Ekphrasis Written Pieces
Ekphrasis is where visual art is an inspiration for a written work or a written piece is an inspiration for some visual art. Three pieces of my writing follow. The first was as an inspiration for an artist and the following two are based on pieces of visual art. As yet, I have not been able to obtain permission to include the art pieces. The written pieces follow:
Mirages, Illusions, and Human Delusions
Rocky ridges shimmered as they wove across baking hills of gravel and sand. As the road wound between the ridges or over them when no gap could be found, I descended into an undulating landscape where words like hell and inferno found meaning. Slowly, the ridges were consumed by sand dunes as they ambled towards the east. Blustery winds cast handfuls of sand from the dunes’ peaks and, in doing so, moved the dunes more than the width of an atom, but far less than an inch, most days.
Heat replaced the coolness I had enjoyed at higher altitudes. It was not the warmth of a summer’s day, but rather the intensity within an oven as it transformed dough into a crusty French baguette. I struggled to hold such notions, realizing I also was within a metal box. Thankfully, not in an oven like a baguette. No, my SUV gushed icy air into its interior. Even in such an artificial, chilled atmosphere, I still sweated. How undeniably close was I to being a baguette?
The road flattened and began to weave a course through the dunes, each one immense and impressive, but each so fragile the wind could mold or sculpt its features. Sweeping turns carried my path around the base of each dune, the rhythm of the turns mesmerized me. I considered the majesty of each dune, and they were incredible, but each was nothing more than a pile of sand. I suspected each of those piles contained more grains of sand than the number of human beings who have ever walked upon this earth.
Gradually, the size of the dunes diminished and the surroundings transformed into rocky salt flats. Vast open expanses danced and quivered. The road, no longer needing to weave around dunes, became a flat straight strip that narrowed into a line. It merged into wavering images that frequented where the horizon and sky became a blur. The blur was nothing more than layers of pastel shades, which subtly shifted with each passing mile.
An unnatural rectangular block manifested in the horizon’s haze off to the left. It was followed by another and then a strange shaped tower. Out of the visual ambiguity that had been my far distance, the concrete solidness of a city stamped its unwavering reality upon the scene.
In my mind, the road’s straightness had become ingrained. So, when it dared to sweep to the right, I sensed an internal act of defiance swell up. I countered my defiance and found the road swept into a newly constructed junction with a large road sign in both Arabic and English.
The city was Aleppo. I turned towards it, not realizing I was about to engage with people whose homes would be ravaged by civil war in the years ahead. The world would watch in horror but find itself unable to halt the carnage and destruction. The children, the families, the lives, the humanity – so many lost or destroyed. Many generations over centuries had struggled to create the city in this unforgiving environment and yet it was humans who almost obliterated it in just a couple of years. If Aleppo and its inhabitants had been eradicated, the sand would have blown over the remnants while sections of rocky salt flats stood barren once again, scorched by the afternoon sun.
Water Lilies ion the Clouds
Honking geese startled Madge as they flew over her head. “I don’t remember geese when we were kids, do you?”
Ken, who sat next to her on a bench, said, “Goodness. You mean after World War II? I don’t recall.”
Madge wiped her eyes with a tissue. “Is it misty today? I can’t see the water lilies in the lake clearly.”
“No. You’re not wearing your glasses. Where are they?”
Madge looked indignant. “What are you talking about? Glasses?”
“Madge, you’ve had glasses for years. If you remember them, you see the lake without any problem.”
The following morning, they sat together on the bench.
Ken said, “The lake is beautiful this morning. Aren’t you pleased you remembered your glasses this morning?”
“I bring them every day. What do you mean ‘remembered?’” Madge dabbed her eyes. “I do bring them every day.”
Concerned, Ken asked, “Dear, do you remember what we had for dinner last night?”
“Of course, I remember. It was, it … was it lasagna?”
“Spaghetti. Close enough.”
Madge sat quiet for a few minutes. “We used to race our bicycles around the dirt pathway that ran along where those trees used to be. Didn’t we?”
“Do you remember when you fell into the lake? You were trying to grab a beautiful lily for me. Even soaking wet, you were handsome. I knew I’d marry you.”
“Yes, and here we sit, reliving childhood memories. I love it and I love you, Madge.”
“Love you too.”
A few days later, Madge sat on the bench, fidgeting. “I'm anxious and I don’t know why.”
“Did you have a second cup of coffee this morning? I wondered why there wasn’t enough for my second cup.”
“No. Of course, I didn’t.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, I’m not sure.” She pondered. “Ken, I’m scared. I don’t remember things.”
They sat silent for a while.
Madge brightened. “Wasn’t there a fence near those bushes? We sat on it, reading stories on warm summer days.”
“You can recall so much of our childhood, can’t you?”
“Yes. I can.”
Two days later, Madge again forgot her glasses. They sat, looking out over the lake with its lilies.
After a while, Madge said, “I wish you had told me to bring my glasses. I can’t see the lake very well. It appears the lilies are floating in the clouds.”
Ken chuckled. “You’re right. The clouds are being reflected in the water. The lilies are floating in the clouds.”
“Maybe I see things more clearly without my glasses, after all.”
Ken reached out and squeezed her hand. “I believe you’re right.”
She lifted her head and let out a long sigh. Her head slumped forward.
Ken stared at Madge for a full minute. “Oh, Madge.” He hesitated. “I never told you this, but I bought this piece of land with the lake, years ago. I didn’t want it to be developed. You had so many memories here. This was your lake. Maybe I’ll keep it, it’ll remind me of you. I’ll bring your glasses with me every day. I may need them to see the lilies one day.”
Staring in wonder at the bubble as it floated in the frigid night air, Malcolm kicked a pile of snow. He had seen other boys who he hoped would be friendly, but they sneered at him as they passed. He shivered despite his fleece jacket that was thin and worn. Thoughts of a warm meal made him feel more lonely and unloved. What time would his foster parents be home?
Malcolm moved so the street lights didn’t cause glare on the bubble. Its oily surface displayed a spectrum of pastel colors that wove into a random pattern, covering the entire surface.
He held his hand just below the bubble. It rose as if on his command. He took his hand away to see if the bubble would descend. But then a car drove past. It created enough disturbance in the air that the bubble danced in wild and unexplainable gyrations. It settled and Malcolm stood near it again.
Staring into the bubble, Malcolm hardly noticed the cold and forgot about being hungry.
What if I were in the bubble. Would I float around?
Malcolm bumped into an oily film as he drifted. Swirls of pastel colors surrounded him on all sides. He was not upset by this new situation. His coat was gone, but he felt warm and comfortable. The sound of growling in his stomach quit and was replaced by a wonderful sensation of having enjoyed his favorite dinner, mac and cheese with ice cream for dessert.
As he floated, he noticed a little boy standing in the snow nearby, watching. He looked intrigued.
Malcolm heard a voice as two adults appeared. He accepted them as his natural born parents. His mother said she and his father had a surprise for him. They would take a drive later in the day to somewhere he would love. He asked if they could eat out at a restaurant. She said if he wanted that, then they would stop on the way.
Malcolm heard screams and laughter near his parents who faded away to be replaced by boys who he saw as his best friends. They gathered around him, making jokes and having a great time with him. They suggested he go to the movies with them. He willingly agreed.
In time, the crowd of boys also faded to be replaced by his favorite teacher at school. She congratulated him for winning an award for the best short story in his grade. Having never won anything before, he held the cup she gave him with delight. He felt proud and looked forward to sharing his achievement with his parents who had faded.
In time, he again floated alone. An inner peace made him feel joyful. Outside, snow fell and several flakes rested on the oily pastel skin of the bubble. He was happy within, even when another car caused the bubble to bounce around in a turbulent manner.
The bubble darted around in an unpredictable series of arcs that thrilled Malcolm as he also tumbled around.
The bubble finally smacked straight into Malcolm’s forehead and burst. Initially, he was disappointed, but then, he recalled his parents’ love, his friends’ laughter, and his teacher’s praise.
He looked around the quiet street with its piles of snow. In his heart, he knew he would find the life and connections he sought.
Barry D. Hampshire