Downie & Higgins — August 2016
Christine Higgins and Morgan Downie traded art and words. Morgan shared this image, entitled “Contour,” with Christine:
In college freshman drawing class
I gazed upon my handsome, long-haired,
hippie teacher. I loved the feel of his breath
as he leaned over to observe my work.
On the first day, he placed before us
a clam shell that was so big
Botticelli’s Venus could have stepped in
and adopted her awkward pose.
We were expected to give rise to a shape
that conveyed depth—a creamy inside,
the ripples of the crater-like outside.
The sun slanted in the 7th floor art room
window allowing us to see shadow, to
capture the curve using only paper and pencil.
All semester long we repeated the task.
Often I floated out the window
up 72nd Street to Central Park Zoo
where I fed the monkeys lemon ices.
I lingered far too long, and watched
the white polar bears court each other
face-to-face with frisky paws.
When I returned to the drawing room
I thought about a buttery pastry
named for its delicate folds—sfogliatelle.
I only wanted to get the drawing right
because I thought it would please my teacher.
I still own the most successful attempt I made,
complete with my naïve signature,
saved only because it took so much effort.
Some days I look and see a shell that could
be home to something. Other days
I just see lines in pencil on paper.
* * * * *
Christine shared this poem with Morgan:
Not mined gems
like rubies or diamonds
but gems nonetheless
made by what is left behind
as trash, rubbed by sand,
refined by waves and currents.
I’ve trained my eye
to find the emerald green
or amber brown of beer bottles.
Rarer, the cobalt blue
of Vaseline jars, or the milky
white of medicine bottles.
Relics, now that everything
is sold in plastic.
Older pieces, tossed
into slivers, icicles, smoothed shards–
aqua blue and olive green,
small enough to call them
without shiny spots, well-frosted.
The best surprise–
a whole bottle neck
In response, Morgan made this dyptich, entitled “Treasured” (left) and “Mermaid’s Tears,” both of which incorporate sea glass gathered by the artist and his wife off the Fife Coast in Scotland not far from where Daniel Defoe used to live: