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"Puffed Up", "In Tandem" & "Meditation at North Beach Park, Burlington" by Anne Whitehouse


From wax, Leonardo

formed a doughy mass,

and when it softened,

he shaped it into

delicate animals

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.


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,

somersaulting erratically.

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.


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