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November 20, 2012

Day at the Musuem – Week Three

Today I spent a few hours in the museum while across the the street members of the FBI ransacked the first-floor offices of the Detroit Public Library. Hopefully someone is held accountable for those 20 luxury chairs that were bought for $1100 a piece while the entire public library system was in danger of collapse.

Enough of that. Here’s my responses for week three.

Assyrian Ruler Tiglath-Pileser Receiving Homage

Assyrian Ruler Tiglath-Pileser III Receives Homage – Panel from Royal Palace at Nimrud, Iraq – 745-727 B.C.E.

I am often reminded that I do not live solely in my own century by the the two and three dimensional re-occurrences of the past that surround me on walls, in pages, in the corner of my brain –  in my pineal gland. For example: last night I dreamed I would save hundreds of people from a group of escaped lions. This happened, and is happening, and never happened.

While I sit before the relief of Tiglath-Pileser a man is still (2,750 years later) kneeling at his feet. Though it took this stone and its longevity to make the homage whole, pure, to give it the lasting power its king and his kingdom never enjoyed.

George Washington - Rembrandt Peale

George Washington – Rembrandt Peale – 1795

I do not take it lightly that the curators of this gallery have decided to distribute light around the painting, and not directly on it. Click here to see my phone snapshot of the piece in poor light.

It is remarkably dim in comparison to the other works in the room. This works for me; George Washington had no desire to be a king or President. One look at his face and his lips show it. Much can be told by the way a man’s lips are. George’s lips were not meant for all of this. His eyes speak to his reluctance to father a nation.

Here is the brow of a man who’s lost more battles than won. Here is the face carved in stone, copper, silver, nickel. Here is a man wrapped so tightly in a false sense of national history that even his portrait looms, hundreds of years later in the corner of a room, in the husk of a city that sits in the shadows of empty factories while the nation sends its liberators to spread the idea of freedom and democracy to countries who never asked for it

It’s better that George and I sit together like this in the quiet of the museum, rather than sharing impersonal delusion of fatherhood and citizenry with every quarter spent and every vote rigged. I choose to appreciate my time with this first, aberrant President. It was in the cards this way. Not the other way, ever.

White Veil - Willard Metcalf

The White Veil – Willard Metcalf – 1909

If you’ve been around snow for most of your life then everything suddenly makes sense. If you’ve lived where the fir grows side by side with the ashes and birches and maples, you know where you are. You are allowed to forget about the cold and remember the few moments in your life when your feet were frozen, snow down your shirt, nose red, and suddenly the last leaf falls from a maple captures you, and for the next minute or so you find yourself looking around at the white, the stillness, the quiet, the suspension of everything artificial.

You are inside the Earth and she is inside you. A small snowflake lands on your bottom lip. You melt it with a jut of your tongue. And, right then it doesn’t matter whether or not a town lies beyond that hill, or if it is just another hundred miles of hills because for once, you have answered winter’s call to be chilled silent – to give silent praise to its tender white.

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