Tag Archives: color

Theda Bara

The twilight came

Shuttering like an eyelid

Cobalt and kohl stained

Theda Bara stretched across the sky


Her golden cobras

Spat and curled into the sunset

Her venomous hair crawling

Her dark vanity and vampire perfume


Sparking through her curls

Stars pierced her dangerous skin

Blood dripping towards the sun

And bubbling like a witches’ brew


Then the moon came

To scold her wayward minions

For making her rise

To defend a fellow goddess in pain




No One Knows

At first it looked like a torn shadow, tiny and lost as it trembled above the ocean.  It might have been the smallest corner of a map, carrying an insufficient knowledge of latitudes and continents – the squandered seed of the compass rose.   It struggled with the invisible complexities of the air currents, changing height and direction with dizzying fear and confusion.

That day, rays of sunlight intersected the gray air like a cat’s cradle.  Whenever the dainty wings crossed the strings of light they gleamed with bronze and auburn.  They shone like cathedral glass, the towering panes that once transformed the sun’s luminescence into color and religion.

But there was an imperfection in the flickering wraith.  The wings were ragged, like exhausted flags – they beat against the wind with a heart’s weakened pulse.

It was odd that such a creature would be seen at such a place – Southern California – and at such a time, early February.  This was a Monarch Butterfly on its migration – the grandchild of the butterfly that began this journey.  No Monarch born knows where it will travel, how, or when.  There is no one to follow…only the DNA passed from one to the next, the chemical spark that propels each one on its flight.

On the west coast, the monarch butterfly winters in Monterey and Pacific Grove (where it is a misdemeanor to kill or threaten a butterfly, punishable by a $1,000 fine).  They keep warm in forests and sanctuaries, their vibrant flocks blotting out the sky, startling the air into prisms the color of sunset.  They stay there until spring, when they begin their 2,000 mile flight into Canada.  By summer, these wintering populations will all be dead.  It will be up to their descendants to continue to their balmy destination, powered only by instinct – the element too subtle and distant to be measured on any table.

Some say that they are guided by the sun, reading its position and angle as if the sky was a compass riding an arc that gathered information from the horizon to the final curve of twilight.  There are theories that solar winds, swirling in heated gasps across vast magnetic fields, energize the butterfly’s direction, and pulls it on to its mysterious course.  Perhaps circadian rhythms – the cadences that hum behind the return of tides, of seasons, of sunlight – provide an invisible admonishment.  Then there are others that say that they follow the evergreen scent of the distant groves – the verdant fragrance of amber and resin that lurks amidst the alluring trees.

But no one knows for sure.

This particular butterfly had begun its northward voyage early, urged on only by the blood of its predecessors.  It was alone, damaged and doomed.  Two generations would pass before this migration would end.  But it had begun here, before spring had unleashed the exodus, with an impatient traveler listening to the whisper of its reflexes, above the darkened sea.

Butterfly's Choice

The Girl With A Red Hat

A portrait that molds color and shadow:  it is a vision that shifts and trembles with the vagaries of light and trembles on the precipice of change.  

The light is as thick and rich as cream.  It pours in brilliant skeins across the girl’s shoulders and neck, forming streams and rivers – a cartography of chaste color.  The artist’s brush was heavy with paint, dripping with illumination:  when it touched the canvas, she came to life in a sculpture of incandescence and dusk. 

Girl With A Red Hat

Highlights glide down the slope of her nose, to mold a generous, blushing silhouette.  Glistening daubs contour her lower lip into a seductive, endearing curve.    A single spot of light rests in her eye like a distant sun.  It glimmers dimly beneath the lid, on the outskirts of the dark iris.    Free of outline’s curse, she grows out of the hothouse air like an orchid.

The baubles that hang from her ears seem to glow internally, seething with white-hot galaxies.  Her cloak is thick and modeled, cut deeply into shadow, like blue snowdrifts.  Her red hat stretches over her like an exotic awning, its flush echoed in her cheeks and mouth.  It casts a shadow over her face, a seamless puzzle of planes and depths. 

No one can be sure if this lady existed.  It is possible that the artist caught a glimpse of her,  the fleeting, dissolving mesh of light, the parted, expectant mouth – the impossible red hat.  Or perhaps he imagined her, a feminine equation who waited in a humid and bronzed room, warm with clinging illumination.

She is a masterpiece of color and light – warm and dimensional, melting yet sculptural, a soft design of texture and pattern.     She is a sum of radiant molecules suspended in ether, where a sudden breath – a shattering of air – will forever alter her, or cause her to disappear completely.

Foolish People

People are so careless.  Cursed with negligence, they are blind to myth and choose to ignore the stories unravelling in their own backyards.

When the seasons untangle themselves, they spin across the sky on a sparkling axis – swift and blithely annual.  Astrology gave them the virtues of men and beasts, and astronomy gave them the blueprint for a yearly voyage through an expectant calendar.

Seasons are reflected in tides throttled by the muscular gravity of distant planets.  They dissolve into oceans, surrendering their warmth and color to a watery greed.   The chemistry of monthly progression weaves an embroidery of change through waves that reach towards the sky, towards the cradle of their strength.

But on earth, the seasons are there for the taking.  Winter snow, holiday molecules of divine complexity, powders the face of a pale, chilly beauty.  The perfumes of spring coat the blossoming air with pastels and genteel promises. Feline shadows stretch in the sun, sleeping in the golden liqueur of late summer.   Autumn colors – cranberry, amber, ginger and cherry – warm the planet in a crochet of harvests and earthly riches.

I was walking home not long ago – feeling the low, bronzed tremor of the oncoming equinox – when I thought I saw the lights of autumn hovering above me.  It was as if nature herself had taken the radiance and spice of the third season and held it tightly in her hands, to feel the gold and shadow pierce her ethereal skin.  And when she opened her hands again, there was a triangle of light, glowing like a captive sunset.  She reached down and hung the light on a tree, where it swung in the dusky breeze.

Light Out Of The Shadows

I watched autumn floating in the air as it waited for the symbols in the sky to speak, for the tides to leap and hide like foxes:  for its time to descend onto earth.  I watched the illumination burn inside the cathedral glass, filigreed like a Byzantine carpet.

Iron Stitching

I stood there, uninterrupted.  The people, however, stayed in their house – ignoring the microcosm of wonder glowing outside their door.  They never looked outside their window.  They never ventured into the changing air.  They were so foolish.

Her Earrings

They hang from her ears like reluctant galaxies, their orbits suspended within a celestial stillness.  Elaborate and Byzantine, they house the creatures of the zodiac and their filigreed symbols.

A gold crescent nods downwards:  a hollow moon holding shards of colored glass, the shrapnel of a prism pierced by Diana's rainbow arrows.  And dangling from their lunar mother are twelve glowing planets.  This tiny constellation wept lustrous tears that came alive in the ambidextrous light:  warmed into lavender and gray on one side, pink and silver on the other.

And when she plucked them from her ears, she set them in a velvet box the color of dusk.  Its satin bed was scented with perfumes of the night flowers:  lily, columbine, jasmine.

But in the morning – when the sun rose in the sky, turning it into a bronze ocean with burning shores – when she opened the box to admire her pretty twilight jewels…they were gone.

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A Long Time Ago, There Was A Time

There was a time when castles were painted white:  pale warnings set in the world's wildest places.  Their floors were carpets of rushes whose starry flowers blossomed in vain against the sour smell of garbage and unwashed bodies.  There was a time when forks were considered effete and kings ate with their hands.  There was a time when ladies plucked their hairlines and men dyed their beards purple.  There was a time when a tournament was a graceless clash of up to 3,000 knights fitted into massive saddles draped with heraldic tapestries.  There was a time when a life could end with a simple sword thrust or the complications from a pin prick:  a time of violence and filth.  Blood and disease flourished in the gutters.

There was a time when people lived in shacks – airless and dark.  There was a time when light's invisible molecules pierced cathedral windows that arched into heaven and were spliced into fierce primaries:  blue, red and yellow.  The columns of color blessed the shadowy naves and transepts, the architectural crucifix.  There was a time of rags and of mud.  But it was a time of gold:  it dripped into embroideries, it was hammered into walls that writhed with alchemic life.  A knight's helmet could sprout antlers, grow branches, or cradle a falcon:  all golden symbols of his brutal ancestry.  There was a time when fear held men by the throat.

Yet it was also a time for books – spared from society's barbarism.  Before the firt printing presses began to smear and creak, manuscripts were illustrated by hand – 'illuminated'.  Decoration and calligraphy merged to birth tiny worlds of zoology and humanity that swirled like painted galaxies on skies of vellum and parchment.  A living filigree of crimson dragons, twisted vines, flowers, birds, ships, animals that drooled and glowered, twittering insects:  a hallucinogenic pattern that wove between letters and reclined within margins:  buzzing and rustling.

Within a single letter, a ship will balance on a triad of moss-colored waves while below, the gray shadows of dolphins and whales balanced between air and water.  Or, beneath a canopy dotted with fleur-de-lis, a king sits at a banquet, choosing from the plattes held up by his cowering servants.  Beasts and monsters were curled and cramped inside their etymological cages. 

Sometimes the letters sprouted leaves, serpent's heads that barked and spat, or faces with dark, Byzantine eyes.  Once the pen completed its essential outline of the initial, it lept from the artisan's fist, erupting into a madness of pointillism and populations.  Colors that were crushed out of berries, insects and herbs spilled into angles and curves that twisted into endless highways across the map of a single page.

There was a time when Art held a handkerchief to her nose to walk amongst the fog of humanity and stand at its shoulder.

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She’s Coming To Visit!

And it was only by chance that I found out.  I was drifting through the pages of the Los Angeles Times, for reasons too unimportant to describe, when I saw her face – glowing through the dirty ink – and read that she would be taking up residence in Pasadena, at the Norton Simon Museum.  She will be accepting visitors from November to February, and I will certainly be one of them, basking in the light that was created nearly 350 years ago.

I saw her half-sister once, long ago.  They share fathers:  they were painted by the same man, Jan Vermeer – the painter who would capture and hold life as carefully as he would a butterfly.  I remember pushing through the crowd so I could look into silent, speaking eyes; so I could melt into the gleam of her pearl earring; so I could feel the cool, cobalt textures of her turban.  Her face was simple, like beauty, but it was also as multi-faceted as a diamond.  For centuries her admirers had been dazzled by her mystery.

And now another child is coming to visit.  I've seen her before, in books, in my thoughts – I'm well acquainted with the ribbons tied into her hair, with her plush jacket.  The folds and creases are edged with gold:  the alchemist has shared his art with the painter.  I've traveled across the plains of that jacket, experiencing the progression from dark to light like the heat of the rising sun against my face.  

I know her pearls, her slim arms, the patient and gentle smile.  This is no Mona Lisa smile:  final, fatal, a dead end.  You've received all she is willing to give.  This golden girl is just beginning to welcome her guest – her plain face is warming to the friend who has interrupted her letter-writing.  You haven't surprised her, but you have been recognized.  She greets you with a soft familiarity; she smiles, she pauses and waits for you to take a seat.

Vermeer specialized in capturing these quiet moments, preserving them in light like flies in amber.  A girl in a crimson hat suddenly glancing over her shoulder; a woman reading a letter, both hands holding it tightly; a maid pouring milk – the stream pouring from the jug like a skein of white silk…and a girl caught in the middle of her writing:  these are acts that have happened hundreds of times in any country, in any century.  Silent, exquisite, they are seconds of life that are substantive, yet ethereal:  they hold onto their three dimensions until you venture nearer.  Then they dissolve into color and light, an emergent world that is on the brink of disappearing. This is a world that balances on an eyelash, which can vanish in a blink of an eye.

So when I do see her, I do intend to stand close, so I can see how time was made to stand still, how light was channeled to define life – how it was so magnificently understood.  But I shouldn't want to stand too close, lest her smile waver, her warmth fade and her world dissolve into mindless geometry.

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Camera Obscured

I'll start this by saying that I am near-sighted.  The Aubrey brow has grasped a pair of glasses for forty years.  Without my glasses I am at a considerable disadvantage.  I can't even read expressions – so when I smile at someone it's similar to spitting in the wind:  you just don't know where it will land.

As a near-sighted person, I have made some spectacular miscalculations.  I have mistaken a pail for a cat.

But there are times when poor eyesight can be an asset.  I was thinking about this when I was in Catalina, last December.  To me, the Christmas lights that wrapped the island as if it were a gift weren't tiny bulbs fastened to strings of electric wire.  Instead, they were bright smears of color – vibrating in the mild afternoon, frozen into the sharp evening air. Lights from the illuminated Casino were reflected deep into the water, as if holiday festivities were being held in some submerged coral cave. 

At night, from the hills, Christmas trees – yellow-orange like Clementines – grew.  I couldn't see clearly the hotels or houses that kept them lit.  So I took it as a fact that they were living radiant things growing out of the fancy of an age-old holiday.

Yesterday, I was reminded once more to appreciate the pixilation of my vision; to enjoy a world melting into an impressionist's canvas.

I was walking to the market – and it was a fine neighborhood to walk through:  the houses were old and statuesque, glazed with tiles:  terra-cotta, dusty green, pale weeping blue.  I was enjoying the architecture and peering into the gardens to study the twisting foilage, the uprooted exoticism.

I looked across the street – it was just far enough for the details to lose their clarity and recede into softness and color.  The trees were in thick blossom.  And because I had no glasses to deny my reverie, the flowering became expansive, profuse:  rather than with tiny flowers, the branches seemed to be heavy with snow.  The bare vines that were plastered against the garden wall were delicate veins:  like veins reaching through stone, like a cartographer's painted tributaries – they interlocked like the initials from the Book of Kells.

Now, I don't like it when I trip down the final stair because I couldn't make out the separation between step and sidewalk; it's annoying to catch my shoe on a stone audacious enough to be invisible – I do hate stumbling through my daily travels.  But when my world suddenly dissolvles into light and color and shadow; when art suddenly appears – growing from the earth, floating in the sky, glittering like stars in the trees – I have to be grateful for the internal lens that obscures my surroundings and makes them gently withdraw into a painterly imagination.

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In The Lion’s Den

Last Saturday I went, accompanied by my father and Boyfriend, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History to attend the 21st Annual Bug Fair.  Why?  Because there is something strangely attractive about facing a caged enemy. To be in the presence of the foe within a controlled environment. And fear, after all, can arouse a twisted curiosity all its own.

Inside we saw it all:  insects – dull and metallic, looking like sticks, looking like leaves, looking like miniature dragons, looking like tiny dinosaurs, possessing more legs than was seemingly decessary – were impaled on pins and displayed throught the first floor of the museum.  Children, who should also have been impaled on pins, dashed -unheeding – underfoot.

There were live displays, too:

A giant millipede crawling up one's arm feels like, for those who might have wondered, a bristle brush suddenly come to life, with every bristle moving in a different direction.  I asked the handler if it was likely to grow any more, and he said yes, it was a possibility.  I then remarked that there really didn't seem to be any point.  It being a giant already, and all.


An orange-kneed tarantula balanced on my hands – trying to make sense of the plain of rings and knuckles – walking tentatively at first, then stopping to pose for thte camera: 


At another table, feeling drunk with power at that point, I saw that one of the tanks was carrying the (sting-less) whip-tailed scorpion  was open, and asked if I could hold it.  The handler didn't think that this was such a brilliant idea and offered a Madagasgar Hissing Cockroach in its place:


I had to pet this monstrosity, as I was told that it 'liked' it.  I didn't want the roach to go all mental and hissing on me, so I had to do so:


I was called 'a very brave lady', to which I answered that if he didn't want to see the brave lady suffer a complete meltdown, this roach had better be taken off my hands.  Forthwith.


I saw writhing balls of worms,  I saw the dreaded potato bug – clearly a baby, as it wasn't yet the size of my fist (it's also called 'Child of the Earth' which would be rather charming, if it wasn't for the fact that it was a potato bug), I had a most interesting conversation with an isopod expert about the sea roach – a creature in appearance so disgusting, so aesthetically offensive, that I will not dent my blog with a link to any type of image.  Dent your own imaginations, if you must. 


I spoke with a woman about leeches, and mentioned how maggots were used to clean wounds, a treatment which she confirmed was making a comeback.     


Live insects were on sale – purchased chiefly by teenagers who no doubt thought it was edgy and dangerous to have a bug as a pet.  I was able to find it my heart to pity an insect whose well-being would now be in the hands of a 13 year-old.


Then we escaped.  I kept asking Boyfriend if he wanted to go in for any insect face-painting, but he was having none of it.


Outside we made our second stop:  The Pavilion of Wings; in short, an aviary for butterflies.  Only a few people were allowed in at a time; when it was our turn we stepped carefully into a very lovely place:   


There were handfuls of gardens and treelets distributed throughout this little screened world.  And everywhere there flew petals of color and swatches of patterns, as if a tapestry had been torn to pieces and thrown into the wind where they had taken life and flight. 


Butterflies fluttered in front of my face or rested on leaves, their wings panting.   The colored dust powdering their wings glittered in the sun like a thick, velvety frost. 


I saw a butterfly resting on a rock border, being watched very closely by a young boy, maybe 8 years old.  He was so intent, I just knew he was thinking how many blows of his fist it would take to flatten that living thing.  So I made it a point to walk over, call Boyfriend's attention to the butterfly, etc.  The boy left.


But not before leaning forward and solemnly waving goodby to the butterfly.  Who knew what kind of communion I had just interrupted?

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A Bird’s Eye View

I don't like walking.  I don't, in fact, know anybody who does.

But I walk a mile a day – round trip, to and from work – as I have no car and since in this current incarnation I can't fly (or bounce from tree to tree like a gibbon, or float through the air dandelion-like)…so I walk.

But on these walks I do notice things.  Not cracks in the sidewalk (so I trip), or roots exploding through the concrete (and therefore fall), or people (except when they're walking their dogs).  But I do notice the flowers whose colors span from red to orange to pink to yellow all within the span of one petal; I notice the Byzantine colored tiles embedded in the stairs of the older houses in my neighborhood, I notice vines cross-hatched across garden walls…in short I notice things that will not help me get to my job unscathed.

And sometimes I notice not things, but vignettes:

On my way to work earlier this week, my eyes were drawn to the balcony of a pale sepia colored house.  The color was serene, and went well with the morning's gray and white sky.  The wooden railings were creamy and worn.  There was a terra-cotta pot on that balcony, with a filigree of branches growing from it.  And perched on the smallest, trimmest twig was a tiny brown sparrow – singing a warning, or greeting, I really didn't know, not being at all versed in sparrow-speak.


And I witnessed it all: a perfect Winter scene, painted with a delicate and restrained brush…in mid-May.

Then, walking home, perhaps on that very same day, I stopped to admire the weathervane of one of the corner houses:  it was in the shape of a bi-plaine: tilted upwards, straining to take flight.  But this day I saw a most audacious bird, claiming a most audacious perch:  a mockingbird balanced on the upper most propeller blade.  It was singing, singing to the sky, since it was clear that no earthly creature was worthy to appreciate its proud voice.

He was impudent enough to perch atop the symbol of man's best-known attempt to conquer his skies.  He sang fearlessly, with no concern or sense of danger.

Because it is a sin, you know.  

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