From wax, Leonardo
formed a doughy mass,
and when it softened,
he shaped it into
filled with air.
He blew into them
until they flew into the air.
When the air was exhausted,
they crashed to the ground.
He cleaned the intestines of a sheep so they could be held
in the hollow of his hand.
He attached them
to a blacksmith’s bellows
and blew them up
until they filled with air
and grew transparent,
expanding into the room,
until everyone watching
had to crowd into a corner.
For a peculiar lizard
caught by a wine grower
of Belvedere, and given
to him as a curiosity,
Leonardo made wings from skin
pulled off from other lizards,
which he filled with mercury.
They quivered and trembled
when the lizard moved.
He then made for it eyes,
a beard, and horns.
He tamed it and kept it
in a box and terrified
his friends with it.
When we moved into our apartment,
we painted over the ugly wallpaper
in the master bathroom, first with primer,
then with white, oil-based paint
in an eggshell finish.
Using artists’ oil pigments
we mixed a Caribbean aquamarine
and thinned it with oil glaze. With a ribbed cotton cloth,
we ragged the luminous glaze
in gentle swirls over the white walls,
suggesting the depths of the ocean.
My husband created a stencil in mylar
of Hokusai’s famous tidal wave
rearing its head like a stallion,
tossing white flecks of spray
like the locks of a horse’s mane.
Master of Exakto knives
and mathematic intervals,
my husband sized the stencil
so its repeating pattern
fit the wall’s dimensions,
and he cut it flawlessly.
He invented, and I implemented,
balancing on the bathroom counter
to apply the stencil to the walls.
The waves, in dazzling white
and black and dark cobalt,
contrasted with the aquamarine.
To add to the illusion,
we made miniature models
of Caribbean fish in paper maché—
black drum and red snapper,
triggerfish and porgy,
grunt and angelfish,
seahorse with a curved tail—
which we painted realistically
and strung using dental floss
from hooks in the ceiling,
suspended below Hokusai’s waves
in the bathroom’s watery element.
We didn’t know then
about Hokusai and his daughter,
how he recognized her talents
in childhood and fostered them.
She worked alongside him in the studio.
It is said that some of the works
attributed to him were made by her.
In a time and place where women
were confined to the domestic sphere,
did Katsushita Oi’s obscurity
trouble her? Her modesty and her sex
were impediments to her renown,
so perhaps she was content to add to his.
MEDITATION AT NORTH BEACH PARK, BURLINGTON
Thickly wooded Juniper Island
rises from the lake
within swimming distance from shore.
The sloping peaks of the Adirondacks,
misty blue and far off in the distance,
belong to heaven and not to earth.
From the beach I watch a storm
gather from the mountains,
then sweep over the lake.
Whitecaps form on the surface.
It is like the sea,
and it is not like the sea.
Rain falls in large drops
propelled by a breeze,
and a canopy on aluminum poles
topples on the beach,
Under a shelter,
students and faculty gather
at an impromptu party
celebrating recent graduates.
I eat strawberry-rhubarb pie
and think of the mountains, eons old.
When they were formed,
fault lines pushed yellow dolostone
above the dark shale,
the older stone above the younger.
Now I am older,
I want to impart history.
Shivering children in wet bathing suits
wrap themselves in towels.
Sometimes the young listen politely
and sometimes impatiently,
propelled towards lives
that haven’t happened yet.
I feel my hold on life growing tenuous,
like those islands farther off—
the Four Brothers—like steppingstones
appearing to float in the blue
without moving at all.