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 America, Post Road, Poetry Northwest, River City, Seneca 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.