The Symbol

"Art's mood," he said. Then paused. "Yet more than mood.
An artist is a man. He looks at life,
holds life inside his hands, and builds his art
around the thoughts, the moods, the living of his life."

He sits inside his chair, a shambling man.
His clothes hang loose about his too-large bones.
His eyes stare thoughtfully into the fireplace fire,
his forehead creased with thought, his lips alive
with words, expression, nervous frowns, and smiles.

Ruth's picture album rests upon my lap.
Two bearcubs grapple playfully in stone.
A life-sized female lion stares stone-hard
toward the lifeless black of negatives,
its ears laid back, smooth muscles shadow-dark
against the whiteness of the smooth-carved stone.

"Why animals?" I ask. "The critics think
you've missed the point of art. Your animals
stand, sleep, run, wrestle, fight, stare, tense with rage,
and grace your stone with sadness, joy, and life.
But nowhere do you symbolize some truth
that's hidden in the human heart and soul."

He shrugs his shoulders. "Writers flesh their thoughts
onto their writing pads for all to see.
The sculptor sculpts his thoughts into his stone
and lets his symbols surface through the eyes
and paws and snouts and muscles made of stone.
The writer's thoughts are plain; the sculptor's thoughts
are hidden in the formalism planned
into the muscles of that cat you're looking at."

"You're filled with somber thoughts tonight," I say.

"Look through the album. There's my life," he says.

I flip the pages. Horses, deer, dogs, cats,
an unexpected virgin passes before my eyes.

"There's quite a zoo in here," I say. "The bears,
the big cats, fish, a dozen feathers, furs, and fins."

"A lifetime's zoo," he says.

I look again.
The tension, peace, love, sweetness, gentleness,
frenetic energy, fear, hate, hope, play,
and peace leap out at me. I look at Jim.
He looks so vibrant for his age, so young.

"You've sculpted life," I say. "And man."

The insight startles me. He looks at me,
his eyes clear with the artist's clear, cold depths.

"An artist is a man," he says again.
"He builds his art around the substance of his life."