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Weltner & Wirth – Aug. 2014

Peter Weltner and Nathan Wirth traded art and words. Nathan shared this image, entitled “Deux,”  with Peter:

SONY DSCIn repsonse, Peter wrote this poem:

Stone Altars

The black rocks are for where the images fail,
for where the living lie buried
with the drowned among uncarved
stones. Flags are unfurled on ships once they sail

far from harbor or appear over the horizon,
piratical like those
you saw as boys
when they came for you, dark as these rocks. The sun,

luminescent, fills the sky with promise of return, the ground
of the sea bright as a mountain’s
slope, the west sunset-lit like plains.
Beyond them, everything is silence, no sound

left in the world. Two gnarled rocks, a beachside cairn,
two fragments of one boulder fallen
into the sea, a common phenomenon,
though these mark old lovers who took care

of poor strangers, of whose devotion to the wayfarer
no more remains than two stones,
like relic holders enclosing bones,
that rise like the jagged back of a deep-sea creature.

Unsatisfied by the villagers in the valley below
the cliffside cottage, hungry, disguised as beggars,
two gods knock on their door. The couple, slow
to answer because of their age, the fear that mars
all late in years, invite them in despite
the rags they wear. The odor of their filthy skin
and hair is old like theirs. There’s something not right
about them, they can’t say what, like the pin
prick sensation they feel when, in winter, a cold
wind seeps through chinks in their walls. They feed
them boiled cabbage and bacon chunks, a stew
already cooking on their stove, and a wine that indeed
is most poor but much better when filled anew
each time they finish a glass. A miracle. They know,
at last, who the beggars are and ask if it’s so,

have they dined with gods? The two nod and give
them one wish. They reply, To die together, never
either to have to mourn for the other or to grieve.
Waves crash against the headlands. Light, water,
ocean are holy to them, sunset, the cry
of sea birds as they fly overhead. They’re unafraid
of dying, they agree, as the gods disappear, like a sigh
heard late at night that maybe one lover has made
and then rolled over to sleep more soundly. As quickly,
they become two rocks, apart but together, islands
in a becalmed Pacific, craggy, rough-hewn, the sea
lit by luminous clouds, by a light that stands
outside the world, as gods do who’ve turned them into
stone, black as magma, gradually, over centuries,
to erode, to wash away, yet two altars, two

rocks, two lovers arising out of misty water, souls,
not shades or shadows. Ask the sand they will
become how it is like the sea or a shell like a wave,
how the dead recall the life they had, the bell tolls
of their days, and they will answer, We are the stillness
within rivers, tides, winds, a sea-carved cave,
a storm, breezes on a sunny day, rustling leaves.
A wolf, a fox cub thankful for the meat it gnaws,
a bird soaring in air, a meteor, a cat’s claws
teasing twine, a child on a swing, lovers lying side
by side, a father with his child on his back, a bride
awaiting her groom, a mother her baby, the crucified
one burning with desire, Ulysses re-sailing the ocean–
all will reply the same. Love moves without motion,
like stones in deep sea currents, altars to compassion.

* * * * *

Peter shared this poem with Nathan:

Three Prayers

The sea consecrates the sky. Light seeps into caves
and clings. It’s hot. There are no shadows. Crows
rip into plastic bags of rotting food. One braves

a garbage can, strews waste on streets. Wind blows
it onto the beach. Say I am a monk sitting on
a hill overlooking a gorge in which a river flows

over rocks. He sips rice wine. He hears the battle’s won
and chants an old poem about a drunken moon.
A white crane flies over a mulberry tree, a son

of the sky or a Buddha. A lark, a swallow, a loon
pass overhead. Women are threshing in the valley.
Can dawn come too late for them or dusk too soon?
The hills are burning. He prays to a languid noon.

How I need you green, like a night without
dreaming, as I need thoughts of home where
I’d play hide and seek and yell and shout

and run wild in the woods and meadows where,
a small boy after the war was won, I
was safe in shadows. How I need dawn’s air,

the smell of apples’ blossoming, the dew I lie
on like a bed, the gentle grasses, their
timelessness, the laughter and childlike sigh

of the wind blowing through them, alone, no care
in the world, no worries, as if other children
were playing with me, each of us a pair,
revealing our secrets, our pain, the prayers we share.

The sun is on fire. It burns the pine all summer,
its light proof of the life to come. Or maybe not.
My doubt is rain on a barn roof, whose scatter

shot sound, like rumbling thunder, relieves a hot
day. My life is not yet done. My mind’s a boy,
sometimes a child, a happiness old age forgot

or forgets, a kid’s meandering down rows of corn,
not yet grown to his size, each stalk like a toy
to play with, staying up nights when stars torn

from the sky fall close by, meaning to bring
him news. The end will come like a star at dawn
that in its descent is revelation, the sense of everything:

the smell of boxwood, burning leaves, a just mowed lawn,
the taste of lemon cakes, apples, honeyed almonds,
the sight of a heron fishing in a lake, a swan

resting in rushes, untroubled by storms, fern fronds,
hail crackling on an asphalt road, summer breezes,
the mist off shallow streams, frogs croaking in ponds.

All these that come back to me, whatever seizes
my senses still, let them be born in me again,
willows, dogwood, roses, any memory that teases

me into belief in a world that the earth can’t sustain,
an ocean, its waves rushing to shore, that glories
in prayer like a bird in flight, falling rain,
moonlight through new ice on a windowpane.

In response, Nathan made this triptych, entitled “Three Prayers” (click image to enlarge):

Three Prayers - Final Copy - 700x2100


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