Early this morning I painted an image of butterflies on ceramic tile – a whole flutter of butterflies.
As the paint was drying I read a piece written by Sandra Heska King on Tweetspeak Poetry, in which she is exploring (and by exploring I mean lighting up for us) the poet Mahmoud Darwish and the book The Butterfly’s Burden. Sandra’s writing touched me on a deep level. She created a scene which blended then and now, transcending time, connecting us all through the common human struggles, albeit it through very different circumstances, and her words somehow carried that thread of life, beautiful painful terrible indescribable life, all the way to the end. If you never thought you could relate to Darwish, you have never read this piece. That is all I will say on it, except that I dare you to read it and not resonate in some way, large or small, with the poet whose life experience may seem comfortably far from our own.
Utterly speechless, with Darwish's words still buzzing through me, “Me or him,' that’s how war starts. But it ends in an awkward stance: “Me and him,” I returned to my butterflies. Without thinking much about it I set the tile upside down with the bottom edge higher than the rest (like a wedge) and poured a solvent from left to right along the raised side. The solvent washed slowly down the tile, lifting and carrying a delicate flow of paint, blocking my part of view of the winged creatures. I was certain they barely even noticed. A photograph recorded the transformation. I turned the tile a quarter turn and did it again and again, photographing the changes each time. The tile, now laying flat on my table, showed a few peeks at the wings. I picked up a spray bottle of solvent and, hesitantly, holding my breath, sent a gentle mist down onto the wings. I knew that they would eventually be gone from sight forever. Still, I also knew that butterflies are not as delicate as one might think. Their wings are quite beaten up by summer's end, yet they fly as if they don't even know about the missing chunks and torn places, a less obvious sign of fall. That's how I knew these butterflies would go on, uninterrupted, on the other side of the veil. I spritzed the final drape of solvent and watched it mix and pull the color across the tile until every wing was hidden. A voice in my head whispered ‘under the rubble life is still life… life is still life…”
The series of photos became a collage with the words “life, under the rubble, is still life.”
If a painting can be a poem, this one is. I wonder... what would happen if I removed the words and just let it stand? I wonder, not quite faithful enough to try it.
The painting is held in my mind, butterflies freely fluttering on the breeze. However, when I look at the actual tile there is what might be described as random lines and speckles. My inclination was to wash it off and reuse the tile, but each time I moved to clean it, a voice in my head said stop. I knew why. The butterflies were in there, flying free behind the veil.
This is why I wondered if I was losing my mind…. because I couldn't bring myself to wipe away the tile... because I would not sacrifice butterflies I couldn't see.
It reminds me of a poem I wrote 7 years ago:
As I stand at the peak
Between separate and whole
I am losing my mind
And I’m finding my soul.
Maybe I'm not going crazy at all, or, maybe finding your soul feels a lot like going mad.
For further reading:
Poetry Dare: Dreaming with Darwish (Part 2) by Sandra Heska King, Tweetspeak Poetry. 9.9.2015
The Butterfly's Burden. Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Fady Joudah. © 2007