On the Consolations of the Sharp and Pinnate: The Art of Elsa Mora

Early last week, while I was still grieving intensely for our departed tabbycats, I clicked on through to the other side and landed in the wondrous creative universe of Elsa Mora. To describe her as a mixed-media artist originally from Cuba and now living in L.A. does little to convey the vast breadth of her work or the astonishing history of her life. She does papercutting, embroidery, fiber art, and ceramics, as well as drawing and painting. In her blog, “Elsita” writes charmingly about the backstory and creative process for each piece she features in her expert photos. Her explanations of her works, which frequently draw on psychological and folkloric material, read like an illuminated catalog of Jung’s archetypes.

What grabbed my eye most strongly is her papercutting art–also here, here, and here–and especially her interpretations of plant shapes. Trees abound, with vining, pinnate leaf pairs structuring and bordering her evocative scenes. Important symbolic parts of the human body–heads, hearts, eyes, wombs–sprout, and are formed by, graceful stems of leaves. At the tips, those leaves are pointy-sharp, like the knives and scissors that Elsa Mora uses to create them.

I find something consoling, something deeply clarifying, in those leaves and their sharpness. Is it in their being so crisply paired, ordered, symmetrical? Or/and that the vines and branches connecting those leaves also help form the symbol-rich human figures in many of her pieces?

It seems that each of those leaf pairs is its own tiny scissors, trimming away my grief-frayed edges.

I’m slowly treating myself to the large archives of her main blog, a page or two a day, for ongoing consolation. And inspiration, too:  I’m beginning to feel another leafy project coming on.

Transition Zones

Edges, borderlands, ecotones, transition zones–I love the tensions in the places where two or more forces (cultures, life forms, sets of conditions) meet. No surprise, then, that I also love the changing of seasons. To illustrate this edgy region on the calendar, here’s a photo my husband took on our walk last weekend:

A feast of many kinds

And here’s a sight that greeted us on our way back:

Island of light in Bellingham Bay

How do you frame the places where change is happening?

Bellingham Bay Sunset 9/2011

All photos by Mark Kummer.

Great News from Tupelo Press

Today, Tupelo Press announced the winners of its Spring 2011 Poetry Project.  The prompt was to select a line from Anne Marie Rooney’s poem “Last Evening:  Index of First Lines” and, yes, use it as a first line. I wrote and submitted three poems, and one of them, titled  “Year of the Rattle,” received an Honorable Mention! No prize money, just glory–and some much-appreciated  external affirmation that I should keep sending these things out. The poem is published here on Tupelo Press’ web site; be sure to scroll to the top, too, to check out Rooney’s remarkable poem and the winning poems based on it.

Farewell, Zonker Bonker and Baby Tabby

Sad goodbyes to our two beloved tabby cats. Yesterday, we had to put down Zonker , whose failing kidneys finally stopped responding to the intensive veterinary care that had been keeping them functioning for the past year and a half. As we mourn that sweet marmalade kitty, we also grieve Baby Tabby, who disappeared in July. I don’t like to picture Baby’s likely end, in the jaws of a coyote that neighbors say they saw prowling our street this summer. Two days ago, indulging my wishful thinking, I made one more round of the local animal shelters, just in case his homecoming could give his buddy Zonker, and all of us, a lift on Zonker’s last day. No success.

So I just have to imagine Baby snuggled in next to Zonker in the little grave in our back yard, our two Love Tabbies warming each other in this sleep as they had for many years in their cozy naps on our haystack, on our beds, in the sun on our deck.

Now, the struggle to make meaning out of these goodbyes. Here’s one attempt of mine from several years ago, originally published in the journal Rock & Sling (vol. 4, issue 2, Winter 2007):


Strange Accounting

Grieving Tomcat, flattened in the road
Easter morning, I told over the litany
of his many names and nicknames
and wept, harder, at “Daffodil.”  His orange
tabby patches and white roundnesses,
the blameless pink of his nose and mouth
and ears, had all suggested increase

of blooming and brightness.  Amid the lilies,
I always forget:  this is my season of loss,
of wondering what to do with loss, of watching
as the cosmic accounts are reconciled
by means of a heroic and terrible dying.
I struggle to understand this system of bookkeeping.
Still, the ultimate audit intrigues me,

and that night I re-read the Franciscan
who says that when you are resurrected, all
that your heart has loved is resurrected with you.
And so I prayed for salvation, not so much
for my own body as for the eventual unburying
of fur, of purr and pink and scamper,
and the everness of springtime without passing.


Baby and Zonker, Love Tabbies

Farewell, Zonker Bonker. Farewell, Baby Tabby. Farewell Tomcat, Buster, Poco, Alex, Beanie, Sylvester, Seymour, and our other loved ones. Bless all your hooves and paws.