Author Archives: Grace

The Forest Keeper

Inspired by "de Maria, de Mariana, de Madalena…" by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu

I crouched in the cool water and whispered, “Hello. What do you do here?”

Her eyes followed the sound to meet mine. “I am the forest keeper, and there is no need to whisper. Our voices often cannot be heard above the din of the machines and the ticking of time.”

I stood slowly and let my eyes stray across the curves of the landscape that stretched widely beyond the small collection of trees she called “forest”.  She stood as well, mimicking my actions but with outstretched limbs of beating hearts.

“What is your name?”, I asked abruptly and without realizing that I’d taken a threateningly large step forward. She swayed in response, as if my breath was a gale swirling about her. She steadied and stared until her gaze reached the bottom of my soul, then spoke her answer to the trees. “I am Mariana. I am a tree that grows hearts, one for each you take …” her voice trailed off and the rest flew away with a passing flock of birds.

I watched the black birds strut across the orange sky, dipping and flitting together in a fitful flight that dared the edges of sky and land. I stared until my eyes became dark from the sunlight and I turned to find the forest keeper, but she was gone and so was the gentle thumping of her hearts.

I felt strangely safe and vulnerable at the same time. Instinctively, I pressed my hand to my neck to see if my own heart was beating and tried not to panic when the pulse was not there. I stood as still as I could and heard a distant steady beat, not my heart, but like the mechanical sweep of a second hand.

How long had it been? Forever.

I’ve been trapped here in this skin as long as I can remember.  The beat of the second hands grew louder.

What do I do here?  I do everything.

Everything that is expected of me, every role that must be filled, every part that must be played. I am an entire company for the theater of my life, spread out against this landscape that is not my own.

I am the forest keeper.

I feed the birds.

I wind the clocks.

I grow hearts.

I am Mother, Wife, Lover, Friend …

I am all of this, and more.

__________________________________________


“de Maria, de Mariana, de Madalena…” is a project conceived for the fifth edition of All My Independent Women which, more than an exhibition that occurs irregularly across Portugal, is a platform for feminist thinking. While most projects are on display in Coimbra at Casa da Esquina, between May 21st and June 18th of 2010, others find their place elsewhere in the city. Our project takes form in the virtual environment of Second Life.
This year’s edition of AMIW revolves around the collective reading of the book “Novas Cartas Portuguesas” by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Velho da Costa, first published in 1972 and banned by the dictatorship that lingered in Portugal until April 25th of 1974, a mark in the history of feminism in our country.

Black Spot

Black Spot inspired by Lia Woodget

There are books here I have never read and rooms filled with memories I no longer know. At least the air stays fresh, even with the fires burning night and day.  I don’t spend much time away from the Yard, but when the nighttime voices and singing die down, I find my way along the battered passages and pretend this is home.

I stand at the fire bowl and stare out of the stable of lasses that bob gently on the cold blue skin of the bay.  Instinctively I reach my arms out of the low flame and start to rub my palms together in an easy way. It’s here that I realize my hands have turned the color of heavily oiled wooden planks and my skin is starting to bear marks like the deep grain of old trees.  I stop, turn the backs of my hands to my face and follow the lines over large knuckles and down the backs of my wide and withered palms.

I have spent my every day lit hour, and many nights under the warm glow of bees wax, shaping these beautiful women sea masters. Now I am starting to feel tiny splinters of me falling away with each swing of the axe, and each turn of the awl.

My eyes have turned dark and daunting, like the tide just before dusk. My thinning hair dances about my face with the slightest breeze like the tops of the sea oats.

My back, once straight and tall like the finest mast is curling slowly like the length of the bow on the Elysium.  My teeth rattle in my head like an anchor crashing into the soft sand of a lonesome beach.

I am becoming a ship of my own estate, fearing that while I may be no longer sea worthy I am alluring nonetheless. With that illusion held firm, I wander back to the Yard to find her waiting in the dark still of the hold.

My shirt is wrinkled, unkempt and stained in obvious contrast to the taught sails pulled across the breasts of my lover.  She ignores the nature of my blouse, and encourages me to run my hands along her long dark lines with slow and firm strokes.  Water caresses the finely honed edges of her torso and she creaks ever so softly under my feet as I pace along her deck. These are our moments, never to be shared with another.

Soon she will push away into the boiling sea, leaving but the imprint of her darkened silhouette against the orange sinking sun in my mind. But, I will still have the smell of her on my hands, the ache of her in my back and the shape of her in my heart.

Black Spot.

This is my home; this is my prison.

This is the place that beautiful women are born to rule the mighty seas and their captains.

This is where I am their master, until they are taken by another and I am left to carve the next from the aged forest, piece by piece.

OpenSpaces

The air was heavy with the smell of sweat, smoke and tuna sandwiches. The space was lit by an orange-yellow glow streaming in from high windows. The light spilled down haphazardly upon stacks of boxes that stood floor to ceiling between me and the noises coming from the other side of the room.

“Where are you?” I half yelled into the ceiling, hoping my words would find the right ricochet to his ears.

“I’m over here .. past the pile of old maps,” came the tired reply.

I stood for a moment, staring at the maze of boxed pillars. I leaned left then right, trying to see if there might be some clue as to the entrance to his maze but there was none, so I took the most direct route ahead. There were more twists and turns than I had possibly imagined, the boxes were almost new but they were packed full, some overflowing with notes and most with the label “OS” scratched in black felt pen on the side.

I ran my hand along the pillars as I walked for what seemed miles until I found the heap of old maps, only they weren’t that old. I thumbed through them quickly, noticing the dates on each were just days apart but the land mass changed drastically map to map.  They would have played like a flip book cartoon showing the evolution of the world if I could have held them to do so, but something seemed wrong.

Just then, I heard his voice much closer than before, “Don’t bother with those, they will be destroyed with the rest of these once I get to them.” I looked up and saw him, a small figure hunched over an incinerator.   His shirt sleeves were rolled carelessly around his sinewy arms that lifted and emptied each box expertly in almost a machine like fashion.  Each time he emptied a box, a small puff of smoke escaped from the top of the black iron box and he waited for it to dissipate before lifting the next.

He didn’t stop when I approached.

“What are you doing?” I asked, but he didn’t stop to answer. He paused only long enough to wipe the sweat from his wrinkled brow then bent again quickly to empty the next box.

I turned around and looked again at the pillars of white boxes. They seemed to be marching toward us …”Into the valley of death rode the six hundred …”.

A puff of smoke found its way into my lungs, and I coughed almost uncontrollably, caught off guard by the thick black soot.    “Oh, I’m sorry about that,” he said, “some of them flash burn and belch out a nasty ash – I’m almost afraid I’m going to blow this place up one night with one of those.”

“One of those what?” I sputtered.

“It’s usually the artist colonies that create the most ash, but lucky for me most of the others were merely homesteads – which is where the name came from by the way. Anyway, those homesteads barely make this old iron box breathe hard,” he replied without breaking the pace of his movement.

I had been drawn to a box overflowing with notes as he spoke, and I stopped and looked up to read one that tempted me.

We regret to inform you that we have been forced to abandon our island due to pricing changes. At this time, we do not have recommendations for moving, as many of our friends and neighbors are facing the same circumstances. We thank you for making our lives rich, and we wish you the best of luck.

Respectfully yours …

I yanked the note out of the box and held it out toward him, “This is what you are burning, notes from homesteaders?”

“Notes, assets, terrain files, basically everything and anything associated with that establishment,” he grunted under the strain of what must have been another artist colony since the iron box groaned, then roared, then belched.

“But, why?” I asked, wiping my eyes with my sleeve.

He finally stood up, as much as he could in his state of constant hunch, and faced me. He didn’t look at all like the man I’d met three years before. His hair was thin and dark, a far cry from the boyish blond locks that once framed his face, and his eyes had turned from aquatic pools into cold steel traps, and they narrowed just before he spoke.

“Look, having this stuff around just makes people uneasy and there’s no sense in keeping it all – can’t you see it’s just cluttering up the place? My job is to keep the books neat and tidy and these, these monstrosities are making that nearly impossible for me. Historical records are for historians, not a forward looking business group.”

“Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish this out soon so I can clean up the stability and quality data warehouses. I trust you can find your way out.”

Inspired by OpenSpaces ~ Aera by Alia Baroque pictured

Inspired by OpenSpaces everywhere ~ Aera by Alia Baroque pictured

Dream Maker

Green is her favorite color.

This is where she makes dreams.

Occasionally, you can hear melodious humming from the quiet little factory in her mind.  Open air studios sprinkled with blurry images, inaudible sounds and fragrance not yet categorized but dominated by earthly scents, like the smell of burning peat moss from her distant past.  In the darker recesses unused pieces are stored in piles and stacks. Some neatly organized, others strewn about like the aftermath of a great storm, but each has a place.

Light and darkness form shapes that are known only to her, responding to her tiny whispers and chants and unfolding into complex images.  She beckons them to tea and biscuits, before she molds them into stories with her misshapen hands.

Day and night have merged into a suspension of time that has lost its power over her, for dreams do not end nor do they succumb to celestial timekeepers.  She has no schedules to keep.  Her pace is easy but filled with intent, like the waves lapping against the stone shores.

Chambers and antechambers collude and spill out along a vast expanse.  Over time her simple escape has grown up, out and into the sea but despite the sprawl it is warm and inviting.  Bright smoke dances for her.  Stars fall from the sky for her.  Whispers echo down the hall.  Wait for her there, she will find you.

Peace lives here.

This is where she makes dreams.

Inspired by Pteron, built lovingly by kei514 Flow

Inspired by Pteron, built lovingly by kei514 Flow

Dangle

The door swung open with a fury and her momentum carried her swiftly out of the cage.  It was a dash of luck that her flailing hands struck the hard edge of the floor to which she now clung.  The edges of the last plank dug into her calloused palms but she’d learned to ignore pain in almost every situation.  This was merely an inconvenience at the moment, no need to panic.

She surveyed the distance between her dangling feet and the sandy beach below,  “Perhaps I should have waited after all,” she mumbled through clenched teeth.

Unsure of the day or time, she counted back to her last clear thoughts.  It was like any other assignment she’d been asked to carry out – discover, distract, destroy.  Discovery was easy.  The brown gray stacked stones of the castle rose from the Earth and shone brightly in the sun, there was no attempt to hide or even cower against a hillside.  This stronghold stood proudly and bare-chested, without so much as a moat to protect its walls and gates, just as he did.

She found him sitting in the study, his tanned fingers sliding methodically along the pages of a book.  He knew she was there, so she spoke as if she was expected.

“Do you leave all of your guests standing for hours on end at the door?” she said, folding her arms across her partially bare chest.

His fingers stopped and his head did not move but his eyes cut across the room to survey her.  He stood up and took one slow step toward her, his cloak falling quietly from the chair to the floor.  He held his palms face up and out toward her and started to speak.

“I am terribly sorry; I must have been absorbed in my reading.  Do accept my sincerest apology.”

He spoke in a deep and smooth voice that rushed over her like a raging river; she certainly felt like her head was underwater.  She wanted to respond by capturing his gaze but her eyes were transfixed on his chest that appeared to be chiseled from the finest stone. She willed her hands to stay close to her sides lest they reach out and trace the deep lines set into his skin.

“Your apology is duly accepted,” she stammered a bit but set her jaw tightly as she refocused on the assignment.

Silence strolled into the room and filled up the space between them for what felt like days. It made her twitch, but he appeared to revel in it.   A half smile crept onto his lips.

“So tell me, what brings you to me?  Are you a scholar? a trader?  messenger .. a .. slave?” he spoke again in smooth waves.  The utterance of “slave” snapped her back into focus and she raised cool eyes to meet his.

“None of those,” she said sternly. “I am on a spiritual journey and I’ve found myself a little off course. If you could entertain a visitor for the evening I would be thankful and indebted.”

“A spiritual journey you say? I’m intrigued. I’ve never had a visitor, much less a traveling spirit seeker, but you are welcome to all the comforts I have to offer,”  he said with a smattering of mockery in his voice before once again the smooth river rose from his chest, “Are you weary from your journey, or shall I show you around the place?”

She tipped her head a tiny bit, unfolded her arms and stretched her tawny limbs out before her.  “Thank you for the offer; I would be pleased to accompany you.”

It was at this point her thoughts started to blur into a fog.  Their footsteps fell rhythmically on the stone walkway winding through the garden.  Fountains splashed and fragrance swept over her while she marveled not at the blooms, but at the brown hair that spilled over his shoulders.  He knew the names of every plant and every exotic stone, and he had a story for every one.

There are gaps from there to where they were last, standing out on the southern facing wall looking over the churn of the ocean.  There they stood talking quietly about the sea, how the foam pools against the crags in the rocky shore, how the kelp dances seductively in the tides and sea birds defy the laws of gravity.  She drank his words until she was drunk and light headed, she remembered his hands following the edges of her body and lifting her up to what she then assumed would be his bed chamber.

Her mind left her, her eyes closed and her breathing slowed. She wanted him to take her to the far away places to gather stones and clip flowers.  Then she heard the bright clank. She wanted to recover her senses, but she was too far gone and she drifted into a deep sleep.

She awoke in a panic, not on the wide berth of his bed, but on the cold floor of a cage.

Inspired by Rustica and Arcana Nuevo by Maxwell Graf and Pierre Roelofs

Inspired by Rustica and Arcana Nuevo by Maxwell Graf, Angelica Zuma and Pierre Roelofs

La Reve

She pressed her face against the cold stone, closed her eyes and ran her hands along the soft curves.  Unrelenting, the towering mass stayed quiet.  She was accustomed to long spans of stillness before her ears heard the voices or her eyes filled with the semblance of that which lay inside.  She was equal parts hunter, emancipator, and lover but she feared this was not be found, freed or adored.  The inchoate mass sat in the darkness; celestial light glanced off the smooth parts of the stone but could not penetrate the exterior.

The pain in her back slowly crept up to settle in her neck.  She moved one hand, pressed her cold fingers underneath her hair and rolled her head slowly against the tension.  Her body ached with exhaustion, yet she had accomplished nothing in weeks.  Her knees were stiff from the hours spent sitting by the shapeless form, failing to coax it from within.  Exasperated, she filled her lungs with the cool air hovering there at the edges and slowly released a whisper, “Speak to me.”  There was no reply, no breath, no movement.  The stillness was maddening.

She shifted and turned her back to the prisoner, sat with her arms curled around her legs and her forehead pressed against her knees.   What had she done wrong?  She retraced her steps, but she found nothing unusual.  The mass was there beneath the fossil encrusted soil, just like all the others.  It was buried deeply and she had painstakingly removed the sediment that clung to it, revealing the remarkably smooth onyx skin.  Every morning, she came here to speak her first words, a warm greeting, a gentle smile, a soft touch.  In every other case, in different voices, she heard in reply their stories of entrapment.  Each one in their own way, lost, forgotten, or betrayed but she gave them life. Never before had she taken so much time, given so much of herself only to be shunned, without even a whisper.

She pressed her back against the muted stone, and raised her eyes to the night sky.  “Perhaps it needs gentle encouragement”, she thought and set her mind on a path to that very end.  She stood up, stretched and turned to face the captive.  She set her hand gently against a smooth edge, followed the tiny veins of silver that ran like rivers along the skin with her fingers, and whispered, “We will start in the morning.”

Up before the spark of dawn, she dressed in loose fitting clothes, grabbed her tools and headed toward the stone’s resting place.  When she rounded the bend she stopped to take another look at the sleeping giant, but something was odd.  It must be this early light, she thought.  The shape appeared different, it was not unrecognizable but she noted subtle changes near the top and the base seemed smaller.  She put down her tools, pressed her palms into her sleepy eyes and ran one hand through her hair; she laughed quietly to herself and moved closer.  With every step, she could see the changes were not as subtle as she first thought.  Her heart slowed and she noticed the air seemed thicker.  The last few steps were like walking uphill in a driving rain.

She put down her tools and tried to gather herself.  She stepped through her normal routine, a warm greeting, a gentle smile, a soft touch.  Nothing came in reply.  “Perhaps I should wait for sunrise,” she said quietly.  But she was determined, still tired and frustrated.  She picked up her tools, and started chipping away at the mass in the ways she had done so often before but nothing changed.  The edges of her best tools dulled quickly and the stone was not marred.  The soft skin shone brightly in the noon day light, her tools left not even a blemish.  She tried a different set, more leverage and greater force, but her blows were met with equal opposition.

She worked furiously through the day’s light until her hands cramped and the glint of stars filled her eyes but the shape remained unchanged from the morning.  She stopped reluctantly, wiped the salt from her brow, and chastised herself under her breath,  “I am out of practice, I am tired and I’ve neglected my tools.”  She picked up her tools and left without another word.

She slept soundly and rose early to recover her tools.  She worked a stone against each edge until it sang just the right note, then she moved to the next.  One by one, each tool joined the chorus and as she finished the sun rose over the hill behind the shed, filling the small space with a bright yellow haze.  Satisfied and clear headed, she packed up and walked down the tiny trail leading to the stone.  The day was bright and clear and this time there was no mistaking the changes.

There before her stood an unfamiliar shape.  Complex movements emerged – still smooth, flowing and beautiful – but wildly different.  New curves appeared in the middle, the top blossomed outward stretching precariously out below the support of the shrinking base.  She worried herself that it would not withstand the unbalance and before she could stop them, words trickled from her lips, “Please be careful.”  She put down her tools, and curled up against the small base.  This time it was her stories that echoed about.  She closed her eyes and revealed her deepest fears, her loneliest moments, her loves lost and unrequited passions to the stone.  She felt movement, but she dare not open her eyes and she drifted into a deep and comfortable dream.

She knew when to wake.  She knew what she would see when she opened her eyes again, the shapes of entangled bodies – love, fear, passion, anger, hope – twisted together in a lustful dance.  She knew that from now on, this place would take shape, not from tools chipping away, but from that which was within her soul.

Inspired by La Reve, built by Lash Xevious

Inspired by La Reve, built by Lash Xevious

Smoldering

Her bleary eyes scan over the final checklist and she thumbs through the boxes packed tightly with essentials for the adventure ahead.  She checks from the list carefully penned on the yellow pad, and from the not so neat list in her head: camping gear, canned foods, baby wipes, batteries, water and water bottle, first aid and clothing crammed into plastic bags.  Then there were the things most easily forgotten – bungee cords, ropes, reflective tape, duct tape, goggles, dust mask, flashlight and more batteries, work gloves, and .. where is her hat?  She stands up, confounded for a moment before noticing the tugging against her neck.

“Big ass hat with leather cord, check.”

She climbs into the truck, eases over the ignition and listens for the gentle cough before the engine awakes.  Settling into the lumpy bench seat she whispers to no one “That’s a good sign”.  She said that every time the old truck growled to locomotion.  She draws away from the last bit of comfort and heads down the street slowly with the lights dimmed for fear of awaking the few neighbors in the middle of the night.

Easing out onto the highway just beyond her house she starts to feel the release from the here and now, just until the phone buzzes gently against her hip.  She draws the device from the case and the blue blur fills up the cab *see you at the turn off, don’t forget the mallet*.

“Oh, sonofa.”

A quick check in the rear view mirror and a wide sweeping turn takes her back to the starting line.  Lights now search over every neighbor’s home, she curses gently as she leaps from the truck and yanks the garage door open.  Leaning casually against the wall and quietly mocking her girl scout badges, is the mallet.

Off again, this time with more urgency and the mallet at her side she speeds down the highway, texting with one hand and glancing occasionally at the long narrow road toward Reno.  *see u soon*.  The time passes quickly when your mind is racing through the possibilities of what lies ahead.  Every year the sense of wonderment and the draw of the unexpected urges them into the far recesses of the desert.  This year was no different, they planned like expert military leaders, mapping out every move as well as contingency plans – none of which included forgetting the mallet.

Two hours outside of Reno she sees the wavering outline of people and vehicles in the darkness; she slows her approach and convinces her heart to stop racing for the moment.  A quick round of warm embraces, hearty smiles and the caravan reforms and veers off the road on to the trail at the welcome sign.

Dust kicks up along the trail leading off from the sign into the lake bed.   The truck rocks back and forth and shes steadies both hands on the wheel to negotiate the uneven surface.  Driving headlong into the spray of white clouds spilling from the trucks ahead, she adjusts her hat and eases into her artist’s mind.

Slowly, the caravan drives into the belly of the black desert.   A blank canvas now, in these few remaining dark hours it will soon light up with color, sound and smells that are unmistakably alive.  The City will soon breathe it’s first breath.

The caravan halts at the entrance to the City.  Engines slow to idle but over their muddling, you can hear the call of the siren – her song ringing unmistakably clear.  Come see the life that springs from an otherwise dead ground.  Come feel the energy that sweeps over the lake bed from thousands of souls singing songs that echo from the desert floor.  Come build the city of fabled paradise, rising from the cracks of land abandoned but to those that embrace the magic.   Come march along the dusty roads, dance in vibrant scarves and feel the heat of the fire wash over you.   Come …

Burning Life 2008

Burning Life 2008