Summer Days

Sometimes a piece of art captures the essence of a feeling in a way that words cannot. While those things that feel impossible to say may indeed be impossible to say, they may not be impossible to know.

This is the power of art to capture those ineffable moments that escape the grasp of language, and this is why I find art so meaningful.

Grief, beauty, triumph, despair, hope – what other words do we have for these things? At some point, these words begin to point to images, symbols and experiences which exist outside of our normal lexicon, and too often the human experience includes those non-word synonyms for hope, grief, despair, etc.

It is precisely when humans go through these experiences that they need to know their experience is not solitary in nature. Art can move the souls and bodies of individuals who have no language or word to express their experience and consequently feel they are the only ones who have ever in the history of humanity gone through their current experience.

I had one of those experiences in June of 2021 that I didn’t have words for at the time. I remember sitting in my car outside of a record store off Classen. The heat was otherworldly oppressive and I had just arrived in the parking lot with every intention of going in to find my latest vinyl score. Instead, I ended up in my apartment taking a fitful nap, awaking around 6pm with the sun still bleaching the sky in heat and white-washed grey. I wrote some words on the feeling I was experience.  At least, I tried to put it to words, a poem specifically, but never quite felt it could resonate with anyone, that is, until I came across a painting by Georgia O’Keefe at the Whitney Museum entitled Summer Days.

The Whitney is a modern American art museum in NYC just near the start of the famous tourist attraction called the High Line, which is an old railroad track converted to park/walkway essentially between W 12th and W 34th Street on the west side of Manhattan. Side note: a great day in NYC could include visiting the Whitney in the morning, grabbing lunch at a nearby restaurant and then walking the High Line while discussing all the amazing pieces of art in the museum as well as the architecture of NYC seen from the High Line. I visited the Whitney a few weekends ago and was pleasantly surprised by the collection, but the O’Keefe startled me and gave me language for that experience I had two years prior.

It’s what emboldened me to share this poem, and my sharing of this poem, I hope, emboldens you dear reader to trust that the words and art and experiences you have are worth sharing with others. Chances are high there is someone who has gone through what you have gone through.

In a slightly perverse way, going through something terrible on one’s own can feel empowering. It can make one feel like a real person, an identity unique in the universe, but this is only a temporary feeling, created to inoculate one, if ever so briefly, against the end result of said solitary experience. Sadly, I am here to repeat as the bearer of no new news, there is nothing new under the sun. This is a good thing, because inevitably at the end of that rope, the rope of solitude experience is despair. Despair and depression can only be a temporary location; there are two exits from this highway, and they are plain enough that I feel one can intuit for themselves their nature.

Art is required to lift one from despair, if one understands art as that media/experience which exists outside of hard lines, three point sermons, scientific essays,  trite sayings, and “Bless his/her heart-isms.”

With all that being said (and written), here is the poem I wrote on June 12th of 2021, in a fit of depression, that was later confirmed and exalted by O’Keefe’s Summer Days two years later at the Whitney Modern Art Museum.

6/12/21 (Saturday Depression)

The June heat
Beats the tears from eyes
And descends implacable
And descending
And descending

Flags insipidly wave
The only sign of life
Languidly asserting itself
Against a sun bleached sky
Which fades to some shade of non-grey

There is a secret buried beneath
This humid heat though, whether withering
Or growing like a weed
Cannot be perceived.

Perhaps the secret too cannot be known
And the heat still descends
And descending
And descending
With evening
Falls over the City
As ambulances continue crying into the early hours –
Dirges for those near the edge
And being driven about
By tumultuous waves
Of voidal unhope

Georiga O’Keefe’s Summer Days

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