Saturday, February 18, 2012


The art of Karen Bourque
Last month, Drs. Mary Ann Wilson and Vickie Sullivan, accompanied me to lunch with former poet laureate Darrell Bourque and his wife Karen, a glass artist, in their home near Churchpoint, Louisiana. At a feast featuring pork roast, a la Darrell, and flour-less chocolate cake a la Karen, we talked about Karen’s latest glass art, the depiction of the four seasons for glass panes in the windows fronting their home. After we had decided on the season we liked best (and which was not for sale), we discussed the glass piece Karen had created for the opening of the Ernest Gaines Center at University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL) last year.  She related how the first rendering of the piece had been a “casualty.” When I returned home that evening of the visit, I wrote this prose piece to illustrate her story:

She and her poet husband were moving the center panel of “Just Like A tree,” a beautiful glass piece, 23”x72,” depicting an oak tree and the river, two motifs often appearing in the work of Ernest Gaines. She had made the piece to define the entrance way of a writing center named after her husband’s mentor and friend. The glass piece was something that reflected the mentor “leading us to the in-habitation of our better selves,” she had written to describe his influence on her art.

But as they carried the glass together, the “center would not hold.” The panel broke into pieces and separated the tree from the river. It was one of those things she’d rather not have experienced but knew she would accept, although the palms of her hands felt as if they had been pierced, although her heart bled into the pool beside the cottage. She bent double to stay the flow, finally raising her head to look into the shocked eyes of her husband.

“Glass breaks,” she said simply. It was her summary of suffering that she voiced for her Buddhist husband. But he fled as if pursued by djinns to make his three-mile walk – to ponder the fracture of this creation.

She picked up the pieces – the stones, agates, and gems that represented “insight and strength,” pausing before a Buddha who smiled as if urging her to dignify the break. “There’s more than one way. The memory is whole. Nothing is that sacred,” she heard the Buddha say, his smile widening.

So she saved the glass. That much she knew to do from watching her husband, who never discarded any of the drafts of his poetry, never wadded and tossed the first expression of special words into a wastebasket.

Later, when the poet had summoned enough courage to return to the scene of broken art and what he perceived would be her broken spirit, he found her putting the tree beside the river again. In her mind, she had returned the panel to its dimensionality. “I told you that glass breaks,” she said. “A fragile and beautiful thing is worth recreating.”

A most extravagant hope, the poet thought. But she is like me and my poems, making many drafts, trying to bring something into eternity. “My beloved,” he said, embracing her. “You are a better Buddhist than I.”"

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