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Cho & Budenz – Baltimore Ekphrasis Project

Se Jong Cho and Jacob Budenz traded art and words. Se Jong shared this painting, entitled “Window,” with Jacob:

window_SeJongCho In response, Jacob wrote this story:

Pastel Witch

Where wealth is measured by the pinkness of the sky there is a man standing at the window wearing a yellow sundress as dusk descends. His lips are lavender. His toenails match. His fingernails match. He does not wear shoes.

Where teeth hang from the doorway by silver thread and tinkle in the breeze the man crushes daisies with a mortar and pestle. The teeth are his own and he has grown them back and torn them out, grown them back and torn them out, grown them back, year after year after year after year. From his kitchen he can see the lake ripple, the mountains lean in. He is pregnant with his third child. The father is the wind.

Where the moss is a pillow and the tree is a lamp, the man will give birth to his daughter and hand the baby to the queen of the crickets. The child will return once she has learned to fly and to sing. She will be thirteen years old, then. In the mean time the man will weep once a week for the first two years, once a month for the next four, twice a year for the next three, only once the next year, never again until she returns. When his daughter returns he will tell her he never wanted any sons. Both his sons died before learning to fly, he will tell her. This is a lie. He had one daughter and one son before her. They are still alive, and have turned into a narwhal and a beetle, respectively.

Where the water is warm he will never swim. He does not know how to swim. Yet here he lives in a house by the lake, here he lives in a house by the lake. The sun has gone down, and the banshees are smiling, and he swears he will never drink a drop of liquor again, after tomorrow morning.

* * * * *

Jacob shared this story with Se Jong:

Earth Is the Target,/We Are the Trigger,/Ashes! Ashes!/We Don’t Fall Down

We are distributing seeds that are flowering faster than weeds.

We are dancing with rose-colored ribbons in our teeth. We are dancing in a ruined house despite the debris. We are dancing despite walls rotted and crumbling, despite concrete floors dotted with leprosy, despite the roof caved in in the middle, despite the mold spreading all over the off-white walls and the off-white ceiling blossoming brown and rimmed with squiggly lines like coffee stains. We are dancing despite thunder and rain and lightning dancing in furious patterns of crimson and gold and cold cobalt blue through the shattered windows, despite vines writhing and green across the wall moved by the whirlwinds through the windows and by water whispering through cracks in the wall and by an unseen animal will of their own; we are dancing despite their thorns; we are dancing and we are warm; though the air is cold, we are dancing; we are dancing.

Strands of sunlight streamed down on your head. We stood on a hill. Your hand stretched down toward the city. Jagged dagger-buildings jabbed at the sky. Your hair was yellow. Strands. You closed your fist. Down in the city a cloud of thick smoke soft and pillowy unfolded like the petals of a heavy rose. The sharp stabs of skyline disappeared in the feathery furrows of flowering smoke. We sat down as all was swallowed. The sun continued to shine. Strands. Your hair twitched. Strands, strands, strands. We began to have a picnic.

We inhale the tiny shards of glass that dance and glitter on the sun beams. We let them float through our lungs and caress us from the inside like sips of sweet white wine. We sunbathe though the sun shines only through soot. Glass courses through us. We do not wear masks.

Twenty men knelt before you. They were tan and their skin was smooth but spotted. You smiled. You kissed the air. You bit down and smiled again. Cold air and steam hissed past your teeth, your lips. The men died, and were happy.

We are painting our faces on the silver screen, admiring the smiling black-and-white ghosts of ourselves, painting our faces with the blood of our city and pretending it is syrup, laughing as we sprinkle soot over the dark-red stickiness and feel as though we are ghosts, painting the faces of ghosts over our own faces, scaring ourselves though we know it is a joke, painting faces back onto the ghosts because their bodies are gone with the smoke, painting God in the cold sky with our warmish breath, breathing painted glass into each other’s faces and down each other’s necks and painting ashy streaks of glassy water down our sooty ghost masks.

You said we would find our names written in filaments of light-dots made by fireflies that glow above the field like ghosts. But now the flowers do not bloom but as clouds of smoke, and the fields of white flowers do not grow but brown and withered and then more withered, and though the bones of elephants may be precious ivory we do not love them nor build towers from them but rather dance barefoot over clouds of dirty cotton despite the glass that cuts our feet with every tiptoed twist, despite the fleshy rain the carries skin-dust in its droplets, despite the cold air caressing your bald head where strands of yellow used to grow thick and soft like sunflower fields.

We are dancing and we are dropping seeds that swallow cities in the wake of their growth.

In response, Se Jong made this painting, entitled “Teeth”:

Teeth_SeJongCho

 

 

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