Monday, February 2, 2015


"Counterpoint: Figurative—any offsetting point or element, contrast." Such is the dictionary definition of the word "counterpoint." Although the painting that arrived last week from Big Bear City, California, where my deceased brother's wife lives, was never named, I once entitled it "Counterpoint." And when I put a photograph of this painting on the cover of one of my books of poetry, I entitled the book Counterpoint. The title seemed to symbolize my brother's life, for he was always becoming some human offsetting point, a contrast to any of the social norms to which a few of our family members adapted.

That offsetting was the difference that made his art, and he guarded the inner differences well. The abstract painting delivered to me last week, only a month after his death, looked more like the rendering of an object in flight I couldn't name, and I 'd say that the movement in it suggested absolute creative freedom. It's an interesting piece, this "Counterpoint," and I've placed it in the living room where I can look at it and remind myself that art is about freedom of expression, especially when I write poetry.

One of the poems in Counterpoint suggests that artists sometimes reach a point of resistance and desire more safety than freedom of expression. This poem was written in 1999 during a two-week trip to the Davis Mountains, which included visits to Marfa, Alpine, Fort Davis, Terlingua, and Big Bend National Park—visits that inspired ten minimalist poems and a section of eleven Texas haiku for Counterpoint. I tried to publish some of the poems in Desert Candle, a publication about life West of the Pecos, but the editors intimated they preferred work by bona fide Texans. (Well, I lived in El Paso for a period of one year, in Electra, Texas one year, and in Graham, Texas one year, and my oldest daughter was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, but none of those sojourns guaranteed Texas citizenship or publication in a West Texas journal).

Here's the minimalist poem that alluded to resistance to freedom of expression that appeared in Counterpoint:


No uncertainty among barn swallows.
Diving through air, a way of life,
reconnoitering in walnut trees
shaking the lime green fruits,
gliding into cooler downdrafts,
ignoring the mountain V
leading out to some mesa,
having promised mosquitoes
to feed five fuzzy headdresses
huddled in a nest above us,
unchurched in free fall
and like me, safe in resistance.

And, in a similar vein:


Within the shadow
of a bent-fingered ocotillo,
a lone cactus,
thankful for protection,
struggles to fruit its pleasure,
blooming red.

Anyway, the Counterpoint painting reminded me of Big Bend Country, sometimes called "The Last Frontier," where the air you breathe carries the scent of the vast ranching plains near Alpine, Texas.

P.S. The Annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering is held in Alpine and is the oldest cowboy poetry gathering in Texas and the second oldest cowboy poetry gathering in the nation.
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