CENTO


Is a writer guilty of writing a patchwork (cento) of other authors works or opinions? Probably. The very act of communication introduces us to ideas not of our own making which we develop and embellish until even the original purveyor has trouble recognizing or claiming as his own.

Nobel-prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot’s observation is relevant to centos:
“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds is theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn; the bad poet throws it into something which has no cohesion.”

Two examples of centos; The Oxford Cento by David Lehman and The Dong With the Luminous Nose by John Ashbery

Those of us who read or watch a lot of movies see centos in everything. Haven’t you thought to yourself “Oh, I read that in F. Scott Fitzgerald,” or actually knew the next line of dialogue in a movie? They say there is nothing new under the sun, and only so many stories to be told. Just tweak them a little and you may have a best seller. Just be sure to do a good job of your pilfering.

Touch the Earth
“Touch The Earth” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In rummaging through the books of poetry in my library looking for a particular one, I came upon a book of James Kavanaugh with an inscription from my daughter in 1979. I had forgotten it and I’m happy to have discovered it again.

The following poem is NOT a Cento, but it does have a relation to those who touch the earth.

TO THOSE WHO WALK EASY ON THE EARTH
by James Kavanaugh

To those who know:
that the desert flowers will bloom
when the oil rigs are silent;

that trees will again stand tall
over the ashes of forgotten wars;

that no one can take away the sunrise
or the smells of spring.

To those:
who walk easy on the earth.

JUST DIRECT YOUR FEET


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Alvin Ailey Dancer, stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Dancing has always been a part of my life, from childhood when a fond grandma hoped my tap shoes would lead to fame and family fortune. It’s obvious that never happened, but I kept dancing anyway.

I heard of a Modern Dance class starting in the City when my children were small and I needed exercise. Any new mother can interpret that to mean, “Shape up!” The instructor floated into the room and I felt myself sinking into my body and thinking there was no hope for me. A gorgeous African-American, she was about 5’10” with extremely short hair and a body to make an artist dream of painting her. I knew immediately that if I were to come back some day as African-American, I would look like her plus with large earrings. She put us through all sorts of strenuous stretches and odd positions until my bones felt they could never have been meant to go there. But I kept dancing anyway.

Last week we went to a friend’s 90th birthday party. About twenty years ago we joined a dance group in town which performed at schools, old age homes and any place anyone would have us. Once while practicing, we asked my Dad for his opinion, his answer “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” In our initial public performance, our husbands embarrassed us by clapping and cheering loudly in the audience. But we kept dancing anyway.

betty ricker
We are second and third from the right in the chorus line. I don’t know if the others are still dancing.

I was impressed by her ability to “get things done” while her husband was on a business trip. They had discussed and he had disregarded the case for new carpeting, but once when he returned after a week away, he had to agree that the new carpet looked much better than the old.

I met this lady about 55 years ago when I interrupted her gardening by inquiring if she were the mother of a little girl with the same name as one of mine. We then discovered that our husbands had gone all through school together. In was enough to ensure a long friendship. And we’re still dancing in our own way.

MOTHER LOVE


Mother Love
“Mother Love” stoneware sculpture 3ft.tall by kayti sweetland rasmussen

What stronger bond is there than the love of a mother for her children? During my life of art, I have been privileged to paint or sculpt people, and some of the most rewarding have been mothers with their children. Wherever I have gone, I am always touched by the enveloping warmth of a mother’s love for her children.

As a mother, grandmother and great grandmother, I can share this singular state of being. Children are our legacy to the world. It’s our responsibility to make it a good legacy.

100 Words

WHAT IS IT ABOUT TITLES?


I Am Home
“I Am Home” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen
,

We are always advised to make a title inviting. To use it as a “hook” to get people to read or look at something we have created.
After all, who would want to see something bland and uninteresting? I have been making art and writing for most of my life, and I have yet to find the composing of titles an easy job. It has even been suggested to me that the titles I apply to my blog posts could be a bit more….you know. (My loved one is so forthcoming.)

Early on I used to try and think of great titles for my paintings or sculptures. I was even known to think of something and do a painting to match the title. As the years went by if the art stayed around, I would change the name on occasion. I have even found myself lazily changing the name of a piece which was sold long ago on its archive record. Dr. Advice will often ask “Wasn’t that painting called ….?” I am ashamed to admit I do not remember. Once out of my hands….. Foundries to which I have entrusted a piece sometimes suggested a better name, to which I often shrugged a shoulder. What’s really in a name?

Long time readers will remember that I frequently changed my own name as a child as well. Serving as my own shrink I determined some years ago that a change of name was an easy way to shake up the status quo and enter the world of pretend.

We too all have titles. Miss, Ms., Mrs. Are they really important in telling people who we really are? Emily Post and Miss Manners tell us there is a right way in written address for unmarried women, married women, divorced women and widowed women. How many people pay attention to those rules unless printed on heavy white bond paper in a social situation? According to that I am not kayti sweetland rasmussen, but a replica of my husband with Mrs. planted in front of it. Mrs. Dr. Advice probably doesn’t fly.

We are each unique. Many artists resort to the number system. If you can’t think of a name for a piece of art, give it a number. If you give it a big number it makes it seem as if there had been many precursors which is intriguing to those who decide to like what they see and they think you must be very important. I hesitate to resort to that method when recalling that prisoners and Holocaust victims are given numbers.

I have known people to give their pets the same name as their predecessor. That must be rather insulting to a new dog when he realizes that when their name is called, their master is remembering another.

In studying some of my family records, the name Hiram comes up three times, one after the other. It makes it hard to distinguish which Hiram made the dresser in my guest room, Hiram one, two or three, without looking through the papers. My own name, occurring in several generations, presents the same problem, though none of us was a cabinetmaker. It’s left to succeeding generations to make the call.

MENTAL HOPSCOTCH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT


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“Kate and Nigh-Nigh” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Charlie throws himself onto our bed, snuggling heavily to gain more space between us in our antique double bed. There is no sleep from that time on till morning light, and the mind jumps from subject to subject, alighting on each for no more than a second. I am assured that 95 percent of modern society uses either queen or king size beds. I find myself needing a step stool to climb into some of these beds. A friend once asked me “how do you both sleep in this little bed?” I told her we were both little people.

As I have mentioned before, I was regularly displaced from a bed of my own as a child in my grandmother’s rooming house. Grandma felt it expedient to collect a little money for the room since I could very well sleep on a couch or large chair. I always slept with my mother while my father was at sea, cuddling a stuffed raccoon until my mother took it away from me before I left on my honeymoon. I am embarrassed to admit that I often wonder what happened to that comforting furball.

Once “bed” imprinted itself on my brain, I began thinking of various people I know and the beds they choose to sleep in.

When visiting an old high school friend, twice divorced, I noticed she had a single twin bed in her boudoir. Though she always seemed to be looking for a new boyfriend, I felt the bed was a clear signal that she chose to sleep alone and probably gave second thoughts to a prospective suitor should he have been invited into her bedroom. It reminded me of a sleepless night in Rome when the only available bed was a cot-sized single, which Dr. Advice and I shared. While he snored, I stared at the ceiling.

Another young woman of my acquaintance divorced a nasty husband who took the bed from their bedroom while she was at work. The empty space echoed her empty pocketbook, and left her with the possibility of displacing her children from their snug little beds, or sleeping on the sofa. Her older sister came to offer consolation and told her it was imperative that they buy a bed immediately, else “how did she expect to entertain?”

Many years ago my sister-in-law and I while looking for the bathroom in an older bachelor cousin’s home came upon a flimsy nightgown hanging on the back of the door. We giggled and wondered what her mother would think. She later became his seventh and last wife. No idea what size his bed was.

Once long ago on a night trip with two small children, we pulled over to the side of the road to sleep. Shortly thereafter, a tremendous roar occurred directly over our sleeping heads. Our two year old sat bolt upright in her sleeping bag, eyes as big as saucers. Unwittingly we had bedded down under a railroad track. Since then we have spent numerous nights in tents, in the back of a pickup truck and lying on the open ground under the stars with chipmunks darting over our faces. I don’t recall losing a lot of sleep on any of those occasions. Maybe I have more to think about now.

STORIES ARE LIMITLESS


Stories are either written or oral, and are at the base of every civilization. Even cultures who had no written language had storytellers. At a lecture by F. Scott Momaday, a Kiowa Indian writer and educator, he stated that at some time in everyone’s life, he must know from where he came. The Native American has no such problem, because he has been taught the legends of his people over and over his entire life. He can recite his family tree for generations back, and can also remember and tell stories about ancestors long dead.

Stories are painted and carved on rocks throughout the world. Reminders to us that we are not unique, and that those who have gone before us left their legacies for us to interpret.

In the 19th century, missionary schools began popping up on reservations all bent upon teaching the white man’s ways to the Indian children, but in 1870 the first off-reservation schools were organized to ensure that children would come to be Euro-American.

Emmett
“Emmett Oliver” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Our good friend Emmett Oliver, dear friend and educator, recently celebrated his 101st birthday. His mother was a product of one of the off-reservation schools, forcibly taken from her family. Tales of mothers clinging to the fences outside these schools are heartbreaking.

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“A Hole In My Heart” Stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

It was said that a hole formed in the hearts of mothers so that her children could climb back in.

Children were given American names, and boys were given short haircuts and American-style boots. All were taught to work for their keep. Often when boys returned to their homes they knocked the heels off their boots and returned to moccasins.

Once back in the arms of their families, they again became part of the stories of their family.

I Am Home
“I Am Home” stoneware sculpture by kayti sweetland rasmussen

In this sculpture, the child, standing within the warmth of the blanket, is surrounded with the stories of his people. He hears the words once more, and again feels a part of the story.

“What cannot be changed must be accepted. What is accepted must be endured. Back when we were a people on foot, running up and down the mountains, we lost our advantage. People took our land, our children. We accepted everything, except the loss of our children. When you look at us now you will see a big hole in our hearts. This is so our children can climb back in. We go out to your world and come back, trying to decide which way to go. The young travel to places they think will give them everything. After awhile, they come home. They stand in the plaza, looking up at the mountains, seeing our ancestors. We older ones say nothing. Isn’t silence better than a scolding?”

JINGLE ALL THE WAY


dANISH cHRISTMAS TREE

Collage by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Attics are wonderful places. They hold all the left-over stuff of our lives, unless one is also fortunate in having a cellar, in which case you get to collect more stuff.

As soon as the Thanksgiving turkey was in the soup pot Dr. Advice led the foray into our attic to gather wreaths, bows, ribbons, ornaments and lights to brighten the season. While visiting a nice gift store in our area, the owner, who lives nearby, was pleased to see the wreaths in place, and the candy canes lining our walkway. Green boughs and red bows enliven all the doorways and windows inside, contribution of the good Dr. a true decorating demon. It took me a little longer to trim the small tree indoors. It’s always fun to unwrap each ornament and remember where you got it and how long ago. Some pieces become the worse for wear through the years, and though each year you threaten to toss those out, you never do. Memories are too precious.

A couple of years ago we were guests of friends in Seattle at Christmastime. A magnificent tree stood in the corner of the living room and was covered with beautiful and expensive ornaments. It was a work of art, much like visiting a fine store or museum. Our little tree waits patiently each year to hold its small offerings and remind us of where each piece came from and which child may have made it.

For our first Christmas while living in the Northwest, Dr. Advice brought home a 14 foot tree which we placed in the barn on our little farm which we used as our recreation room, where it stood tall and proud and held a number of life-sized elves made of papier mache. Alongside an antique pot bellied stove which brought cozy warmth to the space, it was a taste of an old fashioned Christmas for our California city relatives.

I think our animals must think we are crazy bringing trees into the house. We have had dogs who drank out of the water containers the trees were standing in, and cats who sat quietly at our feet eating the popcorn we used to string to drape around the tree, until when we thought we had strung enough, we lifted the string only to find it empty. We are never ending mysteries to our furry friends as they are to us.

My Merry Christmas gift to you is my friend Betty’s Persimmon Pudding. Don’t turn your noses up and think you won’t like it—it is NOT a steamed pudding which I wouldn’t like either. It’s more like a nut bread. I get to make this every year courtesy of my friend Judy who brings me persimmons. I made 20 loaves this year to give to friends and neighbors. Now it’s time to begin the cookie baking! GLAEDELIG JUL!

PERSIMMON PUDDING
1 Tbs. melted butter
1 cup persimmon pulp (I use the hard Fuyu and put them through the processor.)
1 cup flour
2 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup milk
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup golden raisins

Mix dry ingredients in bowl, add nuts and raisins and toss about
Add persimmon, and milk and mix well.
Add butter last.

325 for 40-45 min. in buttered loaf pan. ENJOY

TRANSLATORS


georgia (2)“Georgia Abeita” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmusse

The job of a translator is to interpret, explain or even to change into another language, and taken in that context, we are all translators. Every day we are trying to reach common ground with someone, to convey something that we know, but which they do not.

Many years ago, my Native American friend Georgia Oliver, teacher of my children, invited me to spend the summer with her as she visited her family in New Mexico. I jumped at the chance, looking forward to learning more about the Pueblo people and thus about Georgia herself.

We traveled across the country, with Georgia driving and me navigating, passing Navajo hogans in Arizona, and visiting Indian traders along the way which Dr.Advice and I were to visit often for the next forty years. So much of what we passed on our way to Laguna where we would be staying briefly, was nostalgic to Georgia.

When we arrived at the village of Laguna, New Mexico, we stayed with Georgia’s two elderly aunts and an uncle, who lived in an old building which was once an old mission. Georgia’s grandfather, George Platt, a white engineer came to survey the land with two other white engineers, all of whom married Indian girls and settled in this same mission building! They each raised families of ten or twelve children. Surrounded by a stone fence, the home overlooks the dry bed of the San Jose River and the mesas beyond. There are ancient pueblos dotting the hillsides around.

The village consists of mud houses some of which are at least 300 years old. A path meanders over the pitted rock which forms the entire hill behind the house. It is worn in places a foot deep from the footsteps of hundreds of years. Gives one the chilling feeling of connecting with thousands of people who made this their home. You have the sensation that ancient faces are watching and hoping you will not destroy their legacy. The old church founded by Franciscan fathers, has been in continuous use since 1699.

We continued on to Isleta, the home of Georgia’s father, where Georgia Oliver became Georgia Abeita, the name of her father, who had been chief of the village. We spent much time in Isleta, using it as our base from which we traveled to places where my Indian American education continued to give rich rewards. We stayed with Georgia’s cousin, Diego and his wife where I was asked if I liked chili. Being a Californian, I expected chili beans, but got chili stew, hot and spicy, along with cantaloup and Kool-Aid. We were rewarded with stories of their past experience at the San Francisco World’s Fair, as well as a period in Hollywood where they were in a couple of movies.

Indian ruins
“Mesa Verde Ruins” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

We tramped around Chaco Canyon, and visited many Anasazi ruins throughout the area including this one of Mesa Verde in Colorado, which is one of the most famous ruins. To stand and paint this place of the past, is an awe inspiring feeling, and one which places the artist in each of the dwellings, along with the ancient ghosts. You begin to wonder if they really want you to intrude upon their privacy, and it makes your brush travel a little faster.

We spent some time at the village of San Ildefonso, where Georgia’s mother had taught school. It is the home of Maria Martinez, who was one of the most famous of Pueblo potters. She and her husband Julian, were also part of the San Francisco World’s Fair, which introduced the black on black Indian pottery to many people. I am fortunate to have several of the black pots, including one of Maria’s. We spent a lovely day with their family, and Maria and I “talked” pots!

black pot2

Driving through Navajo country, I was thrilled with the wonderful rugs, and was fortunate to find a lovely Two Grey Hills rug which I have hanging over my computer. A much larger version hanging in the La Fonda Hotel in Albuquerque, caught the eye of a tourist who wished to buy it. When told it would cost him $25,000 he asked to meet the “Two Grey Hills” assuming that it referred to two old women, and not a place!

2 grey hills

The summer passed too quickly, and I felt I had made many new friends, along with a number of paintings of these very kind people, who on another visit would honor me with a naming ceremony, teach me to make bread, and give me a greater appreciation of a people who were “different” from me. Translation: We are all alike in many ways.

SECOND CHANCES


stairway “Heavenly Stairway” Original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

SECOND CHANCES

Ask the way to the river.
Don’t go where others lead you.

Reach for the rope.
It will lead you home.

You can’t go back
to come to this place

where inkstained
marks on a kitchen door

show where the top
of your head once reached.

Life was warm and safe
on top of the hill, but

childhood trust in strangers
took your childhood.

Don’t go back to sleep
Girl with golden hair.

Sometimes all someone needs
is a second chance.

Reach for the rope.
It will lead you home.