The art works on exhibit in “Tell Me a Story” are of various styles and mediums that all lead the viewer toward a story. Emerge Gallery welcomes creative writers to visit the gallery during the exhibition — or view the work on-line at www.emergegalleryny.com — connect with a piece of art, and finish the narrative that the artists began in their work. Poetry, stories and personal essays are welcome.
Writers have been responding. Enjoy reading the work!
The Girl and the Cardinal
© Maxine Davidowitz
Oil on canvas, 36" x 36"
Writer © Carolyn Marosy responded to Maxine's work with her poem:
The Girl and the Cardinal
She couldn’t have been more than 7 years old when she mastered the vacant stare. It was as if she could become transparent, almost bleeding into the scenery. The unsureity of whether or not she was even still listening hung in the air, like a single frame chosen from a super 8 film strip. She was unusually thin, with limbs like branches and long brown hair; a perfect nest for creatures who are lucky enough to find her fallen strands.
Behind her eyes she had a fire. You could see it in her smile too, but she was quick to fall back into her vacant stare when a certain tone of voice turned sour. Her mother would yell at her, usually for nothing more than being “in the way”. It was a shrill, caustic barrage of sarcasm that the little girl endured, day after day. “Why don’t you go put your head in an oven,” she would say to the little girl. “Eating? Again. You’re already too fat”. The little girl would stop what she was doing, and fall into her blank stare, expressionless.
She was standing in the yard when a bright red cardinal flew over the little girl’s shoulder, and emerged through a large, open window in the kitchen. The little girl saw it and she got very excited. As she jumped up and down, she made a mad dash for the kitchen door. She sprung it open, exclaiming “Mommy, he has come for me! He has come for me!” Her mother barked at her, “get the broom! Get the broom!” “No mommy!” and she began to cry.
The bird did not seem confused or frightened as it made it’s way around the cacophany of wares. The kitchen was littered with magazines, schoolbooks, pencils, empty, and, unopened wine bottles. If something needed to be found, surely it is lost here.
Amongst the calamity, the little girls book bag lay on the table. The beautiful bird, with it’s red wings afflutter, landed on upon it. He preened his back for just a moment- a split second, and upon take off, he dropped a thin, red feather. Her mother barked again. “Did you let this bird in?” Her brother came in from the other room, “If she has a bird, I want a dog!” he exclaimed.
“You get out of my kitchen, you little bastard!”, she screetched and raised the broom. By design or by chance, the bird escaped peril, and found the open window. Out he flew. The boy stood watching, confused.
The little girl grabbed the feather and ran into her room. She closed the door, sat on the side of the bed. She held the feather to her heart, closed her eyes and said these words:
I am not a bird, but I will fly. I will make wings out of the tears I cry. I will always remember this day. And some day, I will find my way.
© Carolyn A. Marosy
Poet © Michelle DeCicco responded to Maxine's work with her poem:
The Girl and the Cardinal
once upon a time i was a little girl always gawky clumsy and too skinny people would tease that they could see through me i was eager to escape my hurtful and selfish mother who wouldn’t hug her daughters or say i love you to us we were all mistakes in her head she would say “i got pregnant because i loved the attention - i never wanted them after their birth!” my godmother’s home was a refuge she was a sweet and nurturing soul who protected me spoke to me with kind words taught me all she knew shared her love of gardening and cardinals i told her one day while we were in her garden picking peas, that i wished i could live in a secret garden near her house it would have a magical wooden door that would only reveal itself to her, my sisters, and my dad no one else would find me my own sanctuary with many trees surrounding it soft pretty grass a pond for swimming and ice skating only cardinals would exist there they would keep the magic from my ancestors alive she gently told me that i couldn’t live in a secret garden but whenever i visited her i could play in her garden and i would always be safe with her because she would never stop loving me.
Who Will Remember Me © Leah Brown Klein Collage Poet © Gay Leonhardt responded to Leah's work with her poem: In a hundred years you will be a name with dates in some genealogy. Within the book of a brain: all that text of the story that you tell yourself, day after day. It’s a very boring story. It’s a dead conversation.
Adrift At Sea © Andrea Walcutt Perez Mixed media Poet © Arabella Colton responded to Andrea's work with her haiku:
The Polar Bear
The thin polar bear Surrounded by blue-green sea. The ice is melting.
a fish tale © jd weiss Medium format film, 18" x 18" Poet © Arabella Colton responded to jd's work with her haiku:
Fish Woman Love
She stands by the sea
Cradling the fish in her arms.
Brought by the waves. Love!
Poet © Michelle DeCicco responded to jd's work with her poem:
a fish tale
hundreds of years ago a great storm with dark clouds taking over the entire sky the rain came with such force that it hurt my skin the winds were so strong that it bent trees in half and tore apart our homes it lasted for many nights and days the ocean’s waves swelled as each day passed we began to lose hope we worried if it would ever cease before we perished the people in my village came to me and asked if i could get help to stop the storm they knew i was half mermaid i agreed to try i called out to a passing fish he swam to me i reached out and picked him up cradled him in my arms and spoke softly to him he went to poseidon and begged for help poseidon agreed to stop the storm but i would have to make the sea my forever home, yes I shall embrace this new life in order to save many.
Jewish Drama Queen © Suzanne Parker Mixed media on repurposed wood Poet © Sari Grandstaff responded to Suzanne's work with her poem: I fingered the beads like a mala. Stranded in my own thoughts, gazing upward, ever upward, never one to be a navel gazer plus that gives you those unattractive chin wrinkles. It is just so damn hard to decide even though I am not a Libra like my sister is. Really such a tragedy how they closed that little place we used to love going to… so now where, oh where, should we make the dinner reservations?
Poet © gwynneth green also responded to Suzanne's work with her poem:
jewish drama queen
that’s my grandmother
a photo from the 1920’s
she was a Ziegfeld girl
that was way before your time
they were famous
at least that is what i was told
a dance troupe
and i understand nudity
was part of the act
happened way back then
so did drugs
making the girls look so classy
the gay guys
in the dressing room
helped them change
their elaborate costumes
between every act
then back to parade on stage
with an air of sophistication
shocking to think
grandma was part of all that
so very strict
with what we said and did
who would have guessed
she had a wild side
this is fact
put on your favorite dancing shoes
are clearly a close resemblance
to great great granny
Solitary Man © Ken Tannenbaum Photography Poet © Sari Grandstaff responded to Ken's work with her poem:
A Solitary Man Yes, I admit it, I wanted my own drawer
but not like this, never like this!
The police will never believe
that I didn’t do it
not when they find my pink toothbrush
in one of the holes of the toothbrush holder.
I just wanted a couple of my own hangers
in the closet and my own drawer
so I wouldn’t have to cart around a nightgown
in my yoga mat bagand pretend I was going to yoga class
instead of to his apartment.
He was too compartmentalized
relegating our relationship to a weekend fling.
One drawer, was that too much to ask?
He was fastidious, I’ll give him that
pants always neatly pressed
That’s how they’ll find him
pebble grain leather shoes sticking out
of the tongue and groove dresser drawer
Artist © Barbara Bravo also responded to Ken's work with her poem:
The preposterous story of
A Solitary Man Finding His Safe Place
No one will ever think to look for me here.
No one will ever think to look for me here.
Artist © Carol Flaitz responded to Ken's work with her observation:
My drawers are too tight.
Higher Ground © Lucinda Abra Encaustic, oil and collage on wood, 24" x 30" The artist responded to her work with the story:
Higher Ground: The Story
Papa must have gone out to collect the chicken eggs. That’s what Mama said when I scampered down the rough-hewn steps of the sleeping loft and wiped the dust from my eyes. It had only been a short time since we entered the place of the ancestors. Banditos had been trying to get Papa to sell drugs and guns, but he had refused. In retaliation, they burnt down our small groceria, and then killed his two sisters, my aunties, and my grandparents. All on the very same day. We didn’t get to go to their funerals; we didn’t get to even dress the dead, instead we fled, having entered upon a spell of tears.
My Papa had bushwhacked with mad determination, sure we could out chase death. He was all bent over, like a crooked stick, beating the vegetated earth into a submission of passage. Mama carried her two prized chickens, one under each arm. The sound of the clucking echoed strangely within such dense jungle growth. I was afraid that the bad men would hear their squawking but I kept my fears under my shoes. With each step I smashed panic into the ground, grinding it into a dark, murky dust lost in the sea of roots. Still I was relieved when Mama hung those noisy birds upside down. Then, they grew muted and fell into the deep slumber of the innocent.
It was so very humid. The waters of our poisoned streams had come along us. The thick air covered our skin, seeping through the damp clothing. I was afraid to breathe and despite the lengthy exertion, took in hesitant, shallow breaths. Some more unblemished children might worry that in swallowing a watermelon seed they might become pregnant. But me? I suspected that with just one wrong inhale the spirits of the slaughtered would enter, reducing my body to the same dissolved corruption as the many bodies we had witnessed floating in polluted streams and riverbeds.
Papa had sat down hard and mewled, having finally found the small trickle of pathway. Mama waved her numbed arms in joy, which woke the birds. They too recovered their own voices, joining the chorus of jubilation. Soon after, we found the small hidden hut, covered, as it was, in a thousand vines. My great grandfather had built it in a different time of troubles, when the army had turned against its population, suspecting many of being traitors in cahoots with revolution. The shelter had stood in waiting despite the pulsing life that squeezed around it, like many green snakes. It was a good thing to be so disguised. We only wished to be invisible and wait for the turmoil to end.
Within a short while we had our routine. But why was Papa dawdling? Mama went outside, after giving me a salted tortilla and offered what was her last smile. She found her mate lying so still in the early morning, that she tiptoed forward, thinking he had decided to take a siesta. The light was falling so softly though heart shaped leaves of a balsa tree; illumination fluttered over Papa’s torso. But he wasn’t sleeping anymore. Instead, a crimson O wept from under his widow’s peak. I peeked around from the half open doorway as Mama tried to shake him awake but it did no good. He had entered the land of the dead from which no one returns opaque with life.
An urraca, a type of magpie, called out in a scoffing laugh that joined with the crack of a rifle as Mama fell hard in a swoon, so much red blood pouring through her chest. I did not cry out but to my shame, hid tight against a long, grayed shadow. My heart struggled. There was no way for my sadness to escape hidden as it was under the twisted canopy of green snakes. I crossed myself once for their souls. Then I fled up the stairs and burrowed under the bedding. Only nine years old, but even a child knows when to run from a pack of hyenas.
The bad men crept through the shadows and discovered me crunched into the corner. Wrapped tightly under the blanket my grandmother had woven, I had hoped she would be my last secret talisman. Such a foolish child, my feeble wish was useless. There was no one left to protect me. My bed shirt soon lay aside as limp as my will as greedy hands tore through cloth and then ripped through my soft child flesh. One at a time, all ten of them feasted. Although it was so very hot, I shook as it were freezing. The sound of their laughter cascaded like rancid ice, filling me with a cold dread. Then, tossing me onto the floor, those same clenched fingers began to beat upon my bruised body, plummeting me into a small, broken thing. I tried to murmur for mercy but my words were stuck behind swollen lips and cracked teeth. Finally, when there was so little left of me, and they had grown bored and weary, one of the men, a big brawny one who smelled of sour sweat and rifle oil, picked me up and threw me through the upstairs opening. He thought to destroy me. To remove yet another witness to horror unbridled.
But he had failed as the merciless always do. Although my body lay crumpled and discarded as if it were mere cloth, my essence had flown above, far from the wrenching tragedy. From on high there was peace within this different perspective. As I soared upwards on newly grown wings, I saw in the distance millions upon millions who had found release from the inhumanity of mankind. Far off in the horizon, past the mountains, the gardens , the largest of the houses, and even the president’s palace there was the open pasture of a peaceful kingdom. With newly grown wings I stretched towards it. This was better than a land of the free; this was a place of spirit unbounded. I was headed home.
© Lucinda Abra 2018
Freedom © Cheryl Lickona Digital Collage, 12" x 12" Poet © Elena P. McLaughlin responded to Cheryl's work with her poem:
I felt on top of the world! A celebration! Ganesh safely escorting me That’s when I noticed, I was free
© Siouxzanne Harris also responded to Cheryl's work with her reflection:
Coffee in hand, I head to the car and set out early. It’s quiet and a little misty, Sun is low in the sky and traffic is minimal. I round the turn and the crossing warning lights come on, flashing brightly as the gates fall from vertical to horizontal. I pop the car in neutral to wait it out. I hear the rattling sounds, and scraping, and the whirring as the train speeds past me. Box cars with graffiti lumber by, then a few empty cars, then, the brightly colored cars of a circus train. It is warm and the doors are open revealing lions, and clowns, and costumes. I flash back to an animal crackers box. The cars zip by- then slow down, wheels clicking on the rails, until it comes to a complete stop. The morning mist settles and makes the scene dreamlike. After another moment or two I kill the engine. This could take a while. The people in the circus cars are restless and start climbing out of the doors and windows to see what is going on. Some of the animals are taken out for a walk. An elephant with a small girl on top walks by.
I hear a horn beep behind me and realize the train has gone and the gate has lifted. I start the car, put it in first gear and continue on my journey.
Visiting Day, 1985 © Al Desetta Oil and pencil on canvas, 30" x 40"
Poet © Robert P Langdon responded to Al's work with his poem:
I never liked visiting day. Mom would take me with her to the “home.”
It was always cold and smelled of antiseptic. He never remembered
me — the one that his wife fought hard to live to see born
and once I was, she would let go.
He would stare at me, confused by how familiar I looked, then back to mom with a blank face while he listened to her updates
about people who had long fled his mind.
He would look at me again. Hard. Trying to figure out the connection.
The tips of his shock of white hair reaching for answers. Sometimes he would grab them and his eyes would get excited, but he would just as quickly lose his grasp and slip back to forgetting.
“Why do you still go to see him,” I ask mom on our way home.
“Because he’s my father,” she said wiping her tears. “And I want him to know that I’m visiting. And that he’s not alone.”
Years later mother would go through this again with her brother.
Holding his hand. Talking to fill the void. Recounting stories from childhood in the hopes that one would trigger a memory and the brother she loved would pop up for a mere second to say that everything was OK.
But sometimes I question if everything is OK. These days
I walk into a room and immediately forget why I’m there.
I talk to people I know that I know but can’t figure out how I know
them. Or a conversation drops out of my mind minutes after it’s been had.
I’m hoping these are signs of getting old. That they’re normal.
But if not …. Then I hope I don’t forget the music. No, not the music.
I’ll need something to focus on when the strangers come on visiting day.
Poet © gwynneth green also responded to Al's work with her poem:
the Dame of algebra II
was the principal
and fill in as basketball coach
being a star
in his dreams
everyone called Sam
director of phys ed
the rest of the week
she was Dame of algebra II
she could do math
art and sam
collided on a hike
in the woods
behind the track
spread around school
not even to be friends
till summer break
that ended quite quickly
on highway 69
if you catch my drift
they lost their jobs
Sam sometimes sobs
Art couldn’t care less
he still smiles
the Dame of algebra II
William Tell © Elaine Ralston Pastel, 21" x 25" Poet © gwynneth green responded to Elaine's work with her poem:
mom told me to practice
couldn’t she hear
they whined in pain
as if being tortured
how could i explain
i’d be no better
with any bow
would she really want me
to take aim
of a target on her head
no matter how many years
yet every night at 5:45
tell me the truth
did you practice
Boston to the Big Apple
© Helen Gold Tapestry, 18" x 20" Poet © Chris Collins responded to Helen's work with his poem:
Boston To The Big Apple
Two hundred and ten K turns
of a wheel on a bicycle…
going that distance burns
off seventy thousand carbs
for a fast riding cyclist
who has the cool wind towards
his back his bent over back
he’ll maintain more stamina
Pedaling fast on black
top roadways, wheels silently
moving the propelling chain
spokes holding wheels tightly
a sweat-soaked shirt dripping down
upon a scorched crotch with feet
pedaling pedals around
letting his overworked mind
escape a hard-working life
for a brief moment in time
© Michael Garland Oil on canvas, 20" x 16" Poet © Matthew J. Smith responded to Michael's work with his poem:
A Poem for Rust Face
On wonderful days he introduces Chaos Theory
With eggshell thoughts
No one understands, but
Everyone can sense
And so they whisper
As they launch their protracted inquest:
“Hey, that boy …
he’s just not right.”
I demand to see the arbiters of normality
and architects of social construct.
And I demand from them
The world is full of bedlam
Requiring shifting gears
And cognitive dissonance
Because in the end
Escape becomes essential
So let them whisper
And employ their inquisition
Let them lure and skew opinion
Obfuscate and impede
His meandering journey
And let them consider his rust an erosion
of societal norm
but be blind to conformity’s deconstruction.
The one they said who’s “just not right”
This boy will endure.
© Richard Gamache Colored pencil on paper © Jan Alexander responded to Richard's work with the story:
For “Tell Me a Story”- a story about Opal on the Last Day on Earth (Richard Gamache)
“Tomorrow, tomorrow,” she croaks, and takes an elongated drag on her signed-by-the-artisan nicotine-therapy wand.
Opal simply adores tomorrow. Always. It’s the promise of tomorrow that gives her eyes that topaz shimmer. Long ago, thoughts of tomorrow sent her racing from the trailer, through the mud, picking pockets to get a Greyhound ticket, procuring other girls for Dugan on the city streets; she kept her sights on tomorrow and the beautiful numbers that spelled commissions earned from helping his business.
“I’ve lived and I will live some more,” she tells some people she vaguely knows from somewhere, perhaps from St. Maarten. She tells them she’s heard they’ll float in free space if it comes to that; the fortress where they’re mingling is made of subatomic walls, is it not? The wine cellar will deplete someday, of course. She chugs her Leflaive Batard Montrachet Grand Cru—the second most expensive white wine in the world, because someone has already emptied the first—and adds a violet capsule. The violet ones make you feel like a sex goddess; her only supply that isn’t for sale.
“Tomorrow,” she tells the people who might have been to St. Maarten. She bats her Yukon-mink eyelash implants, done just yesterday, she speaks of the stem cell hormone injections she was supposed to get tomorrow, which, if the doctor gets here as he halfway promised, will give her a new layer of dewy skin, a head of silken hair.
The people move on, and no one sees the diamond-shaped teardrop she wipes from her cheek. She spots Dugan, though. It’s been decades, but even back in their youth, she used to call him Hippopotamus Neck when he wasn’t around, and she’d know that neck anywhere. She beckons with a blood-red nail; he comes to her because it always was that way.
He was the first man she married, and the way he plants his hand on her knee makes her shudder as she always did. He talks, in his mouthful-of-marbles way, about the settlement she missed out on, after he bought ten foreclosed properties and turned them all into strip clubs, and she knows, through her violet haze, that he still wants her after all these years.
She knows another teardrop is on the way, and she almost wants to kiss the battered hide that is his cheek.
“Tomorrow….” She tries for a pill-fattened goddess breathiness, but a toad lives in her larynx, and she might as well let the toad do the talking from now on. “Tomorrow, my dearest Dugan, let’s run away to Antarctica, naked.”
© Richard Gamache Colored pencil on paper
Artist © Carol Flaitz responded to Ken's work with her observation:
I voted for the wrong one.
© gwynneth green responded to Richard's work with the poem:
opal and dugan
opal likes conversation
about any and every
she is a snoop
with her bling-ful earrings
hard to take your eye away
she softly speaks in a lower register
a little unnerving
but somehow captures
and they will spill their guts
of the good bad and ugly news
about their families
friends and neighbors too
as opal sits
looking most interested
really isn’t a grump
though he always
looks totally bored
there doesn’t seem to be enough wine
to shut out
the good bad and ugly news
every day at 5
he nods his head
as if to agree
not my problem
thank the lord
not my problems indeed
seemingly a bit disjointed
he couldn’t survive
and wouldn’t change
for he loves his
gem of a wife
© Amy Albert Oil, 18" x 24"
Poet © gwynneth green responded to Amy's work with the poem:
oh my god
why did i ask
for a portrait
what was i thinking
what was the artist thinking
i have no cleavage
i really do
but you wouldn’t know it
looking at the painting
can i claim
it is aunt sally
my mom’s younger sister
who never visits
people say we look alike
do i look so frumpy
i like the dress
don’t believe i have one like that
does aunt sally
why a green chair
the artist asked me
what colors i favor
i told him
anything but green
don’t know why
just don’t care for the color
is that a sin
what about the wallpaper
who even has wallpaper anymore
thought that went out in the 80’s
what would i know
i was a baby
i don’t mean to be so critical
who is that
© Loel Barr responded to Amy's work with the story:
Her straight hard hair clamped to her head, Penelope Rasp sat in the particularity of her living room. The furniture declared itself, the sofa yawning, the sideboard glowering, the carpet smiling sleepily. Julius the cat was busy organizing his tabby stripes and polishing his white boots. Gravity anchored Penelope’s sizable feet to the floor, pulled at her eyelelids and chins and breasts, which used to be bouncy smooth orbs the size of cantaloupes, nipples flirting with god on high.The rest of Penelope sagged against the tired upholstery of her wing chair. She sat, she waited.
A window-shaped yellow square crawled down the wall. Faded wallpaper roses stopped gossiping and sighed as it stroked them. Behind Penelope’s caterpillar brows, white puffs dotted a blue dome, bees buzzed, butterlies fluttered, snakes slithered through grass. Penelope’s long-dead momma hummed an old Irish tune. Deep in the folds of her brain, dragons and monsters slept.
Speck by speck, dust settled silently on surfaces, dust that had floated on lofty winds from the Sahara, from Arabia and Australia and India. The refrigerator hummed in obedience to its settings. Water gurgled and burped in pipes, the furnace clicked on and off, wiring politely held its temper. Termites chewed, wood rotted, mold crept. Penelope's fingernails and hair grew, her heart pumped, she exchanged carbon dioxide for oxygen, gave birth to new cells and let old cells die. She rubbed her nose, swallowed, and waited.
If Penelope waited long enough, something would happen. Something had to, something always did. A tornado would snake down from dark clouds and spin her off to the land of Oz. A package would arrive, heavy, wrapped in brown paper, or a letter with her name written in blurred purple ink. A rock would fall through her roof and land a few inches from her toes or she would levitate from her chair and float out the window, drawn by a beam of bright light into a waiting spaceship. Tumor cells would start to divide and multiply in an innocent organ, hundreds of spiders would float on silky strands from the ceiling, carolers singing joy to the world might appear on her porch.
None of these things happened, not to Penelope, heavy in her chair in her old-fashioned parlor in her peeling white bungalow in the middle of the block in a small town at the bottom edge of a flat Midwestern state. It was not unlikely that some of them happened elsewhere. Everything happened elsewhere. Cars slammed into telephone posts, kids sang happy birthday, people fell into comas and came out of them, battles were fought, scrabble games were won, virginities were lost.
Julius squinted at her, sauntered into the kitchen for a bite of kibble, and escaped through his cat door. Daylight faded. Penelope's stomach rumbled and reminded her of the sausage pizza in her fridge. She sighed and stopped waiting. She heated the pizza and ate it with a tumbler of warm vodka, and then she performed her nightly rituals and went to bed. Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow something would happen. She would wait.
© Rebecca Hellard