Friday, October 15, 2010

The Tenth Stair and the Making of “Amelia”

Lately, I’m Owl in Arnold Lobel’s children’s story “Upstairs and Downstairs” from the collection, Owl at Home, in which Owl spends the evening rushing from his downstairs to his upstairs, calling, whenever he arrives in either location, “Owl, are you there?!” only to rush madly to the opposite spot to ask the same question of himself in the new spot. He never answers (how can he?) and finally, in exhaustion, sits on the middle stair, where he can best survey both destinations

The Tenth stair is not a bad location, and who wouldn’t want to live in any one of Lobel’s settings (given the sloping ceilings of Frog and Toad’s worlds, the moonlit path extending before solitary Grasshopper, the armchair and hot bowl of soup waiting—once Weasel’s outsmarted—for Mouse, arched neck of lamp with blossom shade warming head and book).

While the tenth stair’s a good metaphor for our psychic position, I have little desire to write about our family’s two-city dilemma nor the siphon of creative energy resulting from missed airplanes, trips to the ER, work obligations, the overlay of possible new grids and patterns to forge in a new city while still driving the old--you know, the human minutae song of what needs to be done, done better, now, while slicing cucumbers for lunches, peeling bandaids for skinned foreheads and vacuuming bobby pins up in the wake of the Sunbeam Fairy on her way to weekend Nutcracker practice.

I sequestered a day, though, to sit beside Robyn, my accomplice, so we could preview her images for the making of three new photo-poem montages.

And mercifully, within moments of sitting beside her with my double-bergamot Earl (tea housed in a substantial globe-bottomed Barbara Hoffman muted orange and grey gold petalled mug), I’m “home”—at peace, and the images for the poem “Amelia” take an order in my mind: here, opalescent mounds of buried pearls in an abalone shell will echo a line of cream buttons down the waist of a crepe dress will echo the silver rivets of an airplane’s wing.

Since the poem names its own set of images, it’s tricky which photos to choose…not overstate, not understate or compete with the words. What furthers the dream? Like here, these milk tendrils of brushed wool, so like incense rings, barely present enough to touch.

Because the poem isn’t about flying, or lovers, directly. But transport past thresholds alone. “And god approving” before the sun breaks through that sliver of sky-time, pre-dawn (finite! mercurial!) when hearing the sound of your own breath is enough.

Photo, abalone: Robyn Beattie

Link to our first photo montage:
at the Mom Egg.

To view more of Barbara Hoffman’s work:


Liz Brennan said...

I love the Arthur Lobel kids stories. He is one of my favorites! His stories are so funny and wise. Sitting quietly on the middle stair from time to time to be an observer rather than always being caught up in the midst of the action is a fitting metaphor to keep in mind! Another children's I love is story is the Carl Sandburg Rootabaga story about Deep Red Roses. I'll bring it for you sometime.

Tania Pryputniewicz said...


I think you are better at sitting on the middle stair than I am...but I'll try to plunk down next to you for a bit. I have to find that Rootabaga CD you gave us awhile ago...all about sound--I think those Rootabag stories really should be called prose poems, or sandburg variations on a poem...