It's the ragged source of memory, a tarpaper-shingled bungalow whose floors tilt toward the porch, whose back yard ends abruptly in a weedy ravine. Nothing special: a chain of three bedrooms and a long side porch turned parlor where my great-grandfather, Pomp, smoked every evening over the news, a long sunny kitchen where Annie, his wife, measured cornmeal, dreaming through the window across the ravine and up to Shelby Hill where she had borne their spirited, high-yellow brood. In the middle bedroom's hard, high antique double bed, the ghost of Aunt Jane, the laundress who bought the house in 1872, though I call with all my voices, does not appear. Nor does Pomp's ghost, with whom one of my cousins believes she once had a long and intimate unspoken midnight talk. He told her, though they'd never met, that he loved her; promised her raw widowhood would heal without leaving a scar. The conveniences in an enclosed corner of the slant-floored back side porch were the first indoor plumbing in town. Aunt Jane put them in, incurring the wrath of the woman who lived in the big house next door. Aunt Jane left the house to Annie, whose mother she had known as a slave on the plantation, so Annie and Pomp could move their children into town, down off Shelby Hill. My grandmother, her brother, and five sisters watched their faces change slowly in the oval mirror on the wall outside the door into teachers' faces, golden with respect. Here Geneva, the randy sister, damned their colleges, daubing her quicksilver breasts with gifts of perfume. As much as love, as much as a visit to the grave of a known ancestor, the homeplace moves me not to silence but the righteous, praise Jesus song: Oh, catfish and turnip greens, hot-water cornbread and grits. Oh, musty, much-underlined Bibles; generations lost to be found, to be found.
Not vistas, but a home-sized landscape,
beloved rooms storied, painted, lived.
A farm bought with a painting
and a ten dollar personal check.
And almost from the beginning,
the intention to pass on
what an artist sees, what artists make.
A parcel of land, a vast legacy.
Admire the houses, barns, outbuildings,
and studios, uniformly Venetian red.
Respect the visible sweat work of stones
laid in walls and foundations, terraces and walks.
Admire the sunken garden, the wildflower meadows,
the path through thick woods to the fishing pond.
Walk through the farm envisioned by artists.
Admire the home artists made.
Or you can step from a museum’s polished floor
across a carven, gilded threshold
into the farm reimagined in brushstrokes.
From that wooden bridge over there,
hear those three women’s tinkling laughter?
Over there the other way, see
the black dog panting near the youngish man
lifting stones into a half-built wall?
Step out of the frame again, and be
enveloped in birdsong and dapple.
Feel the welcome of small particulars:
the grove beside that boulder,
the white horse tied in front of that barn.
With eyes made tender, see
those elms, from shadows on the grass
to the highest leaves’ shimmer.
With your friends, lovers, family, stride
across this chromatic broken brushwork.
Sit a minute at the granite picnic table
with the artist’s daughters, dressed in summer white.
You can daub this earth, so lyric, so gentle,
from the limited palette of your own love right now.
Any place you care for can hold an easel.
Everything around you is beautiful plein air.