Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Dorothea Tanning: "Dwarves crushing mouse families."

Palaestra. 1947  
Dorothea Tanning lived to the age of 101. She would have been younger than my father and older than my mother if they had hung around. 

A painter, she wanted to meet Surrealists so she sailed to Europe and when war or its threat drove artists back here, she returned.  Married and divorced.  Met Max Ernst who left Peggy Guggenheim for her.

Imagine stealing Peggy Guggenheim's man. Tanning and Ernst moved to Arizona then France where in a joint ceremony with Man Ray and Juliet Browne, married. That must have been a festive day.

After Ernst's death in 1976, Tanning came to New York for another round of lifetimes and adventures, which included gallery exhibits and the writing of poetry and memoir.

The Black Rose
Right now she's going through the adjustment period--death has got to be different from life, right?  And confusing, taking time to get the hang of aerial acts and the like? Maybe she is, as suggested in the poem below, "asleep in my cave," while the scheming mice of our times develop "skills inconceivable / To their forebears."

When  young, Tanning was extraordinarily beautiful, which is such an extreme gift and one so randomly given, but there you have it.

"Cultivation" is stolen or at least copied and pasted, from the pages of Paris Review.


Cultivating people can be arduous,
With results as uncertain as weather.
Try oysters, meerkats, turnips, mice.
My mouse field was a triumph of
Cultivation—pink noses poking
Through quilts of loam, scampering
In the furrows—until the falling
Dwarves (it was that time of year)
Began landing on my field. Fear for
Its harvest had me down on hands
And knees muttering, “Not here,”
My nails clawed at tangles of fat
Dwarves crushing mouse families.
Then, unbelievably, it was over.

By morning every dwarf, maddened
By nibbling mice, had fled the field.
Now, as before, each day, dozens
Of perfect mice leave for the city.
There, they have made many friends
Among computers, and with them
Are developing skills inconceivable
To their forebears. Already, these
Cultivated mice and their computers
Penetrate guilty secrets. Soon they will
Prevail over the turmoil that defines
This darkest of ages. And they will
Find me, asleep in my cave.

Dorothea Tanning

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