By Kimberly Gerry Tucker
Someone once told me, “I don’t understand your poetry! What is the meaning?!” I had to contemplate that before I answered. Finally, I said, “Read it slowly and see the images it evokes. Ask yourself, what does Kim’s poetry mean to me?”
The sidewalk I’m on is pitted, crumbling around the edges, and you could trip over the pitted places if you aren’t focused. It’s cracked across the middle, with the common-faced weeds of suburban blight between those cracks; standing up to seek the light. Between a “rock and a hard place,” that’s true. Exhaust-bathed roadsides and overpass embankments are breeding grounds for “weeds,” which are defined as undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially the ones growing where they are not wanted. Like anywhere at all, for example.
I stand at the intersection of the most ordinary of roads. I’m aware of the stoplight that regularly halts automobiles, which idle close enough to the sidewalk for me to touch, but there is no eye contact between the occupants of the cars and myself. I am on a modest bridge of sorts; I hear the small brook trickling below it. It’s trying its damnedest to dry up once and for all; but not quite succeeding. I turn my back to the traffic and peer down. The brook no longer seems like a citizen of the town. It’s a squatter now; trying desperately to flee but it cannot. A shopping cart lies half submerged in a barren bend in the once-passionate brook. I do remember the brook. My father caught plump flopping trout here decades ago when the water ran deeper. I tell myself that the rust color of the half-submerged shopping cart is beautiful when light lies upon it just so; and I’m aware that’s just the artist in me.
I’ve paused to peer over the bridge many times before, on my way to the pharmacy and back, so I am trying to ascertain if I smell tell-tale cigarette smoke. If I smell tobacco smoke, I know that my town’s current ‘resident homeless man’ is down there under the road, under the ‘bridge’ I am standing on. But I don’t smell smoke this day; I only smell petrichor (the name for the smell of rain on dry ground, from oils given off by the vegetation, absorbed onto neighboring surfaces, and released into the air) for it has rained earlier that morning. A blackberry bush sprawls ungainly and awkward on the embankment below the small overpass I’m standing on. It’s an impenetrable mass of scarred fruit on thorny arms of different reaching lengths. Nature will not give up that fruit easily. The thorned runners have made their way up to find the light; in and around the bridge railing on one side. It is determined to give the impression that it is a fighter, its barbed arms outstretched toward me, a fast food cup caught in its grip. I remove the cardboard cup, check for ants, fold it, and stuff it into my pocket. I will throw it away when I get home. There is little color in this environment; save for the rust on the cart, which is orange brown, and the various earth tones of smooth pebbles below the shallow surface of the trickling water. A fleck of yellow here, a hint of green there bathed in dappled light.
But my eyes seek the colors that have “drawn” me here in the first place; the primary colors of red and blue with accents of black, but I will get to those. I can’t escape the vestiges of human presence; many more fast food remnants on the bank below, the shopping cart and old bicycle wheel. But the writing on the wall is unseen by most, unless you bend pretty far over the rail and try to see below the tangle of vines that haven’t gone down far enough under the bridge to obscure that which has been painted there.
In the most simplistic of terms, it’s graffiti; but in contemplative analogy I keep returning here because I see it as ‘small print’ that I’m making time to read, so as to not miss any details, implied or otherwise. I’ve got this habit (if you haven’t guessed by now) that is annoying to some people: that is to say, I question everything. Continually I ask, ‘why is this so?’ ‘What does this mean?’ ‘No, what does it really mean?’ I’m not any different really; than the reader who questioned what my poetry meant. Seeking out meaning is perhaps why art is made in the first place, whether that’s poetry or graffiti you’re talking about.
I have suspected that the graffiti under the bridge, unseen by most, which encompasses very nearly the whole wall down there, was put there by girls. It’s not lovely or beautific so much as it is intriguing to me. There’s something about the curlicues in the initials, the round squat appearance of the letters themselves, and the subject matter of the doodles: a smiling cat face, a crudely stylized pair of kissing lips…that seems to shout: “females do graffiti too!”
I’m sure I will never know exactly who chose this means of illegal expression; but it doesn’t matter. Reading the two phrases under the bridge makes me happy.
The phrases are written with letters alternating in red and blue (emphasized with touches of black). The first phrase is like a wink and sly glance. It implies that the artist knows that graffiti is illegal and there’s a rebelliousness about it that always makes me smile.
That phrase is: “ART IS NOT A CRIME!”
This particular declaration (ART IS NOT A CRIME!) speaks a language all artists know. We’ve all seen the evil side of graffiti used to propagate racial hate. That IS a crime and should be, and it most definitely is NOT art. And the flip side of graffiti- memorials to those who have perished tragically. There are gang tags too and murals applied to the sides of buildings in a quite legal, community supported effort to bring color to urban city life. My son lives next to a few. I live close enough to New Haven to be aware of the mysterious B.I.P. (believe in people) who is sort of like the infamous Banksy. Every now and then, a new mysterious painting from B.I.P. appears overnight, like this one:
The other phrase on the wall under the bridge, partially covered by a vine, is simply two words: “DRAWING ATTENTION.”
I love a pun. In fact, I have a few friends that subscribe to my free Pun-A-Day service. That’s right! I send them a pun a day. I think it amuses me more than them. But I digress. The artists who wrote ‘DRAWING ATTENTION’ on an almost unseen wall have done just that. It’s in such an out of the way place. Perhaps that’s the point. If it were out in the open it would have been white-washed over by now. I like the fact that I found this by happenstance. I had to really look.
“Every man knows perfectly well that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time.” -Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher (1844-1900)
All this time my dog, who I have brought downtown with me on a leash, has stood by my side, sniffing the sidewalk weeds, perhaps as entranced by the smell of petrichor as me. It is time to head back.
I pass Queen Anne’s Lace on the way home and want to pick some; it’s my favorite “weed.” The flowers are white; and look like lace- thus the name. Sometimes they have a muted tinge of green. As many as fifty tiny flowers can grow on one single umbel, which is a fancy way to say that a plant has something akin to umbrella ribs. It’s an intricate display; with the umbrel sometimes convex, sometimes concave, resembling a bird’s nest. When I pass these lovely roadside ‘weeds’ I am moved to pick them and take them home until a line from an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem intrudes my want for this and as usual I bypass them. The line I learned as a twelve year old who used to pour over the World Book Encyclopedias for fun is this:
“I will be the gladdest thing Under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers And not pick one.” It’s from “Afternoon On A Hill,” and when the poem does not come to mind, I pick flowers by the fist full.
Art is not a crime. Keep making art and keep Drawing Attention. Keep writing poetry like this one I wrote, that no one seemed to understand:
old-world, still life, time-eroded faded brick
hint of a mansion never built
old packhorse, dark wet sand, wind and rain
matte black line; moving into the background
end of the trail
entering another world; kinetic individual
lifelike laughter of the fairies up on the dark peak
natural rock formations, miscellany of the fascinating
withdrawn from the tumult of the world
‘quite simply different’, “go-it-alone”
take drama to new heights in broken splendour
shameless coastal castle; still life
B.I.P. is international now: http://www.bipgraffiti.com/gallery.html#prettyPhoto[gallery1]/25/
Kimberly, a freelance writer since 1999, has published in dozens of literary journals, anthologies and books. She ghostwrote the book Reborn Through Fire, for Glendale California burn survivor Tony Yarijanian. Kim is author of the memoir Under The Banana Moon. Her artwork has appeared in many books and on the cover of three: The Art Of Autism Shattering Myths, Sutton and Forrester’s Selective Mutism In Our Own Words. Kim mostly works from home; at art, writing, and software usability. Kim has led a collage workshop in Lee, Mass. and has done several unique video-taped presentations at Lesley College, Boston, and Hynes Center, Cambridge; where she answered audience questions through keyboard typing. Having dual Aspergers and Selective Mutism diagnoses, it is sometimes hard for Kim to speak aloud in certain environments. Her passions include dignity and acceptance for all autistics, being with her grand kids, raising insects, spirituality, peace, and care of the environment. Her artwork reflects these passions. She has three grown children (one of whom is autistic). Send Message(firstname.lastname@example.org). Kimberly serves as Vice-President to the Board of the Art of Autism. Her blog is www.ravenambition.wordpress.com