Notebooks of My Other Selves:
Intimate Memoirs of Three Women

By Jan Garden Castro

“Every character has a beginning. Origin is a larger question.” – Celestina


Book 1: Kate Jones

         Preface

     During a week-long Independence Day holiday at a friend’s cabin in the Sierras in 1988, I (an unknown psychotherapist, in the early stages of writing my first book Maggie: On Overcoming Incest) ran out of reading materials and was exploring, down to the storage cubbyholes built into the knotty pine walls. I knew the cabin had been the retreat of scores of notable artists, and I was, admittedly, curiously seeking mementos of the rich and famous. Among paperback books, rubber rafts, army surplus jackets and cut-off, faded jeans – remnants from the sixties – I found a heavy notebook, its typed pages crowded with penciled changes and clamped between black, dust-pocked, mildewed covers.

     The cabin, built in 1945 on a secluded peak bordering the Stanislaus National Forest – winter snows and primitive road conditions required one to ski in then – is an insulated, two-story knotty pine structure with ten beds that sleep up to fourteen guests. The owner, a San Francisco artist (my girlfriend’s mother-in-law), stocked it with books, an upright mahogany Steinway, two Gibson guitars, mounted elk horns, Mexican and Egyptian rugs, a (now antique) stereo, numerous lawn chairs, tools, utensils, dinnerware, and (icky) food staples which appeared to be as old as the godless woman who left them here.

     After the artist divorced her husband, a prominent surgeon, in 1968 – the cabin having been the site of violent domestic quarrels preceding the break-up – the artist eagerly and generously offered visiting privileges to other artists and friends, as she had done in the prior decades, but rarely visited the cabin again herself. Over the years, it served as a winter or summer retreat for numerous individuals, couples, and parties of skiers, hikers, and nature-lovers, reportedly including Greta Garbo and Mercedes de Acosta, Beverly Sills and Placido Domingo, Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler and Clement Greenberg, and the recluse Anne Freud. The artist has no record of visitors outside of a few signed paintings and other intentional and unintentional gifts and leftovers. More recently, she offers the cabin to her three grown children, nieces, nephews, and their friends, which is how I got invited to visit. It would be unethical to claim any role myself in creating the stories that follow. Instead, my boundless satisfaction comes from discovering and being the first to read (and slightly edit) a remarkable testament to the sufferings and sublime moments of others.

     Since the cabin has now hosted four generations of distinguished visitors, some exclusive and secretive in their use of this retreat, it would be invasive to many notables if I tried to ascertain the authorship of the manuscript or to link it conclusively to the turbulent era circa 1968.  The cabin’s owner has no idea who the author could be or if the author was ever actually a guest there. Yet all of the visitors were reputable and trustworthy, so it is unlikely that the manuscript, in whatever way it arrived, was stolen. Nor is it fair to leave such a singular document unpublished. Whoever wrote it deserves accolades and should step forward – if she is still alive.

     I presume the author is one woman or perhaps two women. It is easy for a man to adopt a woman’s persona – novelists do it all the time, but most fail to explore female territory with sufficient alacrity. Why does James Joyce’s Molly Bloom sound one-dimensional, chatty, a cartoon of primal female urges? And Henry James’ harem of women from Daisy Miller to Milly Theale are elaborate embroideries of damsels reaching beyond their means and dames dominating their minions while Nabokov’s Lolita is a rare butterfly pinned onto that collector’s sheet. These wizards looked upon women as characters in their tales of “Modern Times.”  Early seers like Heraclitis proposed that life is change, but didn’t he neglect women’s lives? Some men become women and others create sad little metaphors to mirror their pitiful hearts. Yet scientists say that all babies are born with x and y chromosomes, and gender is more mutable than most realize. So our differing ways of using language, like chromosomes, are capricious, intertwined. Even so, these notebooks make unusual inroads into female passion. True, the writing is uneven, with some parts revealing too much too crudely. The shocking nature of some passages indicates that the author had enormous freedom to develop (her) ideas and was probably alone during the notebook’s genesis despite references to the contrary. Other parts leave the reader in a sylvan fog. Was she was hiding, meditating, or simply being an author, writing this story?

     Naturally, since I am not the author and did not know her, I can only suggest that, as far as I know, the text has no direct relation to persons living or dead. It does not seem likely that she was any of the characters herself, much less a schizophrenic divided into all three or that the main characters could exist outside of fiction. It is mere chance that one of the characters has my name. Note, too, numerous allusions to Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge and to texts with a Spanish and European flavor by Fernando de Rojas, Marquez, Lorca, Fuentes, Paz, Sand, Valéry, Rimbaud, Woolf, Stein, Murdoch and Dante. Yet the locations are mostly American. This further supports my hypothesis that these stories are pure fictions written by a (lonely?) woman amusing herself. Maybe she was conversing with the masters or unearthing inroads to her soul or to an outpost of consciousness not yet mapped. As such, I recommend that they be read in the biblical spirit of “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” In my field, clients and therapists alike learn by listening. It has taken me years to feel that I serve my clients in this regard. I admit it: I was an impulsive youth. How cruel that listening is neither practiced nor taught as well as one might wish. Would that we could all be heard!         -- Justine 

 



         Chapter 1: In the Belly of Time

     I began this journey to my other selves some time ago. In some ways, I didn’t come from my Mother. She wanted me and loved me, but she never understood or accepted my need to be an artist. No, we weren’t competing for Father’s love; it was that we both wanted to be Alpha women, or at least that’s what Justine (my psychoanalyst) says. Years later, when recognitions, sales, and awards – laurels can be prickly, difficult, cumbersome – assured my credibility, she no longer needed courage to finally grant her acceptance. Mother became a pale figure in the background, a trim, svelte, charming, silver-haired matron, the model mother, the perfect daughter to her own mother, everything I was not. Over time, our differences no longer stood between us and we became closer.

     Father was too weak to let me know if he understood. Always sympathetic, indiscriminately supportive and falsely optimistic, the dragon-slaying Quixote was the perfect foil for Mother’s barbed tongue. Midlife, after I was far away, Father had a breakdown and changed careers, switching from his lucrative position at Dow Chemical to being the Walter Mitty of Chemistry I at Lincoln High School, from which he was reluctant to retire, to lose the captive audiences for his slightly-better-than-pedestrian humor. In his later years, this dreamer was disparaged by wife and mother-in-law for his alarming complicity with routines. He was as regular about moving his bowels and eating breakfast as the rest of the family was not. Being sheltered in a house in a progressive suburb, we took too much for granted, never questioning what family was and meant. Father wrote secret novels in his basement study, surrounded by the paper certificates (Phi Beta Kappa, degrees) attesting to what he had once accomplished. His greatest achievements were outliving his nine brothers and sisters by many years and dying the way he did.

     I was born, it seems, with an overpowering will to have my own way, to out-crawl, out-maneuver, out-distance the sterilized world provided by my well-meaning parents. My behavior was indulged to a degree that surprises me now. For my third birthday, I got to light my own candles, and I got a pony that I named Red who had his own stall in Prospect Park. I also led the party games, dominating even my blonde twin cousins, then five, and acting as assistant for Tony Summers, a neighbor who, at ten, billed himself as Junior Houdini. I was his assistant when he pulled a pigeon out of a hat, then turned it into a butterfly. (We practiced before the party; I won’t tell you how we did it.) Red was a tiny Shetland with a buff-color hide and a red-orange mane and tail. I used to ride around the Park, which had a lovely lake and pavilions, with my Mom (who used to ride a Tobiano pinto, Retro-Girl, belonging to her friend Mabel Harriman). Red had a red Western saddle, and I had red cowgirl boots. Red was my favorite color.

     About six months after this, I announced to my parents that I wanted to be an artist. My mother supplied me with giant pads of newsprint, watercolors and brushes, crayons, and colored pencils. She used to ask me about each work and write the titles I supplied: “Pony with Red Hat,” “Magic Fingers,” “Racing in the Sky,” “Dancing Dragons.”

     I don’t remember when we got our first television or where I got the idea to organize the kids – any kids from kindergarten friends to neighbors to cousins – into cowboys and Indians, Wendy and the lost boys, explorers in the jungle. Sometimes I liked to be tied up so I could escape. The challenge, though I didn’t realize it at the time, was to invent the game, to make costumes, songs, stories, then to eventually outwit the other kids. Gamesmanship. I didn’t know that word, but I knew it was fun to win.

     I wanted to explore every medium. I played with mud, clay, and chalk, creating oblong mazes, masks, and giant faces of people and drawings on the white-washed front porch. Dad would come home from work, sometimes mumbling to himself, then calling me as soon as he hit the porch. (Justine says I was trying too hard to get attention.) At the time, I refused to be contrite, arguing with Dad not to let anyone wipe out Clarabelle, to leave Tinkerbelle alone! After all my hard work! Once I drew a giant spider web in white and purple chalk and stuck wads of gum to the bottoms of my little sister’s feet and made her stand in it till she started crying (Sorry, Sis!) and Mom made me stop. Most of these experiments didn’t work. I made perfumes from various products filched from the bathroom and Mom’s dresser, made see-through costumes out of dotted Swiss organza curtains, yellow lace, and other scraps in the costume box. Friends of my parents tell a story that during a vacation in Michigan, I directed a play in which the children stage a revolution and murder their parents. I don’t remember going that far. Mother over-reacted when I preferred these flawed diversions to lessons in dance, acting, and piano, all for the same reason: the teachers were boring! Even then, I hated to repeat myself, preferring to move on to other games. I was an explosive girl with a dimple and a will of her own. Mother would brush my red-gold hair as I squirmed; minutes later, I shook my head to release curls the color of sunlight, to let them fly.

     I have lived a life of passion. Childhood isn’t the earliest thing I remember. Finding my own ways, I have encountered past, future, other selves, each professing to be me, to be alive. Sometimes words get in the way or convey more than I intend. I will let them all speak, though some are repulsive. I have a companion who introduced herself to me one night at a masked ball. She travels each road where obsessions rise, turn into acts too bold to name, fade in and out of consciousness, and turn varied hues on each tongue. Celestina loves to tease, to propose diversions. Sometimes she goes dark, standing helpless in a corner, a witness, a prophet, a victim herself.

     When she remembers the past or sees the future, both are present. In this way, time becomes a character, another black letter fixed on paper pressed out of murdered trees, yet bigger, circular in history and understanding, like the Old Cypress on the ridge above Eagle Meadow, born in a past millennium, the mute witness with thousands of pointed, green eyes.

     Though I am ineluctably real, writing real stories with real names and people, my fictions are the antithesis of life, representing a larger picture that does not breathe or see. If I were not an artist, a true artist, these letters would conceal the little worlds they pretend to create, flatter egos, uphold status quos, wow Mad Ave gimcracks. I won’t sell out. The poet who kissed me one summer, purring,  “poetry is the supreme fiction, Madame” was quoting a truism in order to lie in more than one way. Fiction is closer to the gut processing reality, an inner world designed to both deny and satisfy flesh and blood.



         Chapter 2: Walking to Kiev

     In her dream, her Russian grandfather is walking through the forest in winter, through the unpopulated wilderness that stretches for one hundred thirty miles between the few homes and storefronts in his village of Guberny and the grand edifices in the ancient capitol named by three brothers: Kiev. The dirt road winds through the forest. At night he walks on, finally stopping to rest beside a tree. Sounds of owls and wolves. He wakes and imagines he sees red-green eyes. He throws his walking stick hard and yells, “Arrgh! Gevant!” A rustle, then silence. He can’t sleep, so he walks on. In the morning a slow, horse-drawn wagon makes its way to town. “Hey, Nicholas, what are you doing here?” the farmer yelps, scratching his head in amazement. Nicholas gratefully accepts a ride to town, to the doorstep of his father, the leather merchant. He starts to cry.

     He begs his father to take him in to work in the shop selling leather to merchants. In the country, there is no work, no one to teach him a trade. The other boys sit around the house. They make fun of him because he is a nephew, not a brother.

     Here, he is a half-brother. His father’s new wife has three children. Nicholas is a country bumpkin, she says. His father gets him an apprenticeship at a tannery. He learns to make saddles. On his own, he makes razor straps and bridles and sells them at county fairs. He is almost eighteen. He tells his father he is not going into the army. The army goes through the pogroms killing the Jews. He saw his friend Moisha dragged on the ground by a horse until his spine broke. He cannot stomach being a soldier. He pays his father 300 donars, the fine if he flees. His father, a rich merchant, takes his son’s money and shakes his hand, “You are a good boy. You have my best wishes. Goodbye.”

     The door closes on a childhood spent alone. His grandmother was closer to him than his own parents, but she had so many mouths to feed. All he has is his strong hands, his noble features, and some money tied in a handkerchief. He buys identification papers and boards a train for Odessa on a cold day in February, 1914.

     The busy port has its share of thieves. A man tries to sell him a gold watch cheap. He wants to be careful not to be questioned by the police. He boards a freighter to cross the Black Sea. Somehow he crosses Europe to reach Le Havre. He sees ships from as far away as Argentina. He wants to go to America. He finds a cargo ship filled with sardines, whale oil, and leather pelts and pays 100 donars for passage to New York. The trip takes six weeks.

     They feed him potatoes and onions and barley stew. He is sick the whole time. His bunk is in a tiny cabin with four beds. The other three are brothers from Mongolia. They speak a different dialect. They teach him a few of their words but do not share the dried meat and beans in a hemp sack under the top mattress. When they see he has money, they sell him some food. Still he gets sick. He goes on deck and faces the way the wind blows. One day he sees the Statue of Liberty for the first time.

     Ellis Island is a stinking place. He has to wait two weeks until his uncle Jonathan can arrange the necessary papers. He is luckier than some who have no relatives. The city of Manhattan is rough, dirty. There are fights in the streets. The uncle lives in a flat four stories up. He imports tanned animal skins and sells them to shoe factories from his tiny store on Broadway.

     This nephew doesn’t speak any English. He learns a few words. His first job requires no English. He picks up and delivers hotel laundry. The mafia runs the business. He has to pay to protect his route. He tries to start his own route and gets into trouble. He decides he had better go to school. He can speak street English. At school he meets a teacher who is an immigrant too. She is part French and part Hungarian with blonde hair and blue eyes. His hair has turned silver at thirty. His cheekbones are strong. His blue eyes are far apart. No one has ever told him he is handsome, she thinks. They talk after class. He walks her home. As they are courting, she learns her parents have been killed in the Hungarian Revolution. Exile is the world inside of us that has died on the outside.

     With his improved English and manners, he finds a job as a tanner at the International Shoe Factory. Soon he is a foreman. He knows how to do the best job, how to show others; he even knows a better tanning method that will save time and money. He tells the teacher and she shows him how to apply for a patent. The boss is finally getting interested in the new method. Then he finds out “This son-of-a-bitch got a patent!” They strike a deal. Nicholas will get one percent of the profits from the new method. The company will save five hundred thousand dollars a year. It is a good deal even if he has to pay the son-of-a-bitch.

     Soon Grandfather has enough money to buy a house and to marry the teacher, Rosalyn. They raise three children: Mary Elizabeth, Sofia, and Anna Teresa, my mother. The children grow up in a brownstone on East 24th Street. The busy part of the city is the port and lower Manhattan. Their mother teaches them French and Hungarian and their father teaches them Russian. The family speaks American at dinner, but by dessert, the conversation is spiced with all four languages. With four women who love to talk, no one notices that Nicholas is mostly silent. Being silent is a way to open up to what is really there. He speaks when there is something important to say.

     Mary and Sofia marry first. Anna first graduates from Cooper Union, then works for a small ceramics studio. She meets my father in Central Park. They both love tennis and begin to play doubles with other couples. When they go out on dates, she is shy. She has never had a serious boyfriend. Thomas Dudevant appeals to her. She likes his clean-cut looks, his wry sense of humor. His mother is American and his father is French but died in the cholera epidemic. He works as a chemist for a big company. Thomas and Anna marry after a nine-month courtship. They can’t wait for the War to end. He is now Assistant Supervisor of the quality control division of Dow Chemical. At first they live with Anna’s parents but soon buy a row house on 9th Street with a yard that Anna turns into a rose and herb garden.

     Eight months after the wedding, on August 8, 1944, Anna gives birth to a seven and a half pound baby girl whom they name Katherine Rose Dudevant. She has delicate tendrils of curly strawberry-gold hair and sparkling violet blue eyes.

     The War is raging in Europe, but D-Day has given the Allies hope and they are now launching operation Dragoon in Southern France; on the Pacific front, the Americans and the Chinese have reclaimed some Islands near Iwo Jima. Despite the lack of adequate processing on Ellis Island and the existence of prisoner of war camps inside the United States, immigrants are streaming across all borders. Millions are desperate and dying. The island of Manhattan is a sort of war zone; there is not enough housing and people somehow are living in the streets and pouring into the neighboring boroughs. Soup kitchens are springing up in churches and clinics, and makeshift huts constructed by new immigrants offer hot food and coffee for pennies. Somehow this city has more food than most. The urge to be kind is stronger, if only by a few degrees, than the urge to cheat, steal, and murder. 


         Chapter 3: Beware the Prophets

     Kate and Justine, along with Mira, Lenny, Saranja, and their host Rick, were chatting during intermission at The Met. Rick was engrossed in talking to Mira, a lovely dark-haired beauty and the only female wearing a long skirt. The Aïda lead soprano was rather stout with a stolid voice.  “I wonder why she was selected for the romantic lead!” Kate whispered to Justine.

     “No doubt she was a lovely Aïda once. I guess we all outgrow our earlier selves in one way or another,” her friend replied. In contrast to their views, Leonard, Rick’s friend, was raving to Hetty, “Alla Buonogirondo is one of my all-time favorite mezzo-sopranos; I love her dark, rich tones.”

     When the group returned to their box after intermission, to everyone’s surprise, Madame Alla had lost her voice and had been replaced by a young, voluptuous and charming black singer. This delighted Justine and Kate, who muted their amusement, realizing that Rick, Lenny, and Hetty were not as elated.

     The group decided to have coffee after the program, settling on a crowded nearby diner, where they wedged their bulky coats and selves around a small window table. Hetty ordered a meal, Rick and Lenny had coffee, Mira ordered matzo ball soup, and Kate and Justine chose the minestrone. Rather than discussing the martyrdom of Aïda, whether her sacrifice and her love were the highest forms of honor – or whether self-sacrifice is not part of the Jewish tradition (all of the party except Kate and Justine were Jewish), the talk veered in two odd directions.

     “I can never find good matzo ball soup,” Hetty grouched, “especially in non-Jewish restaurants.

     “Taste this,” Mira gestured, as Hetty swooped down with her spoon.

     “Not up to par.” They took turns talking about their grandmothers’ matzo ball soups.

     Justine pitched in, “Izzyberg’s Deli has great homemade matzo balls, but they use Campbell’s soup for the base.”

     Mira gracefully spooned as Kate and Justine dug into hearty bowls of minestrone loaded with varied beans, pasta, and fresh vegetables. For some odd reason, the conversation turned to gurus. Rick and his friends all had followed spiritual paths and Mira had studied with Strinddrah Trumpha.

     “I was studying acting at Nirvana in 1963,” Kate chimed in, “and Trumpha had a reputation for sleeping with many Nirvana women, even those who were married. I was busy with my wonderful man Stephan, our friends and art classes. I never even saw Trumpha: he didn’t sound holy. Anyway, I only tried meditating later.”

     “He was a good teacher,” Mira defended him. “I heard about the scandal though. I later worked for another guru with the same problem. He was Indian rather than Tibetan. And the woman he chose to carry on the lineage has had her own scandals. She used to have thousands of paid staff members, but there was too much in-fighting. Now she has trimmed her personnel down to about 180.”

     “When I was in India, I had an audience with …..(another Indian name I’ve forgotten)… and he told me to drop my trousers,” Rick offered.  “I didn’t, but a friend of mine became his lover over a period of about one and a half years, and then committed suicide. I heard of other cases like that too with this guru.”

     “Because of his behavior, Mother Ananda took all of his books out of ashram library,” Mira reported. We continued talking along this line, showing how this and that guru each had human failings, ending up talking about Joyya, someone from Brooklyn who used to be and still was very wild; she was presently helping AIDS victims in Florida.

     Justine mentioned her guru, Keido Fukushima, an artist and sage whose heart was large. They had met when she helped the royal family in Japan overcome their reluctance to the Prince’s marriage to a commoner. Michiko Kiazawa was a beautiful woman from a prominent family who had earned a Ph.D. in economics at Harvard. She was going to have to trim her sails to fit into the narrow channels of royalty. After her more guarded conversations with the royals, Justine talked privately with Michiko, who was quite level-headed and versatile. Their conversation drifted toward novels depicting royal love. They had both read Lady Murakami’s classic about Prince Genjii; they discussed the ways his quick-thinking consorts were displayed as sensual sleuths by a woman who was mirroring, in part, her own experiences. Then there was Lady Nijo, a teen virgin who became the retired king’s consort and whose journals cast a ken eye on the men and ladies of her court. In those days women’s worlds were often limited to interior spaces. They agreed that royal behavior, like Presidential behavior in the West, had directly affected the morale of their countries and that one’s position as a role model could not be compromised. She was a good match for the Prince; their love seemed mutual and genuine, and she seemed prepared for the sacrifices associated with being in the public eye.  As they discussed their breathing and meditation practices, the future princess laughed to feel a new light entering her gentle heart.

     Kate was quiet and did not mention Celestina. She seemed too pure, too innocent, too other-worldly. As far as Kate knew, she was untouched by scandal. (But what did she know?). How typical that the spiritual crowd was not talking about politics and race onstage with a black diva and offstage with the Civil Rights Act passing less than two weeks ago, Kate sighed. Race was excruciating and obvious. Whenever she was on the subway with her friend Kent, who was black, women -- especially black women – sneered or looked away. Sometimes, just to tease people, Celestina looked black or Indian, and when the subways were packed and she got pinched and shoved, she was quick to pinch back. She told Kent they used to be the twin siblings of a Bedouin shepherd near Babylon.


         Chapter 4: Grandpa, the Peacemaker

     During periodic disagreements with Mother, I would end up on Grandpa’s knee, crying, promising to be a good girl. I identified with his origins from stories he told about his own childhood and about Russian heroes such as Alexander Nevsky, a distant relative, whose revolutionary victory to save Kiev was depicted in a movie he took me to see. He told me stories about his childhood, about living in Russia, coming to America, getting married. He now was Vice-President of International Shoe. He took me through the giant plant to show me how shoes were made; he would always stop and say hello to each worker, using his first name (most all of the workers, except for the secretaries, were men), asking about the wife and kids or the new house. I loved the marriage photograph showing Grandpa and Grandma looking young: a slim woman with long dark hair pinned back, wearing a white blouse and a loose-fitting, pale blue suit, seated in a high-backed ornate wood chair with a tall, very handsome man with wavy hair, a white shirt, and a dark, tailored three-piece suit with pinstripes standing proudly behind her. I didn’t realize this wasn’t a traditional pose or ever question why the bride wasn’t wearing a long, lacy white dress. Perhaps they had a civil ceremony. They had married in May, 1920, just as the amendment for womens’ right to vote was being debated for the third time. The House of Representatives had passed this by a large majority and President Wilson was urging women’s suffrage as a “war measure” to speed the nation’s recovery. After two setbacks, the Senate gave in and passed the amendment by two thirds, as required. However, Rosalyn and Nicholas did not worry too much about this. They were working too hard, yet insulated in a personal bubble of happiness. For the first time in their young lives, they each had someone to love.

     Fifty years later, Grandpa died in absolute silence as excruciating pain wracked his bones. As he steadied his soul, bracing himself to leave us all behind, his eyes catapulted into darkness and imploded. No one noticed how he somehow managed the pain, how peace was emanating from him still, as it always had, nor did they look upon him as a sage.


         Chapter 5: The Moon’s Double

     Our beginnings are deeply buried, still smoldering, in another place. Our final meeting was pure sky, laughing blue, breaking into the granite peaks of Boulder Creek, mirrored in the waters rising between us, rushing against us. We were stone gods, brown bodies taut, hard, somehow merging the elements surrounding us, fitting together, consummating our fire in a hard wilderness, a wild nest of skins releasing and absolving our indiscretion. I let go quickly. How could I love a fire, a raging elemental force? You bore your curse like a shield, a windmill that on occasion collapsed, or swept you off, or swept others off. The sky above – I remember the profusion of blue -- grounded us in its large frame.

     My art is a footed vase filled with the eight elements: earth, mountains, rivers, air, thunder, metals, fire, and light. You would chant morning prayers in your native tongue, leap into my heart like a shooting star lighting up my insides. Creation is active, a shaping of interior space. My painting was China red and cerulean – arching waves with a deep-set cobalt center where our bodies hugged together into one stone, its afterglow the red sky. I titled the painting, “Dusk, Boulder Creek.”

     The reviewers, led by Lionel Thomas Groton, interpreted the painting as an abstract image of the cosmos meeting the void, with the contradictions between conscious and unconscious forces evident in the use of contrasting hues of red and blue. Dummies! China Red is the bride’s color (and my color, perhaps contradictory); this was as close as we got to giving birth to ourselves right in the rapids, an ultimate consummation of fires blazing in mountain waters chilled by glacial runoff. Not that I’d expect a critic to see that…yet to not see the inside-outness, the illumination through reversed fields of color, the lines, for God’s sake! To me, the elements themselves were making love, carrying us into their force fields with a magnetism I treasure in my bones.

     So I’m wary of critics. Groton’s view is superficial. He rarely lets go of his own theoretical preoccupations to get close enough to see each artist’s vision. Why should he set forth laws, judgments for collectors, readers, fictions fabricated like snowflakes into complex geometries that soon melt and run together and either puddle or condense into humidity or, occasionally, freeze. Groton is a substantial, conservative spokesman; he discerns trends, sets forth blocks of ice, missing the fire.

     I’m starting this journal while I’m in my prime. I’ll keep them all guessing except you, Celestina. While there’s time, you will hear what my art means to me. And I will laugh last, or you will, as the only reader. You are not my creation except inside these pages. I can never capture your many lives just as I cannot put into words your peach breath slipping down the back of my neck like laughter nor the tiny lilies of the valley scenting the looping cascade of your tresses.

     This cabin is so remote that no busybody tourists will find me and barge in with their big questions, trappings of success. I deserve my reputation and the gift of privacy. This country – a high, dry wilderness – is entering my bloodstream. I’m having a vault built next to the studio to hold completed works until they can be transferred to my warehouse in New York. The dry air here will probably be healthier for the canvases. Dry, too, or drying out, all the secrets stuffed in my beautiful skull, secrets that take up little rooms. My habit of looking at things two ways at once comes from you. Just as truth existed before logic, you existed before I invented you.

     Tonight I watch my favorite stars appear in the ink-blue sky. The moon lifts her milky head over the black, tree-topped mountain. First, an aura of white light, then a white rim. Half of the ball, bright and clear, back-lighting the trees, resting on them, slowly rising above the tops of tall sugar pines, lifting off from the last needle tip. A perfect circle, its double reflected in my open window. I am midway between the moon and its reflection, facing the navy sky. Tonight the moon is supposed to turn blue due to meteorites in the atmosphere, those streaks of brilliantine light, a patina of blue shine.

     Why does beauty continue to surprise? What did you do to cause my body to glow as our chemistry spilled into that musty hotel room in Marseilles? Can I never again caress you with my tongue, mingle my sweat with your dusky limbs and cool blue attitude, breathe you back to life? These mountains of conserved energies, the dance of the elements, remind me that I am alone tonight, learning to be more like the moon, to keep shining all by myself.

The Adirondack Review
JAN GARDEN CASTRO has published two small press poetry books, Mandala of the Five Senses and The Last Frontier. Her nonfiction books include Sonia Delaunay: La Moderne and The Art & Life of Georgia O'Keeffe.
The St. Lawrence Book Award
The St. Lawrence Book Award
The St. Lawrence Book AwardThe St. Lawrence Book AwardThe St. Lawrence Book Award
The St. Lawrence Book Award