Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

The Bower of Dreams...Part Two

In Part One of The Bower of Dreams, readers were left wondering what was lurking behind the mysterious floating door of The Bower - creature, spirit, or perhaps just a figment of the artist's imagination? We shall see.

It's one thing to be out under the Apifera sky in the impending nightfall looking up to a sea of Payne's Gray sprinkled with barn swallows and bats, but it's another thing to be in the old barn in the dark with only a moon to guide you.

At night, I play by the rules of the raccoons, possums, skunks, owls and visiting cats who wander in for a night of safety at Apifera. So my first thought was that a visiting Tom was recreating Antonio Banderas like love to Mama Kitty in the Bower of Dreams, with candlelight. Perhaps he had borrowed the old radio in the barn's work room to provide ambiance for the encounter — "Mi casa es su casa," I always say to any visiting creatures.

The idea of climbing the ladder in the dark, up into the bedroom of bats was rather unsettling. Martyn wasn't home which was both a good thing and a bad thing, good because I was unencumbered from common sense, bad for the same reason.

I said goodnight to the hens and closed their door, which was right under the window of The Bower, thinking that whoever, or whatever, was up there would think it was just a normal routine of the farm woman and wouldn't be spooked off. I decided the quickest and quietest way to approach the Bowery's guest was to climb over the gate into the donkey paddock, then prop the ladder up just as I had months earlier to first see past the mysterious floating door.

I was lucky the ladder already had some protective pads on it, placed there by Martyn so he could throw it in his truck and not worry about scratching the paint. The pads also kept the metal ladder from clinking and rattling as much making it less likely my guest would be scared off. With the moonlight acting as a perfect guide shining on the steel ladder rungs as I began my ascent, I reached the room's threshold and the music abruptly stopped.

I heard slow footsteps most likely coming from a firm toed or shod creature. Definitely not a rodent, canine or cat, I thought. Then I heard a "sigh" -- a very recognizable one at that.

I cautiously peeked inside the door, and could see pieces of note paper with handwriting all over them, tacked all over the wall. The vintage rose petal wall paper was almost completely covered in the notes and the bed platform had old burlap seed bags strewn about acting as blankets, one had straw stuffing stuck in it like a pillow. What I thought was candlelight was actually one of the barn trouble lights operated with a battery. It sat on the floor by the bed, lighting up the wall of roses and papered notes, and the ear tips of my guest.

It was Paco.

As our eyes met, I felt not only a great waft of relief float from his heart region, but also a small stream of sadness. As I climbed into the room he stayed motionless on the bed and I quietly approached to sit down next to him. I knew the barn animals' night lives allowed them to act completely natural without worrying about human gawking. But this was the first time I had actually seen one of my donkeys sitting on the bed in a human pose, upright, with his his front legs acting like human arms, sitting crossed in his lap. His head was slightly bent down, his eyes stared at his perfectly poised mini hooves and his tail lay politely next to him, not moving a hair.

We sat in silence as I grasped just what I was partaking in. The handwriting on the note paper pieces on the wall was more visible to me and I could see they were poems. All of them had the same title, "Mother".

I put my arm around Paco's shoulders, and leaned my head into his neck. I felt we both needed reassurance to begin the conversation. I obviously stumbled on the thinking room of a sensitive creature, and being one myself, I knew I didn't always feel comfortable verbalizing the depths of my inner sanctum, or inner Hell.

"Paco, you're okay to be here, but how long have you been coming up here?" I asked.

I talk to my animals all the time, and they answer in animal body language and eye penetration. It's truly a conversation without words, just as when I listen to the wisdom of the trees, or sky. But this night was the first time Paco spoke to me with my world's alphabet and punctuation marks.

Paco answered, "When you first found the room over a year ago, you left the ladder up and I returned the next day. I found this a perfect place to write my poems."

"I had no idea you were a poet, Paco. How long have been writing poems?" I asked.

"Since I was two. Since they took her away. They took my mother away. It was a Saturday, and sunny. It was spring."

"May I read one?" I asked.

"Yes," he mumbled. Paco had always been a worrier, and hearing him speak in my language for the first time, he sounded just like I had imagined he would -- a bit like the sky was falling.

I knew poetry was meant to be spoken, and the words needed to be vibrated from the lips of the reader for the poem to complete it's natural life cycle.
So I spoke the poem out loud while Paco sat motionless.

"I was there with you, you cleaned my notch of bristled mane
When I saw the birds that day, they looked blue, and you said it was the sun's magic
But I knew it was your presence
So we walked to the old apple tree, you in front, your tail my beacon, my guide,
Your ears upright so I knew their was no danger.
I dream of that moment every night hoping sometimes not to wake from slumber."

After I read the poem, Paco and I sat together without words for quite awhile.

Then Paco said, "I thought if I kept writing poems, my mother would feel them and she would find me again. And now I think she has."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"The old donkey Apifera is adopting next month, Matilda. My mother is Matilda." he explained.

My heart cracked open.

It was one of those moments you can't prepare for that is probably highlighted in every good parenting book — when to play along with the positive outcomes of your child's imaginations and when to recognize the imagination is turning slightly to delusion and heartbreak.

"Paco, you're a gray Sicilian mini donkey and came from New Hampshire. Matilda has lived in Washington State her entire life and is a standard sized donkey with red and white hair. She just can't be your mother," I said kindly.

"You call her "Mother Matilda", it's a message from her to me," he said.

"I call her "Mother Matilda" to honor her, because for her entire life she was used as a brood Jenny forced to have a baby every year subsisting only on straw. But she was a good mother, a loving mother. What was your mother's name, Paco?"

"Constance Lorraine, but donkeys often change their names unbeknownst to their families or human caregivers, just to live with a new perspective. My mother was miraculous. She was much bigger statured than me, and just like the birds looked blue in my poems, my mother could easily look red if the light was right."

This is where it got complicated. I was reasoning with a donkey, and a human should not try to reason with a donkey. Instead, the human should just listen to the donkey and learn and bask in the sheer childlike quality of their reasoning.

Paco went on, "I have been writing poems since that day over 7 years ago and releasing them into the world, although I never told anyone. I knew in time the power and love in the poems would will my mother to me. Mother Matilda is coming. When she gets off the trailer on her arrival, we will blend together and no one will even suspect we aren't related."

He turned the music back on, took a pen, and started another poem.

I kissed him goodnight, like I do all my donkeys, on his soft muzzle. As I climbed down the ladder, I could hear him writing and speaking out loud as he searched to arrange words to translate his feelings,

"Mother, mother of red and white hair,
You flew off  to the mountain range without me
You became bigger and turned into the stars
That light up the apple skins on the trees
When you arrive I will chase the stars for you
Catching the ones that turn blue
And you can turn them into birds "


Sharon Stanley said...

i like that story katherine...you have such a gift and such perception...thanks for a real treat.

Anonymous said...

Katherine, this was too lovely. I love your stories and your imagination. i think you should write children's books and illustrate them...it would be a perfect marriage of your talents.

I loved this.

emily jane

Thistledog said...

My heart cracked open reading that. Simply wonderful.

Lisa of Lisa's Little House said...

What a delight-ful and heart-ful story. Paco....sweet Paco.

Cathy said...

A beautiful story. Paco's poems are lovely too!

turquoise cro said...

(Sigh)Paco and YOU have made me cry! This is such a tender SWEET story! Hey Katherine,I got your book,"Creative Illustration Workshop" I can't wait to just slow down and LOOK at it again and again!!! Thank YOU!!

AnnK said...

I want the whole world to read this and feel its emotion. Truly beautiful and moving.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

They say the average attention span on a blog is under a minute, so thank you all for reading it.

Anonymous said...

I love it. I believe it, too.

Bethany said...

I'm so grateful that you pour out all this creativity (yours and Paco's) here for us. I saved this for a few days until I had more time than the average attention span; I knew I would want to savor it. Thank you for sharing such a tender, authentic part of you.

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Thank you for reading! The farm and my art/writing keep me hopping, so might not respond immediately. Thank you for understanding. ~Katherine & Apifera ~