Moonviewing cover


Carol Todaro

Copyright © 2011 Carol Todaro. All rights reserved.

still hearing when there is nothing to hear
reaching into the blindness that was there
thinking to walk in the dark together
—W. S. Merwin, from "Night with No Moon"

Still Life with Onions, Beetroot and a Japanese Print

Winter in Pont-Aven—brutal weather, no fresh fruit. To stay inside was a hardship for the master, who lived to pace the beach, his hair in a frenzy. He was like a savage that one, so different from the student, Meyer, poor Meyer: so slight, so rickety, sickly, almost deformed; so grateful for a day working next to the fire. Gauguin sent him to the cellar to find something they could paint.
I know this because I was down in the dark counting jars of preserves. I gave Meyer a sack of tangled vegetables, a long kiss, and sent him back upstairs. Soon I heard furniture scraping the floorboards, a low, impatient voice, crockery falling on the table, heavy steps down the hall.
As you can see, the beets and onions were not enough.

Tangled Villanelle

Near an abandoned lot grown wild with vines,
at a busy intersection, under
fish crows assembling on the power lines
I share a crowded bench, watch for signs
of a bus, notice the bruised clouds, wonder
what grows in that lot—are they coral vines?
They're not in bloom, their leaves take better eyes
than mine to name from this distance. Thunder,
grackles whistling above the power lines,
people chatting on the bench. A boy whines
about the wait; his complaint grows louder,
wilder, abandoned. Passionflower vines?
A native plant given half a chance twines
up through scabbed concrete, will wholly cover
power poles, hide starlings in tangled lines
of dark vines thick as tongues, just as hard rains
will beat the bus, drench us—me, the kid, our
abundant lot, the wildly growing vines,
and all the birds thronging the power lines.

At Dawn

A freak spring tide put down a line of salt,
drawn thin around the base of these cypress-
planked walls. Another vernal night, restless
and rising like the swamp: set on default
our talk turns a darker shade of cobalt,
near black, fired by a fevered morass,
until the house's awash in a wild-ass
disaster, born of a tangled gestalt—
enough. Remember last serene July,
the borrowed cottage on the beach, the Dream
Room papered thick with sapphire peonies
and long-leaf pines, romantic botany,
while outside, ichthyology: sea bream
appeared, practiced magicians schooling by.

Clinic Dream

Try this a different way, I said to the technician. Let me sleep. I wanted to wake up, but in my dream I was awake.
You're lying, she said. I can see it on the screen.
I told her I couldn't remember, even though it was a lie. Looking down at my T-shirt, I saw wires emerging from holes cut especially for that purpose.
Did you see anything after that? she asked.
I said I saw myself, closing a dresser drawer.
The technician said, Wake up. What do you see?
Someone entered the room. I slammed the drawer on my hand and immediately said to myself, Wake up!
I was in a room no larger than a closet, standing in front of a cherry wood dresser; I refinished that piece many years ago. This I remembered in the dream.
The first dream I dreamt in my dream was a sham. In my dream, I went back to sleep.
That's a clinic dream, she said. It doesn't count.
A woman watching me through a tangle of cords. Maybe it was seaweed; maybe I was underwater, lights blinking from the shore.
Can you hear me? Yes, I could. What is the last thing you saw? That's the method: begin with the last thing seen. My eyes jerked under their lids.
Brain, muscles, breath and eyes sent pulses to a box. From another room a technician read a screen, attached to the box, attached to me. This I saw as I slept in my dream.
A technician placed electrodes on my eyes, my temples, wrists, throat and chest. A mass of wires attached me to a small box on the wall, which blinked back at me with a score of tiny lights.
I wore a flannel nightgown printed with a map of North America. I thought to myself, dreaming, "I never wear nightgowns."
In my dream, I went to the sleep lab to help me remember my dreams.

Loving Care

after Janine Antoni; for Eileen Todaro

She began by mixing a pail of dye
in the museum, with care, not a splash
blemished the polished concrete floor. Some guy
arrived late, had to step around the trash—
little plastic bottles, cardboard boxes
made significant, transformed into art
by context. Such incongruity shocked us
less and less; we, the audience, were part
of a faithful tribe looking for the next
revelation, a new form beyond paint,
past brushes. She (Janine) knelt, her feet flexed,
leaned over the bucket. Her gasp was faint
as she dipped headfirst in Natural Black.
She wrung her hair with gloved hands. We stepped back.
She wrings her hair with gloved hands, says, "Step back."
In memory I'm six, and underfoot.
She (Eileen) reaches for the towel rack,
rubber fingers tipped the color of soot,
and turns to the mirror to wrap her head
in a rag we use for dyes and rinses,
not to mention permanent waves. I dread
those Tonettes, yet somehow she convinces
me to give my hair a rococo curl.
I'm next: perm rods, solution, another
wait. She loves dolling up her youngest girl
and I endure the fuss; she's my mother.
When it's done, I look and think, "Is that me?"
Gazing in the glass—secret vanity.
Gazing in the glass. Fifty. Vanity
has migrated, relocated to my hand
as it renders (Is this insanity?)
elusive darks and lights. When my eyes scan
their own shadows and light in the mirror,
the lines that matter most are on the page.
Drawing is first a verb—action—nearer
to deed than thing, the paper is a stage
that's small, and, at first, intensely private.
In this and every piece, I try to get
it right, see myself whole, with accurate
marks, honest and economical; yet
in looking for what's next, I lose my place
and can't see what's right in front of my face.
Janine couldn't see in front of her face
for the hair dye had seeped into her eyes.
She accepted a clean towel with grace
and wiped away the sting. One can't revise
performance art, we who watched this moment
embraced the glitch—it fed our romance
with the unplanned effect, the eloquent
accident, modern theater of chance.
Soon clear-eyed and swift, Janine fell prostrate
and swung her head, both mopping and messing
the cool floor with her liquid hair. The weight
of her painterly strokes was a blessing
to us, who feel art's power, never doubt
its sleight of hand, hear it whisper, speak, shout.
A slight shift of my hand—whisper, don't shout,
Mama—under her head—Is this good? I asked.
Better, not good, she said—a lift, about
ten degrees: I altered the angle, masked
her pain for short minutes by adjusting
her bed-stiffened neck. It didn't help much.
What were the chances she'd go on trusting
me? A nurse arrived with a lighter touch,
undressed Eileen for a bath. The unmarked
skin on her breasts and belly was like new,
shielded from the sun; thoughts of the beach sparked
intense images in a rambling review.
I brushed her thinning white hair. No more dye.
Done, she slept. That's how we said good-bye.
Done. We just left, that's how we said good-bye.
In truth, Janine mopped us out of the room,
our backs to the door, with thick lines of dye
scrawled in an arena where ideas bloom,
expressive, but not exactly abstract.
Think hair as a medium for washing;
Fifties painting as a domestic act;
Natural Black, her mother's shade, sloshing
across a blank gray ground, a subversion
of manly art on a heroic scale.
Released, we became I's, a conversion
to an inner space where I mapped my trail
of allusions through this piece by Janine:
part Magdalene, part Pollock, part Eileen.
The Magdalene. Jackson Pollock. Eileen.
In the mirror I'm fifty, wringing grace
from broken lines. I'm mixing, like Janine,
hoping this slight of hand leaves little trace
of my vanity. Gazing in the glass
at the skin on my breasts and belly, vain
or not, I keep working, a dark morass
of marks on blank ground, thinking I'm insane
because what does this mean? Heroic acts
are everywhere—in a nurse's light touch,
the mopping of floors—but can I exact
an equal courage from the page? It's such
a mystery, despite the trail--how, why,
this began by mixing a pail of dye.


Walking the dog, I carry a plastic bag and the end of the leash. It's a clear night, the cracked sidewalks are marked for repair
though by clear I don't mean cloudless, rather that a beam passes with little interference from particles, dazzling
to the receiving eye. A dove-gray cloud slides, elides the moon, fills itself, spills light and returns to two dimensions, flat as glass. Seeing eye, cloud and moon
makes me think of Dalí, Buñuel and their jump cuts in silent black and white: splayed eye/moon behind a scrap of vapor/slicing razor. Not to mention the dog.
Soon other moons rush in from secondary sources—the screen saver, frame-filling cartoon orbs silhouetting cartoon magpies, the hurdle for the jumping cow,
the man in the—maybe I'm all eye and no ear. I haven't mentioned the singing insects, or the northwest wind carrying the pop of distant firecrackers,
which frighten the dog into turning and pulling me along the route we just passed, giving me another chance to listen
to air conditioners and sprinkling systems, cars starting, dryers tumbling, the spinning neighborhood running counterpoint to chanting crickets and panting dog,
another pop and a more desperate, doggy-scramble over broken concrete. I stumble on the rhythm, think back to the quiet, look at the sky, remembering
          when A Clear Moonlit Night was occasion for Shōnagon to stand apart from the ladies-in-waiting, saying, in defense of her silence, "I am gazing into the autumn moon";
          when, in Basho, the clouds gave beholders a chance to dodge moonviewing, a respite from the light's cutting intensity;
          that The Moon is the Oldest TV according to Nam June Paik, with his seventeen monitors tuned to all phases at once.
By now the dog is walking me. The moon is the oldest muse, yet she is made new again and again, sometimes knife-bright, sometimes veiled,
sometimes held in a crystal bowl of evening air.

Almost an Elegy

I found that Fifties vanity at the back of the garage, the one with mirrored sides and cracked corners, its drawers still crowded
with playing cards, the carapace of a horseshoe crab, tiles from a ruin in Palermo, a handmade paper box and the heart of the catalytic converter from our '82 Saab, a worn-out honeycomb.
I went to Sicily with my grandfather when I was fifteen. As a child at the beach, you thought horseshoe crabs would eat your feet. The box once held exquisite Japanese cookies flavored with seaweed,
a gift from your student Goro, murdered in 1994. Now it rattles with bits of agate and jade, limpet shells and teeth from the corpse of a seal we found on the Oregon Dunes. You conjured a story to valorize the death, an attack by orcas, you said, Look, here are the bite marks, invisible to me. That was the summer the car quit, needing serious repairs for the drive back to New York.
My parents and their friends played poker with the cards. I don't mean to sound as if you’re gone, too; this was almost an elegy but we're still traveling, still filling our pockets with fragments and stones, saved.

Paris Renga

Attached directly
to the base without a stalk
(a leaf, a flower);
immobile (a coral reef).
Walled garden, Judith at rest:
Graves' White Goddess,
she's now her own muse, loyal
to her cat, the mice,
the ficus strangling her house,
Auden read at lunch. The source:
sed-, (to sit, saddle):
Indo-European root
of chair, cathedral,
tetrahedron. The sculptor
Ossip Zadkine, a Russian
by birth—bundled off
to England by his mother,
sent to the French front
(World War I), bore a stretcher
at Épernay, escaped World
War II in New York—
ended up in Paris, where
he wrote to a friend,
…come see my pleasure house and
you will understand how much
a man's life is changed
by a dovecote, by a tree.
Trillium, oak: sessile.


Versions of "Still Life with Onions, Beetroot and a Japanese Print", "Tangled Villanelle" and "At Dawn" first appeared in Cent Journal: A Modern Anthology of Miami Poets.

"Paris Renga" was published by the Miami Art Museum in the New Art Miami 2010 tabloid.

"Loving Care" imagines a performance piece by Janine Antoni by the same title, first presented at the Anthony D'Offay Gallery, London, in 1992.

Carol Todaro

Carol Todaro is an artist and writer who combines both activities by making artists' books. The Bibliothèque nationale de France, the National Museum for Women in the Arts, the Library of Congress, the Jaffe Collection at Florida Atlantic University, the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Miami-Dade Public Library have collected her work. She lives in Miami and teaches at the New World School of the Arts.