It’s a pretty big deal when someone paints a painting for you. So yesterday when my former student Ani gifted me with this picture, I was, as they say in England, “dead chuffed.” Ani wasn’t even a “shark student” of mine, she took my literature class last fall. Like me, Ani loves the Beatles. Unlike me, she is incredibly together at 22 years old. She runs a cake pop business with her sister. She writes poetry and has an untainted enthusiasm for language and literature that I admire, sometimes wistfully.
One day after class, Ani showed me a poem she was working on. The poem centered around a pomegranate, a powerful symbol of love, death, renewal and the feminine. I remembered that Pre-Raphaelite painting of Persephone holding the pomegranate in her hand. I recalled the pomegranates on the funerary sculpture of the unmarried women in Ancient Greece. But Ani wasn’t thinking of all that symbolic stuff when she wrote the poem. She just wrote it. The poem had a lovely, strong female voice, both archetypal and modern. It made me shiver a little. We talked about the poem for a while–about Persephone, about Armenian history, about images vs. words until afternoon shadows lengthened and it was time to go.
As soon as we stepped outside the classroom, we saw a young guy sitting on a bench. He pulled two pomegranates out of his sweater and handed them to a friend. Ani and I both shrieked with delight.
Had Ani’s poetic invocation caused them to surface in the real world? A correspondence between Ancient Greece and Glendale, California?
I like that this shark seems to be on some sort of dream stage, rising in front of a curtain of blood. The title is “A Breath of Fresh Air.” The shark seems both to bringing this much-needed freshness to the world and rising out of this dark and light aqua sea in search of it. And the more I look at the deep, rich red background, the more I think of pomegranates and marvel at the palette of images, colors and words we share across time. I like to think of the language we employ and all the echoes it carries. Sometimes this echo is a burden, miring us in old stories we’d like to forget and other times that resonance is the tremor of eternity we need so language becomes a living thing, closer maybe to music.
Lovely things can happen when someone lets you into their poetic process. It doesn’t happen every day.
So thanks Ani, for the poem and for the picture.