This piece was written for the YYCArtsPlan Citizen’s Reference Panel.
On the other side of applause / Hands mix tints, stretch canvas / Secure the hall / Hang your very soul next to hooks in the wall / Sleep with your visions scrolling beneath their eyelids / Oyster, you owe them this / Fearlessness / Or at least / For humour’s sake / A stab at an impossible explanation
A gallery of creatures in the sea see the oyster bed all silk sheets and canopies, luring humans, begging attention with the promise of beauty: “Those bi-valves are such show offs!”
But enter their bedroom and find a collective labour of uncertainty, for not every mollusc spits out symmetry, or sheen, or anything worthy of a wealthy dowager’s collection
The journey from grain of sand to pearl begins with protection from forces that find their way under the skin, or in this case, inside the two sides of the oyster’s wobbly grin
The mantle produces nacre, that makes the oysters shell
But as it goes, as it grows, a bit of sand gets trapped in there as well
The intruder gets covered in nacre, layer on layer, until
The initial visitor transforms into something one can admire (and sell)
What does this spherical wonder, this unearthly beauty represent?
Essentially the pearl is the reaction to an irritant:
A capoeira dance in response to an inflexible boss
An acrylic testament to: ‘Cold enough for you?’
Ode To My Pesky Little Sister
But imagine now outside the grinding gears of irritation, the grains of sand as granular inspiration to the nacre’s many layers of craft, where the seeded idea grows in scope and resonance and depth
For pearls of an uneven shape are deemed Baroque,
The grand and exaggerated, the stretching of reality with a religious bombast, or simply distorted, the curse of madness and a violent past.
Some oysters get a nudge from the harvester, who make a small cut in the mantle to introduce the idea and deem the pearl ‘cultured’, the oyster ‘hired’
And colours! For not every precious offspring of the shell seeks to mimic teeth or clouds or milk
There is the green of the perfect summer park underscoring the lover’s break up walk
The grey of the fog of unexpected death
The red of strawberries crushed between loving bodies clumsily trying to incorporate fruit
The blue of an advertisement for toilet bowl cleaner juxtaposed with a photo of a garbage dump child wiping with a newspaper insert
The black of genocide, of sleep, of outer space
Defeat and glory-
The oyster’s autobiography is your story
From the ocean floor / to the cave walls of Altamira and Lascaux / that show prey and horned nemeses / Hands revealed by blown ochre / Here, the earliest pearls were dropped / And we ask the immortals as we surface from the depths/ So, was it inspiration or self defense?
Is simply “I am here” what you meant?
“Not merely here”, their ghosts reply / “Present”