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Elder & Kauffman – Baltimore Ekphrasis Project

Christian Elder and Ashlie Kauffman traded art and words. Christian shared this image, entitled “Floating Island in the Galaxy,” with Ashlie:

Floating island in the galaxy_Christian ElderIn response, Ashlie wrote this poem:

Just like a lighthouse sitting in a dark, distant universe

I.  Terrarium

This universe has its own
ecology: within all that’s vast
and lonely, our small terrarium of sun,
earth, water—now forming these rainclouds,
this lake, this tender hillside of two
leaning junipers that slope down
to a house, its roof reflecting
light, a human, perhaps,
inside of it, breathing.

II. Crystal Ball

A human, inside of it, breathing.
A human, perhaps, a woman.
Perhaps she is lonely.
Perhaps this is her mind.
Perhaps she watches the sheets of rainfall
as they gather into a slick lake
and stream off an unknown edge into ether.
Perhaps she only knows what’s terra firma, solid earth,
when what’s real is this orb of past and future stars.

III. Snowglobe

And if this woman is my mother,
and this shook snowglobe of stars
a vision of her past and future,

her world might be this island
floating upward, finally
dislodged by tectonic plates
along the buried source of her pain—

and maybe there’s no escape
for her but by balloon
or broken helicopter.

Dear mother,
will you tell me
what you remember,
what you might discover?

                              —through this shrinking haze
of nimbus clouds dispersing,
rain becoming virga, liquid to vapor,
                              the stars beyond
odd details
                              in constellations
that seem to have lost their traces,
                              the swirling dark
filled with watermarks—

your last memory
gleaming like a lighthouse
from somewhere in the dark,
distant universe

now the light
by which we’ll see
one another—

when you gaze out
to your own reflection,
to where I am, looking back,
putting this to paper.

* * * * *

Ashlie shared this story excerpt with Christian:

from Isamu Dreams of Flying

In the spring, the trees release their blossoms suddenly, as if weeping. The pink and white, five-petaled tears collecting in the yard. He grasps in his fists as many as he can hold, carries them to his mother. Why is there so much crying? he asks.


His mother stands behind paper screens to tell him stories with her hands. Deep in his dreamworld, it is as if she has many fingers, shaping birds with tree-branch legs, insects with many wings.

Your father was a bird who flew through my room. And you, you, a tiny caged bird-ling, trying always to escape through the many doors and windows, longing to voyage alone.

Her long hands prod him. He opens his baby beak, her finger-shadow insects flying about the room.


The boy gazes at Mount Fuji through the round window in the top room of the house, as he waits for his mother’s figure to appear along the path on her way home from the train station. Thinking he has missed the train’s brief passing through his view as it approaches, he anticipates her and times her appearance. When she does not emerge from between the trunks of blooming Yoshino, his stomach flutters, like an eyelid or a wing, and he anticipates her again, until he sees the train cars’ quick duplicating of the first car’s image, a kind of fluttering in his vision, just moments before the train will reach the station, before his mother will step off of it and return again from where she’s journeyed, as she returns to him each evening before the sun sets.

In response, Christian made this untitled image:



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