brain numbing
I stood before a field filled with blue trees and yellow grass
my girlfriend tugged at my sleeve, "Come see this, in the corner!"
Near the back, under soft lights, were three small paintings
first was an old man weaving baskets in a crowded Spanish plaza
next was a painter painting a painter on the cobblestone street of a village
third was a carver surrounded by family in front of a mud-stick shack
staring at each, I put the distant pieces of my life together
memories haunted each work like ghosts stolen from my mind
I found myself watching a clean old basket maker hard at work
a painter struggling with a self portrait on a street in the Andes
a carver working to keep his family fed and dry in a mud shack.
Macbeth was about to begin, but I couldn't leave my reality.

by Darwin Pagnac

Contributors retain all rights to their work. ©1996 Kaleidoscope. Write Place. Volume 7.


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