With Eyes That Watch the World and Can’t Forget

September 21st, 2008

Dear Vincent,

I left off wanting to be the girl under the tree, with wild hair and apricots falling around my feet, the one who scrawls words dangerously, with no consideration of time or consequence.   I also shared my fear of being forever, instead, the draftsgirl.  Carefully engineered, a single life drafted, one side, straight lines, four squares per inch. . .

Lately, something has been changing in this landscape, Vincent.  I can feel it.  Something is twisting in or out,  tectonic plates are shifting, and things are being arranged and rearranged in subtle, precarious ways.  The tycoons, politicians and bankers are everywhere, moving like specters through the fog.

I am scared, Vincent.  The ground beneath my feet has become shaky.  Things are falling and colliding and sliding away. Fires are being extinguished, leaving a chilling void.  All around me are eyes, bereft and empty, accusing and congratulatory, desperate and frightening.  There are hands in pockets, hands engaged in work, and so many fingers pointing. . . . there’s a deficit of warmth and a surfeit of greed.

In this new landscape, draftsgirls like me count their pennies and desperately cling to faith.  Our voices lilt upwards in apologies, begging forgiveness for the slightest mis-mark; the most inconsequential step out of line.  We no longer see Arles or fields of flowers in our dreams, but debtor’s prisons, and ourselves as the potato eaters who must survive yet another harsh season.

Once, Vincent, I lost myself in your novel reader.  I saw her, wrapped in a warm shawl, surrounded by amber light, left wide-eyed by some adventure, or captivated by some turn of phrase that she might repeat over and over again to spark her imagination or salve her heart.  I imagine she might have followed Thoreau as he left  the ship’s cabin to stand “before the mast and deck of the world” where he could “best see the moonlight amid the mountains”.   Or Dante –  “Consider your origins; you were not born to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge.”

In a warm room, with other appetites sated, transcendence comes easily.  Ragged men in ragged clothes become poetic symbols; weathered faces lined in pain become lyrical epithets.  In a virtuous existence, where there is no desperate struggle to make what is essential matter less – where there is no forceful tamping down of hunger, or violent scramble for the last piece of this or bit of that – where there is warmth, and light, and plenty – it is easy to transcend the faraway, brute reality of cold bones and empty bellies.

I used to close my eyes against the grimness of your Potato Eaters. The hope-filled and dreamy child in me found it a particularly ugly piece.  I hated that it was there, amidst the achingly beautiful starry nights, and the gardens of Arles.  I shuddered against the humble faces in gray surroundings, with their slumped shoulders and distant eyes, and I believe I might have even said aloud, not me, not me, never.  What arrogance I had then, Vincent, in my cast-off clothes, with my sun-burned face and impertinent temper.  I believed that boldness, above all else would see me through – that courage was the great equalizer that would bring me out of the muddy fields and into the sunlit gardens.  And at night, under bright yellow stars and the bluest of  skies, I would sit under the awning of the café terrace, my heart filled with the grace of distance, writing the stories I promised to never forget.

I can’t say exactly when it was that I looked at the Potato Eaters and found myself there, or when the Café Terrace at Night became the more painful vision, but it was recent.  One day, I simply emptied my pockets of impossible dreams, and found myself face to face with the woman pouring coffee.  And she was no longer entirely un-beautiful to me, but worthy.  I wanted to wrap her in a warm shawl and give her a feather bed in which to rest her weary head.  I wanted to wake her with roses and music and fill her long, bent days in the fields with hope.  I felt the languishing pain, too, of having none of these gifts to give.

Poverty and politics are maliciously entwined, Vincent.  Those closest to the earth feel it first – the swelling winds and jagged cracks – the subtle, perilous changes in landscape.  We feel it, and we fear the long drought ahead.

I hear them calling out to us, Vincent, like barkers in some nightmarish carnival –  Get your hope here!  Don’t panic!   All is well, or will be well! – and I think of something else Dante said, about the darkest places in hell being reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of crisis.  Certainly, there’s hell enough right here on earth to hold the corrupt, yet they are rarely the ones who suffer the darkest of days.  It’s wealth and power, Vincent, and not courage, that takes one deep into the sanctified gardens.  There, behind the guarded gates, beyond the reach of justice,  the violators transcend the broken bodies, empty wallets, and torn spirits they’ve left behind, writing their own histories or forgetting them altogether.

I have a sudden urge to go home, my friend, but where?  There is no place I can truly call my own.  I am living on borrowed time, in rented spaces.   I cast a glance upward and see only the reflections of a bitterly divided earth.   A silver thorn on a bloody rose, and an earth that’s trembling.

What I wouldn’t give now to be a shepherdess instead of a draftsgirl, on another landscape altogether.

I wish you were here to paint me something beautiful.

Love, Always,


13 Responses to “With Eyes That Watch the World and Can’t Forget”

  • “I hear them calling out to us, Vincent, like barkers in some nightmarish carnival – Get your hope here! Don’t panic! All is well, or will be well! – and I think of something else Dante said, about the darkest places in hell being reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of crisis. ”


    I have been shrinking a bit, turning my head, unable to watch, like someone at the scene of a horrific accident. Don’t mistake me for being neutral. Don’t think I haven’t seen the blood on the pavement. I’m gathering my strength. I’m weeping for everyone at the scene.

  • The painting that hung in my dining room growing up? The Gleaners.

  • Fabulous, Jane!!!
    When I was a child, my room had been decorated with Picasso’s blue period paintings and linens. When I was 13, I suddenly woke up, looked around, and screamed in horror! 8 year-old Linda and I scrounged around our house for old clothes and torn blankets from which to create new quilts and a new feeling in my room.

    We did it… and I think ‘we’ will do it again. I suspect we all will have to scrounge for building supplies, but once we SEE what is around us, we really can’t be blind again.

    Thanks for helping so many to see.

  • Our Dear Jane,

    Despair not. Although it seems the earth is harshly and radically shifting, in reality she has never been quiescent. It is we who have lost our balance.

    Some of us grew shaky, drunkenly falling for false promises made during intoxicating, prosperous times. From some, balance was stolen, as darkness cloaked the thief, or the dusk wooed us into thinking wonder was ahead, and we believed. And some of us simply failed to take good care and let balance slip away, like a lamb left unguarded in the dark of night.

    And darkness came. In the dark, we feel and fear the grasping hands, the pointing fingers, the greed and lack of warmth. It is frightening.

    But darkness lasts only so long, and then light destroys it for a time.

    In the light, with clear eyes, we see that, like greed and politics and power-brokering brutes, the drafts girls and potato eaters and coffee pourers have always been here. We’ve been overlooked, not recognized by others and ourselves, and in some hearts, judged “less than,” but we’ve been here. And now we must assert what we know to be right and good, we must restore balance.

    We are the source of the light and the warmth. It is not them. It is we. We need not buy their false hope and skewed reality. We must join our frail lights together to illuminate a path of change and then follow it. We create hope and possibilities.

    With boldness and courage, our barkers cry out the truth when the emperor has no clothes. The drafts girls and icons of change imagine, create and inspire for a better truth. The laborers work the plan, the coffee pourers and potato farmers provide sustenance, the shepherdesses gently lead the young and frightened out of the darkness and into the light, and the dreamers weave the fabric the will protect us when the cold darkness comes again. Because it will. But we will be ready.

    Yes, Jane, it is we. It is you and me and all the others who feel right from wrong, recognize basic decency and the lack thereof, and know in our souls that we can be better.

    And we can.

    Yes. We can.

  • Oh…and Jane…YOU are a picture of beauty. Can’t you see that? I’ll bet Vincent would be unable to match it!

  • Thank you , Jane.

  • The world
    made for one
    as beautiful
    as you!

    Thank you, Jane.

    and thank you Kate,
    I HOPE we can!

  • “A silver thorn on a bloody rose, and an earth that’s trembling.”



  • Jane,
    Deep thoughts of another measure from those that Stuart Smalley inspired just a few days ago. You amaze me.

    Sadness and pain on as many levels as there circles of hell, and all felt and reminding, me anyway, of all the blood we have had flailed from our bodies and the souls left trampled in the mud by so many storm troopers.

    We must remember that we are built of stronger stuff. And while I have made it a practice NOT to sound like my mother, here I sit, held (though never warmly) by her veiled memories and firsthand accounts of living through the bombings of London when just a young woman. She attended University by day, was a volunteer nurse by night. She spoke of the horrors that good folks would never recover from. She told of walking down streets filled with row houses on the way to school and their smoldering shells that managed to still somehow stand a mere half day later. The surrealism of it all never left her in all of her 88+ years. Its indelible memories watercolored her subsequent actions, thoughts, words and deeds.

    Our world is not much different from 1940’s London. The bombs are theoretical, financial, hypocritical and meant to maim, destroy and leave naught but ruination. The bloodied and screaming a soothing sound to the ears of those who wrought hell here on earth.

    And while We have retreated into shells of our own, our collective consciousness knowing that it is We who must survive if there is any hope for humanity, watch with disgust, dismay and desolateness while the cronies and crooks rape us, one and all.

    But We must stay protected. WE must have our Underground, whether it be rail trains or a Railroad, for as the Europeans knew, the ones who live through the terrors had to be the ones who knew how to rekindle the hope and the balance that would necessary to take the next step out of the morass.

    You are building a community that will be of the ones that carry us past the downfall. We, all of us who are drawn and share your fears and realities, are the ones whose bonds will see each one of us through the despair and despotic madness that has seeped across our world and tainted us one and all.

    My mother was not a hero to me as a parent, but as a human being she was stellar. And so are you, and so are We. Jumping in a boxcar and riding the rails of our Underground to preserve the best of what this world has as its creations is not a sign of weakness; it is recognition that we must band together, rag tag though we may be, for We know that tatters and pennies are meaningless when we are protecting the hearts, souls and driving forces that will keep us from darkness again.

    Starvation, exploding bombs, hatred, prejudice, bullets and twisted politics and its henchmen couldn’t defeat my mother and the rest that stood up when the sirens were silenced. Nor shall they defeat thee and me.

    Don’t give up on Hope. She’ll be here soon. She’s just running a little late.

  • Thank you all very much for reading and for your warm comments.

    I hope to be back up and running with a computer at home by next week! The old Compaq will, I hope, work in place of the decrepit Dell. I apologize in advance if I am delayed in my responses and emails!

    I appreciate you being here! :-)

  • You paint exquisitely real pictures… with your words.

    Thank you.

  • You are an artist of words. I truly admire your amazing talent.

  • This was ‘art’ to read!

    Love Always,

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