“Starfish” by Michael Strand

Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2018: Artist’s Choice


Message in a Bottle by Jen Ninnis

Image: “Message in a Bottle” by Jen Ninnis. “Starfish” was written by Michael Strand for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, May 2018, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]


Michael Strand


You sit alone as a painted asteroid, folded.
Your name sounds like one, both floating
in from the unknown.

Sidelong asteroidea,

do you carry a fresh message
about love or conquest, one we have not heard
before, perhaps the secret lyrics to a song
that solves low tides

and war when sung?

Is the secret paper folded into your long limbs,
your skull-shorn head, bare
as having returned from the great war
between cockle and nautili?

Do you cup a past of seawind
encased in glass, floating
the sun-dried future into shore
like a fragile mandala

of many-colored sands?

Retelling our histories
that sometimes took place, or didn’t.
Was it a red tide of blood waves,
ocean stars falling and left out to rot

like so many corpses?

After the battle the world denied existing,
did you cradle the survivors
in your pentapod, your astral gaze,
your face-cradled palm?

Were they like abandoned children
in need of cradling—
your painted cheek, your sidelong star?

A grande odalisque

in the reverie of their adoration,
were you tragic?
Did they know you are toxic
to those who try to catch you, eat you,

but grow stronger every night
submerged? Do they know we see
our reflections in your body,

that you do not need us
to create, as we do you?

from Ekphrastic Challenge
May 2018, Artist’s Choice


Comment from the artist, Jen Ninnis: “The depth of this poem touched me in ways not easily explained. Both the poem and my painting have mystery. Who is this colorfully dressed and face-painted person on the beach and what is the message in the bottle? Is she sending or receiving it? I love the questions the poem asks, how we each have multifaceted history, stories, memories, and how these are not always knowable, explainable or revealed, but nonetheless shape us. The reference to hoping for solutions to wars and violence and the consequences of not finding solutions—if my painting was a starting off place for the poet to have these thoughts, that is remarkable. The poem has a quality of unknowingness; perhaps it is this unknowingness that sparks creativity. I love the line, ‘Did they know you are toxic to those who try to catch you, eat you, but grow stronger every night submerged?’ Perhaps grasping to know is what’s ‘toxic’ and shouldn’t be a goal, but questions and the search is what opens the mind to almost anything. The line, ‘abandoned children in need of cradling,’ in light of current events, made me think about the horror of our government’s decision to separate children from their parents at the border. I don’t know if the poet was thinking about this while writing it but it has resonance today, sadly. It is very gratifying to think my painting somehow evoked these thoughts and themes All of the poems were wonderful to read; it was difficult to choose just one. Poetry and visual art complement each other in endless ways and I’m thankful my painting was one of those chosen to be part of the Ekphrastic Challenge.”

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