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Writings & Poetry by Arunima Orr

At the edge


I stand on the beach, arms folded, squinting at the sparkling waves and frolicking bodies.  My fellow artists are jumping, diving, shouting as they play in the surf.  A few are tossing oranges around like baseballs.
From the beginning I am resisting EVERYTHING—being in a bathing suit, going into the cold water, trying to make art in the inner and outer chaos.  Tight, contracted.  Afraid to be here.  Afraid to be me.
Damn.
Normally I would throw myself into the fray, thrash around, pretend that I'm having a great time.  But something in me chooses to stop and just be with myself, to allow the fear and the resistance to have a voice—to become known to me—instead of surreptitiously sucking my life energy from a dark crevice in the basement of my psyche. 
I decide to accept how I am feeling, no matter how embarrassing it is to the one inside that thinks of herself as an fearless, carefree adventurer. 
I can feel the pull of the waves and the people laughing and splashing. 
A wholly unfamiliar thought occurs to me:  I could choose to not go in at all.  Another thought:  I could choose to ease in, be sweet to myself, instead of throwing myself at the waves, steeling myself to enter in the most unpleasantly impacting way, meanwhile loosing all connection with myself. 
I take a breath, let it out.
I bend down to undo my sandals. 
Another breath.
I unbutton my shirt, shake off my shorts, and walk down to the water, letting my feet sink into the wet sand at the edge. 
A wave comes up over my ankles. 
Cold. 
I check it out with my viscera.  Seems to be OK.  I breathe and take another step out. 
Mmmm.   Energy.  Yes.    
I taste the salt of the spray. 
An orange flies through the air.  I put out my hands and catch it. 
I'm in.

 

An hour later, I am breathless, sun-drenched and tingling as I gather my sketchpad and pastels, and listen to the instructions for the drawing session.  It is suggested that we work with an interface, where diverse elements of the landscape come together.  Right away I want to be by the water, but find myself turning away.  The water will be too difficult.
Too much going on there.  I won't be able capture that complexity. 
The old curtain of inadequacy and fear of failure begins to fall. Feeling heavy and constricted, I trudge to the dunes trying to convince myself that they'll be interesting and, maybe, easy.  After a few minutes of uninspired observation and desultory sketching, I realize that the vibration here isn't strong enough.
I know I have to go down to the edge of the water where the action is, no matter how difficult and overwhelming.  I sit cross-legged a few feet from the breaking waves, sketchbook balanced on knees, chalk poised over the paper.
Right away it strikes me that there isn't much to look at.  There's no "help" from the structure of the landscape.   I feel anxious, uneasy.  It isn't a "beautiful" day, you can't see the horizon, there are no interesting rocks, no outstanding features, the shoreline is monotonous and unspectacular.
Panic.  Have I made the wrong choice again?  Will I suffer another humiliating defeat in my pursuit of art and beauty?
I resist the impulse to thrust myself forward, to make a stab at drawing something in order to give myself the illusion of control.  For some reason, I decide to simply be with what is, both within and without, instead of wishing it were different, or trying to make it different.
I shift my attention from looking at the external forms of the landscape to experiencing the energy of what is happening:  knees in hot sand, waves rushing to within inches of me, seaweed floating in heaps, sunrays penetrating.
I begin to fill up with the energy of  life all around me.  To my surprise I find my chronic reluctance and inertia dissolving like a wave overcoming a sand castle, as the tide of energy begins to overflow onto the sketchpad.  My chalk skips lightly across the paper.  I'm easing in, exploring. 
Then a big wave comes and nearly gets my paper and pastels and--yikes!—almost me.  It washes away the seaweed I'm drawing, and then it disappears itself.  (Pause)
Nothing to hold on to.
All of a sudden I understand on a cellular level that everything is moving and changing.  Nothing to hold on to.  (Pause) No need to hold on.  Just become it!  I close my eyes and become the seaweed and the sand and the ocean and the wind and the sun—and I just braille it with my chalk.

 

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*      *     *     *     *     *   Grace  *    *     *     *     *     *

 

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*     *     *      *     *      *      *      *     *      *     *      *      *    *

 
Suddenly I am laughing and crying for pure joy, drawing in love instead of in hate and defiance. The chalk and the paper are simply part of all this energy—not separate!
When I look at my paper, I have a shock of recognition.
These are my marks!
This is the way I always make marks.  This is the way I always draw when I'm relaxed and having a good time — not trying to produce something or impress someone.  But I've rarely accepted these marks.  I always throw away these drawings because they look like a mess, or I cover up the original drawing with marks I think will look better.  Pretension.  Trying to look good.  Trying to make something beautiful.  Desperately trying to be someone else, more acceptable. 
In surrendering to the energy, which is universal, paradoxically, the drawing becomes more unique, individual, personal.  It becomes itself!

In that moment, I stopped the war.  I stopped fighting and posturing and resisting the chaos and the life and the energy.  I went with it.  I remembered that I am it.  And for the first time in my whole life, my being and my art were connected.

 

Drawing became a celebration instead of a war I waged on paper.  I understood finally what art is —pure energy, just like everything else.  Drawing and painting are an expression of life energy, not life forms.  My God, I can't believe it escaped me for so long.  How can it be good or bad, right or wrong, if it's just pure energy?  How can I be good or bad, right or wrong, if I'm pure energy, just like everything else? 

 

I finally have a visceral experience of what "authentic" means in art as well as life.  It means showing up, being present, letting go.  It's just about being here.  And if you're an artist, you happen to have a piece of chalk in your hand.

 

Through this experience I came into a new relationship
with myself and my artmaking.  It created a space for me to go
forward in my life and my artmaking with new eyes, new heart,
new pathways in the mind.  The molecules in my body were
rearranged.  My perceptions were new.  I saw myself and the
world differently.

Ajar

I stand at the sink
automatically
washing jars.

Absently
I sort out the ones
that are suitable for mixing paint
and washing brushes.

I have not painted in years.

Wash them. Pack them.
Keep track of the lids.
Stack them on the back porch.

I have not painted in years.

Every so often
I need a jar
for cuttings
or taking soup to a friend who is sick.

The cartons of empty jars
move with me
from house to house.
They collect like guilt
in unused corners of the soul.

I think, “How pathetic.”
But the ruse is too obvious.
These jars are not delusions.

They are the humble yearnings
for substance and meaning,
of a heart paralyzed by fear,
desire shelved, disguised.

Everywoman saves jars.

                        —Arunima Orr

Epiphany
 
The blazing sugar maple
beckons like a torch in the night
drawing me from my path,
pulling me inexorably
into its fiery orb.

I stand at the wet black trunk
looking up into a canopy of illumined orange,
layer upon layer of intricately woven texture—
the dress of a flamenca—
all aflame and flouncing
with long black boughs of lace rustling through.

She stands poised,
her stillness shot through with vibrant energy,
silently stomping and tossing,
insisting on her presence.

The bones and sinews of my mind
are trampled and crushed
(oh joy!)
by her fiery dance,
releasing bittersweet nectar
long held in place by membranes
taut and tough enough
to last a lifetime.

Now fluid, weeping,
a torrent floods the empty vessel—
sweet freedom singing
its song of blessed gratitude
for the outrageous generosity
of one who gives herself over
so extravagantly
to my awakening.

                                                         —Arunima Orr           
November, 1997
Nashville, TN

In the Car                                                                          

The family car hurtles through the countryside
like a bullet—sleek capsule carrying hidden death
across the innocent landscape.
Inside sit we three  in the backseat.

My brother carries on with my
exhausted father—
What's that, Dad?
Did you see that?
What's that for?
Have you ever heard of—
each question and careful answer
securing the binding between father and son.

My sister sits in the middle
buffering the older rivals,
sings to her dolls of fairies and magic,                 
having no idea she resides in hell.

I face the window, sullen,
stare out at forests, ocean, river gorges
nearly overwhelming in their vastness and pristine beauty,
so unlike the constricted shadowland within.
My eyes tether the world of nature to my heart.
If only I could live amongst those trees,
behind that rock, over that hill.

I make up a game:
I will  be the only one in the world to see that leaf.
I stare at it intently as we speed by,
letting it know that I sawit, it did not live unnoticed.
I spy a rock up ahead,
send an energy dart from somewhere deep in my being.
I pick out a tree, one tree amongst thousands on that hill,
say to it, I see you, I see you.

Roll up the window, Shar.

Silence.
Hate boils up in my belly,
solidifies into a mass of defiance.

First my mother, then my father who rarely speaks to me,
Shar, please roll up the window.
Suddenly it’s the Alamo and I am the only American left
standing alone against the enemy,
willing to die.

No. Never.
I will never roll up the window.

The car slows down.
My father turns his head.

No, I won't.

The car stops.
My beloved father turns his body in the seat, exasperated.
"Don't make me…."

My body turns to jelly.
I know I'm beaten.
This death so familiar, so daily.
I take my own life,
feel the numbness spread,
no breath in the body,
barely feeling the sick poison
enter every cell.

I stare out the window
now tightly shut.

I pick out a tree,
one tree among thousands in the forest,
call to it,
let it enter me,
I see you, tree, I see you,
feel me seeing you.

 

 

In the Garden

There she is.
Standing there in the wide yard.
Chubby brown legs and arms emerging
from wrinkled shorts and striped T-shirt.
Fists shoved in pockets.
A little grown-up,
her firm mouth and serious eyes
squinting out from under the white blond hair
hanging awkwardly in clumps around her face.

Her Dad is pruning fruit trees.
His expert eye scanning each tree
for the branches that must come off.
Clip                                         Clip
Clip                                                                 Clip
He angles the blades and snaps with both hands.

"Here, Shar, look at this."

He hands her an avocado,
its rough black roundness warm in her hand from the afternoon sun.
He takes out his pocket knife,
makes a clean cut through to the center,
revealing as it opens
the perfect island floating in a rich green sea.

"Here's a taste," he says, offering a slice.
The creamy meat melts in her mouth, slides down her throat.

All during the long minutes it takes them
to eat the whole fruit slice by slice
they are silent.

Somewhere inside
in a place she doesn't even know about
a voice is saying,
singing,
shouting,
"I love you Dad.
Lets go somewhere.
Take me with you!
I want my life to mean something."

He takes a handkerchief from his back pocket
cleans and folds the knife
turns to the persimmon tree
and opens the blades.

________________________________




In the Woods

It is midnight.

I go walking in the woods.

All is blackness.

With my flashlight

I can see the small space just around me.

I turn off mylight.

Slowly

the forest and all the stars appear,

becoming clearer and clearer and clearer.

 

 

—Arunima Orr

 


On the Pond in Winter

We crunch through dense forest
picking our way over icy rocks and snowy bracken,
to the edge of the pond.

We two, twins—dark and light:
she, winter wise and ground sure, a New England Capricorn;
me, all flash and dazzle, sunny Californian, 
now suddenly muffled, tentative
in the crisp hardness of this unfamiliar landscape.

It's a miracle!
She's suddenly out in the middle,
aping, twirling, laughing.
I look down at my own feet in disbelief.
It won't work for me.
I'll step out and crack through:
It’s the next iteration of the Scorpio follies,
the fool blithely sailing off the cliff,
the familiar crash,
the artful gathering of bones.

I see that she's fine.

No choice.
I have to step off this winter rock.

It's a magic thing.
The very substance that embraced our shimmering bodies last summer
holds us now aloft.

She jokes, "You'll come get me if I fall in, right?"

Sudden panic.
Paralyzing cold shoots through me.
No breath. I could die.
This is madness.
I look up. 

Yes.  Yes.   I will.

January, 1995


On the Pond in Summer 
                                                                                    
I slipped into your silky pond
And found my heart again,
We floated in Eternity
Drank freely from the Spring.

You met my gaze and I met yours,
And with a single eye,
We witnessed ghosts of suffering
As they drifted by.  

"It hurt me when…"
"Why did you leave…."
"How could you not see me…"
Watched sly Illusion vanish,
As we breathed the Mystery.

We laughed and sighed with grateful hearts
At the folly we had known
Living out the Shadow
That became our true way Home.

We finished suckling at the breast
Of blinding want and fear,
Let gentle wings of Emptiness
Lift us Now to Here.

Love surrounds us like this pond
And we keep diving deep;
In learning how to die to it
We become the Love we seek.

 

September 1, 2000

 

The Stonemasons

Two stonemasons show up at my door
looking for work.
Rough and burley,
father and son,
say they can lay concrete,
build me a wall.
I need a path from the back door
up to where I park near the alley.
We agree on a price
and begin to work together:
I design the precise line of the meander;
they stake it as we move up the incline.

They throw themselves into the work,
familiar and competent: digging, measuring,
heaving boulders from the soil.
I watch\ them as they bend and dig and haul and mix,
grunting and pointing is their language of efficiency.

The work goes more slowly than anticipated.
After two days, the path is half finished,
and I owe them the money we agreed on.
Dismayed, I stare at the pyramid of sand
and the slops of concrete covering much of the lawn
I’ve worked so hard all season to make beautiful.
But when I see the path, my heart leaps—
there is such grace in the curve of the line
that I relent and agree to pay them enough to finish.

The next day they show up at 10am—
halfway through the day for a construction crew.
The old man eases out of the truck and walks toward me
with his unstable gait:  a lifetime of
hard work and worry, beer and fried chicken
have taken its toll on his frame. 

He stands before me in his work shirt and overalls.
“I’m sorry ma’m, we can’t work today.  My son is sick.”
We talk for a few minutes, and then he leans into the space
between us, whispers, “I’m not goin’ to lie to you. 
My son’s got a drinkin’ problem.”  He walks back to the truck
looking sorrowful and helpless, as a shadowy hand
waves weakly from the dark window.

I go back into the house feeling sad and helpless myself,
wondering what a man would do.
(“Fire them!” shouted the man inside me.)

The next day they are on the job again
digging out the ribbon of path,
spewing cement all over the yard, 
eying, handling, placing, testing, flipping, settling each stone
so that it lays flat and harmonious with its neighbors.

I watch, fascinated.
The old man is slow, heavy, but not without beauty,
like the pink sandstones he is embedding in the concrete.
I ask if I may photograph him. 
A look of alarm crosses his face. “No, ma’m!” 
He is officially retired, collecting social security, working illegally.
The union would bust him.  “I work because I miss it. 
I need something to do.”  Then curious, he asks me why
I want to photograph him. 
“Because you’re beautiful!” my mind blurts out.
My mouth says, “I’m an artist.  I’m interested in how things look.”

The next day, 8am, there is a knock on my door.
The old fellow, eyes downcast, apologetic,
says he has something he wants to show me. 
His son, already mixing concrete, looks at me with a goofy face
and shrugs, as if to say he has no influence over his father’s behavior.
I walk barefoot out to the low wall and sit in the shade with the old man.
He holds some papers in his hand, worn at the edges and brown with age.
He begins to read in his gruff country drawl a poem he wrote
the Christmas he was away at war.  It’s all sentiment and praise
of everything domestic, tame, comfortable and benign.  Singsong doggerel
and yet tears well up, my heart opens to this man with a sixth grade education compelled to honor what he felt
by making a poem.

“When I heard you were an artist, I knew I had to read this to you. 
Never read it to anyone before.  I knew you would understand.”

I thank him and say how touched I am.
He is beaming, looking twenty years old for a moment,
then clears his throat and looks away, says he’d
better be getting to work.

I sit in a reverie with the sun filtering through the trees,
Something has happened.  Something has fallen away.
Everything is very still and yet more vibrant than before. 
The sky is clearer, the green of the leaves is brighter,
The song of the birds above, sweeter.

Two more days they don’t show up. 
Then a day of fitful activity—they work a little,
they go for supplies,
they work a little,
they take lunch,
they work a little,
they have a long chat with my neighbor,
they work a little,
they sit in the shade.

Finally the path is complete.  It is beautiful.

They come the next day for their money, an outrageous sum,
quadruple what we had talked about in the beginning.
I feel stupid, helpless, incompetent. (What would a man do?)
“Show me your receipts, your hours.  Does this include
the hour you spent talking with my neighbor?”
The old man looks at me, shock and betrayal registering on his face.
Immediately I regret what I have said.
What would a man do?
I am blank, mute.

Confused and conflicted, I pay them almost triple
the original bid.  Disgusted, the son says, “Oh forget it,” and walks away.
The old man turns to go, looks back.
Our eyes meet for a moment. I am pierced by his look: 
crushed hope and fresh humiliation mingling with ancient defeat.
Then he turns and slowly trudges down the path.
I watch him climb into the truck, see him
brush something from his cheek with his arm
as they drive away.

Everyday I gaze at the lovely stone ribbon of path
meandering gracefully up through my yard.  The curve
is perfect in relation to the hill and the trees—a work of art.
What price beauty?
What price is too high?
What price is enough?

Is the cost of losing of a fragile connection too high?
Is my shame and remorse enough to pay?

What is enough to give?

Through the Mist (A Movement Poem)
(English translation of an ancient Earth Text)
by Arunima Orr

Through the mist:                            (sweep of hands in front of body)

Under                                                 (move forward)

a golden mulberry                           (sweep of hands above and down to sides)

I stand.                                               (stand straight and tall, hands to sides)

Shiver.                             (sweep of vibrating hands and arms
above head and down to sides, three times)

 

Through the Mist (A Movement Poem)
(English translation of an ancient Earth Text)
by Arunima Orr

Through the mist:

a golden mulberry.

Drawn within its orb,

I stand.

Shiver.

 

Thursday Morning
(The Awakening)

I stand at the kitchen sink
And gaze out the wide window
To the garden alive with spring.
Delighting in the play of light and color,
I muse about “things to be done”
When suddenly
Above my head

Bang!

Like a bomb gone off
And my heart racing,
Neurons firing possible explanations as I duck:
Lightning from the blue sky?
The perennials throwing rocks?

Oh no, ughhh, my heart
It’s a bird, and big, and the impact solid.

My stomach tenses as I
Slowly put down my cup and walk to the glass door.
“This will not be good,” I think,
Not wanting to be witness to the consequence.

A morning dove flounders,
One wing rises into the air and drops,
The iridescent neck curved toward death.

Oh, dove, can I help you?
I reach for the knob knowing that soon
I will be burying this brokenness.

Swoop.

 

A rush of air
Sudden descent of wings.
Her partner stands by her side, claims her,
Looks at her with such intensity.
He nuzzles her gently, encouraging her back to life,
Then begins to pound her breast with his beak.

He stops, checks his surroundings,
Places his enormous claw on her breast
And stares at me fiercely as if to say
“Don’t you dare interfere.”

I remain frozen, riveted.
More desperately now, he nuzzles her,
Beats her heart with his beak.
Again he looks up at me with fierce eyes.

Then, as if to claim her totally,
he puts his other claw onto her chest
And climbs up onto her limp body.
I think, My god what will happen now?

Suddenly he rises straight up into the air,
His huge red claws sunk into her body,
His eyes fixed on mine,
Hovers for a moment,
Then arches backward and soars
Up over the alley to the trees beyond,
Bearing her home.

03.16.10

White Moth

 

Sunday morning in rural Ohio.
Clothed all in white, I stand
in the sunshine,
eyes closed,
empty.
An apricot sunset lives
inside me. 

I breathe.

Hours pass.

A moth lands on the sunlit table.

I take in this perfect little biplane, his fuselage
elegantly wrapped in ivory veils
like a hand-rolled cigarette,
his wings subtle shades of white and cream,
tinged with orange on the brow.

A shock of recognition.

Moth.  Guru.  Nima.

 

©Arunima Orr
May 27, 2001

 
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