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Nester & Ruthke – May 2017

Magan Ruthke and Robbi Nester traded art and words. Magan shared this piece, entitled “Wisdom in the Missouri,” with Robbi:

In response, Robbi wrote this poem:

The Lives of a River

The Mississippi and Amazon, the brown Missouri
and Orinoco, the Susquehanna.
Whether sullied by smokestacks and fertilizer,
reflecting the tallest buildings or the largest
trees, frequented by long-legged herons
or roseate spoonbills, by toxic waste
or spring meadows, each travels its own path,
carves through mountains or crosses deserts,
percolates down to limestone caverns, to the
most hidden of aquifers, here narrowing
to almost nothing, there swelling to a loud torrent,
through branches and tributaries,
confluence or delta, till it reaches the sea.
Then it surrenders, becomes a single part
of something much larger. But for a while,
the river remains itself, sometimes recognizable
in a tint or a shade, a sound, a peculiar counter-current
underlying the ocean’s larger surge, a chorus
of hundreds of voices speaking at once.
For that small time, the river remains
as particular as the pattern of hand-woven cloth,
or the split skin of the anaconda, still bearing
the snake’s sightless sockets, draped whole
from a branch or fallen in shreds to the ground,
the muscle gone out of it. We can still trace
the corners of the flexible jaws, capable of taking in
prey bigger around than the snake itself.
The sea too is like this, accepting,
the place where all of us begin and end.

* * * * *

Robbi shared this poem with Magan:

War Rug

The room is warm and dark, wood-paneled,
the kind of place where hunting trophies
stare down at men in suits and uniforms
nursing their cigars and brandies.
In the blue and orange firelight I see a rug,
hand-woven in Afghanistan
where war’s a way of life, normal as the daily paper.
On the rug, drones of different kinds and sizes,
laid out like butterflies or moths,
wings pinned open on a spreading board,
fresh from the killing jar.
Below them and all around the borders
flows a river of Arabic script.

Is this an ad for some enterprising arms merchant,
woven in wool of red and green and peacock blue?
Or has this artisan, pensive at his loom, rendered here
what comes most easily to hand?
Not the small flowers or traditional designs
his father might have chosen.
Not the birds, long since blown out of the sky,
but the tools of war, artfully arranged,
hand woven and sold to an American
officer with an appraising eye.
In the firelight, ex-soldiers sit and nod.
To them, the war is here and there, now and then.
It never goes away, but sifts under the door like sand
to find them in their beds and scar their dreams.

In response, Magan made this image, entitled “Hand-Woven in Afghanistan”:

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