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written by Gazette Publisher Tom Thomson

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- My Orbiting Grandmother

January 2010

American Gothic

Burkhart, in the kitchen of his old house,
Tousled, scratchy, wry grin on his face,
Pouncing on ideas,
Lambasting the world
(A lover’s right),
Fingering a cigarette as he talks,
Eyes narrowing through the smoke,
A beer bottle, coffee cups
Clutter the table top;
A pan of cold Pettijohns
On the backburner of the old stove,
Burkhart, gesturing, says
There is enough beauty just in Ohio
For me to spend my entire life painting here,
And a week later he flees to the Canary Islands,
The Continent, the great cities of Asia,
Athens, Rome, Paris, London,
And temperamental, sunny Spain
With Karl Jaeger and his students
Touring the world, and
Burkhart putting to canvas paint
All over the world,
All the people of the world,
He would get excited and talk with his hands,
Muscular, yet sensitive hands of an artist
Sculpting the air, conceiving ideas,
Thoughts bubbling over each other
In intellectual cascades, and
Torrents of fiery colors,
The characterization of form,
The nature of texture, and
The texture of nature,
Burkhart, the lover of life,
Eyes dancing at the classic beauty of face,
The exquisite shape of the female body;
Burkhart extolling a knot of students
On the wisdom of the masters,
No censor culling his words,
And always right around the corner
Of his perceptive mind,
The sad awareness of futility,
The quizzical meaning of love,
The unknown, yet precise, appointment
Each of us has with death;
The resurrection of hope,
The remembrance of the past,
The warm morning sun
Shining on the future,
Burkhart, the philosopher,
Pondering the cursed fate of man,
The stupid kill and overkill,
Revealing the ignorance
Of pretentious people,
Black neighbors stop and call,
A businessman wanders through the house,
A young girl comes in to model,
Students wander through the rooms
Absorbed in his genius,
Burkhart makes faces at college students
Gathered around the old kitchen table.
Waving his arms, he shocks them
With ideas and concepts that somehow
They had never managed to articulate,
And afterward they see the wonder of it,
And self-consciously they smile, and
Shift in their chairs, transformed.
Again, in the kitchen, he says
He has painted four hundred self-portraits,
Each depicting a trait of mankind,
From tender love to hatred,
From poverty to greedy affluence;
He portrays an old man’s confused pleasure
Playing cards, or fishing,
Or scratching his crotch,
He catches the calculation of money,
And the stupidity of ignorant pride;
Then depicts the reward of a teacher
Getting through to his class, yes,
He has put paint to all of them,
You and me and the other guy,
Painted them all,
Right out of his own face,
Burkhart, the historian, lamenting
The bad blood between nations,
Cannily suspecting religion, agnostic
In the way of Ingersoll.
I remember Burkhart in some cafe
Dancing in his bare feet
With two women,
Arms around both at the same time
(And talk about laughing,
We almost died laughing),
And in the early hours of morning
We would argue about abstract art,
Burkhart, tousled, scratchy wry grin,
Lambasting the world (a lover’s right).

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