Black & White (1966)—an unnumbered auto-historical series

Artists have it all when they are born and it just comes out at the right time.—Elsworth Kelly

She said paint sky
So I do                         black sky                                   cloud thick sky
             new moon sky                         rural Missouri sky
                        what was god doing                  before stars sky
                                    three coats of cheap tempera for so little blank to show through sky

Maybe it’s lonely at four-years old sky, but I don’t think so. Not yet.
More like Lutheran kindergarten in a church-basement sky
            lights out before I’m tired staring out the window every night sky
                        back to the Ozarks’ caves & collapsed arcs after riots in Los Angeles sky
                                    white strait-jacket dress at the Christmas show sky
                                                told war happens far away after another evening news sky

For my teacher it is why did you do that sky
            black is not a color sky
                        calling my mother at work when I don’t reply didn’t follow directions/ girls
                        don’t usually / bad example/ anything wrong at home/ why don’t you go to
                        church on Sunday sky
For my mother it is worn-out by evening why make ugly/
            can’t you be creative at home
It is neither of them knows Color Field Painting but then I didn’t either sky

For Ellsworth Kelly it is Black Over White hard-edged sky
            & camofleur of WWII/ three kinds of disguise—mimesis/ crypsis/ dazzle—sky
                        & countershade/ maximum  disruptive contrast/ eliminate shadow sky
                                    & I wanted to be anonymous sky

It is what / how / why are we hiding sky

& Miranda v. Arizona Vatican Index of Banned Books ends Dark Shadows Second Wave N.O.W. founded Indira Gandhi Freedom of Information Act Beatles at Candlestick Park Botswana/ Lesotho/ Barbados Independence bombing Hanoi color TV sets Gemini yields to Apollo Draft Deferment starts first Kwanzaa Black Panther Party founded Joseph Brodsky returns from exile HIV brought to the Americas China’s Cultural Revolution Martin Luther King struck by a rock in Chicago Stephanie Kwolek never gets to be a doctor & invents Kevlar instead We Real Cool/ Ariel/ Live or Die/ Necessities of Life sky

& can’t keep writing the same when no one asks what we repetitive for a reason lacking audience response picture lying in the dark picking out scraps of ideas & things wondering what your 1966 was like poem in here somewhere not nothing—not nothing—but everything sky

It’s picking up fragments one Sunday in January after dusting a poetry chap by that same teacher Mildred Broedehoeft off a packed attic shelf before turning a MMoCA  corner into the black & white room naming the colors neither abstract nor anonymous sky

                                    It’s the rectangle of the cubby where we tuck our coats/ the rect-
                        angle of windows that do not exist in this classroom
& the longest I have ever reflected before replying sky

—Wendy Vardaman