When my husband and I were first married in 1984, we were a cliché-come-to-life: happy but poor, with our student loans (microscopic by today’s standards) and a desire to replace our hand-me-down furniture with nicer things.
This was before I began my famed love affair with thrift shops, where for about a dollar I can find a piece of fabric that instantly transforms an ugly chair into a thing of beauty. No, back in the early years of our marriage, we'd haunt an antique store in Northwest Portland, where we'd admire a long elegant table and imagine ourselves serving a holiday dinner set amongst flowers and candles. Or we’d pass the carved doors of a French wardrobe and picture our own clothes hanging inside, amidst the mingled scents of fresh paint and musty wood.
Another imaginary amusement of ours was to drive to a small furniture shop in the suburbs and sigh over the long cool white curves of an ultra-modern couch. The first time we entered the store, a sales woman, neatly dressed in a business skirt and blouse, greeted us with warmth. On our second visit, the same woman smiled and said to let her know if she could help. The third time we walked through the doors, she glanced in our direction with a dismissive look that clearly said, “You again?”
Feeling embarrassed, we resolved to make at least one small purchase, a difficult endeavor since we couldn’t afford so much as a lamp. Eventually, though, we did find something in our price range – a calendar of poster-sized paintings. Among the stylized still lifes, the pictures also included a portrait of a peach-toned man and boy (“Tell Pere” and “Tell Fils,” the son with an apple atop his head) and a strange scene featuring a woman, a hunter and some moonlit water.
For years, those posters graced the walls of our various abodes before taking up permanent residence in the damp basement of our current house. Last winter, though, when I was making plans for the last session of an adult writing class, I suddenly remembered the posters. Bringing up both the William Tell painting and the moonlit scene, I asked my son which one he would find more inspiring as a writing prompt and he instantly chose the latter.
How right he was. When I asked my students to look at the poster and write whatever came to mind, every one of them created pieces that were filled with life. While my husband and I are not quite so poor as we were 30 years ago, I can’t imagine buying anything now that could bring me more pleasure than the poems and stories – including some dark beauties as well as one comic piece – that my students read aloud that night.
Here is one of those pieces:
Freewrite from a Poster by R. Smith
There is something about the moon, tonight
Now I dance with the moon
when I move, it follows
The moon (because it is light-footed)
twirls me like a top – lead, follow, lead, follow
I dance beside the waters whose ripples tango, whose silence
restrains (the waters reflect the moon)
The earth beneath my feet waits for the rhythm of the trees
to cut in on the moon
the earth beneath my feet has no sound but is my orchestra
I dance like the wind
I dance with the moon
the trees cut in, I sail with the trees
I dip with the clouds – Hey
Mr. Huntsman: Put down the bow and let that creature breathe
another day (put down your bow and join me)
Bring bow and pluck the string to set the slope in motion
set the trees spinning, send the moon into pirouette