John Ruff: “Some Thoughts on Angela’s Painting of a Kingfisher Among Lotuses and Fish”


Confucius says that a good judge can see innocence in a person’s face.

So too, in Angela’s painting of a kingfisher on a broken lotus stem,

my Chinese students say they can read the artist’s youth

          in her signature—

and somehow it goes without saying the artist is a girl—

and maybe I too could see, had I the lifetime I want back now

to learn Mandarin,

                             how the girl’s character perches, light as a wren

in her characters.

                                                  But still she shows so much of herself,                                                    

not just the drawing lessons every Wednesday afternoon

that her skill makes obvious—

anyone can see that,

                                   how carefully she’s composed it all

so that whole life cycle

of the lotus

                    from its shy, limp, unopened umbrella stage

          to its becoming the full-flung leaf, a glad hand extended

          to shelter in its palm

          pearls of dew

that will never lose their crystalline luster touching ground,

          the radiant red flower which a small sun sets,

                    to become, finally, brusquely,

                                                                   a hollow broken stem.

Now maybe this, to be fair,

is her teacher’s influence, this eloquent image

composing so nonchalantly the beginning and end

of all pure things rising out of muck,

                                                           this is what Angela’s bright-eyed

kingfisher perches above,

clinging to that flimsy reed with his delicate blood-red feet.

There are fish below, of course—

why else would he be there in his black and blue striped beret,

this is the world she’s painted after all.

Maybe that’s the point of his sharp yellow beak—

that the world goes on,


                                     we feed and we are fed upon.

John Ruff’s poems have appeared in AmericaPost RoadPoetry NorthwestRiver CitySeneca Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and elsewhere.  Currently he is finishing a book entitled Drawing Breath: From MinidokaXX, The Art Diary of Takuichi Fujii. Ruff is a professor of English at Valparaiso University.

Table of Contents | Next Page