Hawk and Gogh


HAWK & GOGH~~Vincent and Me”

Chapter One of a novel

by Barbara Sparhawk

(copyright 2014)

                   I’m packing again, on the move again. The dusk of early Yosemite night shoots its warm springtime gold pink lavender I have watched in this air for the year. False comfort. This has not been an easy time. I am glad to leave these granite canyons and clawing Douglas firs.



The small cabin is cluttered with old boxes to empty and new ones set for booty to keep. I lift up a cardboard portfolio, once black now faded gray, lay it across the top of clustered crates and to do this makes for a cold sweat across my shoulders and back and up my neck. I avoided opening this for years of many moves, and it will remind me of more than I may want to remember. 



                  I pull at the black ribbon that closes it to shake loose its dust, lay aside its broad cover. I brush these tempered hands across the first thing on top, an old sepia ink drawing of mine. I hold it out arm’s length in front of me. It makes a windstorm in my grip. I recognize this small bit of paper torn from a sketchbook, effort from another time. I sniff it and yes yes it does it smells of ancient history.



                         The drawing is no simple footnote. It is the single perfect relic from long, long ago. My life then in the heady 60’s and 70′s, my doubting young painter’s years in New York City. The drawing fills this cranky dark, this boxed up and emptying room which is most singularly, totally, ultimately west.  East coast friends ride in across time on a gallop through thin walls. We were 19, and 20 and 21.  Stubborn and green and thrilled at every turn. Excited voices and faces fly at me.  That life was the potent substance that built the bones I travel on today.




                  I sit and look around my here and now. The drawing does not leave my fingers. I turn to look at the present, the calendar, the clock. My broken leg is healed. The book is written. The hired trailer due tonight will pull through these dry High Sierra hills behind Debi’s mighty truck.  I will drop the pounds I added sitting in chairs for three months nursing a shattered tibia, get wirey and sure-footed again. I am headed for the coast, the sea, away away away from this rotted old gold miner’s shack that leans against granite boulders above its clear green shallow pond below the pink air of Ansel Adam’s cotton cloud skies.



                      The drawing will not leave my fingers. I see too much here and see what followed. I have lived fascinating decades of wrong and right. I have been wholesome and corrupt, most kind and most cruel. I have made my chances for a life played out full from all I had in me, and clutched emptiness with bare and bloody hands. I have been brave and paralyzed with fear. I have been alone and mingled. I have born a little red-haired boy who reached 23 then died. I am older than I was. Waiting to feel age. Not sure I ever will. It doesn’t interest me.



I make a pot of coffee and have sweet rolls left to chew on.  There are three hours maybe to let myself go into hallucinatory memory of who I was that I will better understand who I am now.



                         35 years ago I was finding my way through an electrifying city. Museums, movie houses, books stalls, uptown, downtown, Chinatown, Staten Island, Coney Island.  Over stimulated by the riches that were mine though pocket-poor.



                      I relished the rare reassuring talk with my fellow sojourners.  What have you seen. What shape does it take on canvasWhat are the colors inside shadows. Who of the old school do we hate and do we love.  I make a desperate subway ride to Pearl Paint on Broadway for Prussian blue, or zinc white, or nickel green before their door shuts, the calculated pennies and crumpled bills stuffed in my pockets. Edvarsky’s store front, his art show on Third Avenue next week. Get a black beret at army surplus. Wendy phones at 3 am because she discovers vermillion. Let’s meet at the Museum of Modern Art to look at Tchelechev again. We race to impromptu midnight spaghetti fetes where each comes with one loaf, one can, one lone bottle of coarse wine that carries all of us forth from an unsteady night into a less than faltering dawn. And once, oh heaven, Roberta’s memorable Thanksgiving Day oven-baked lasagna feeding the artists at work all night who for once face more food than is needed to fill the belly, feed the flame 



                                 The excitement of the gathering is short. Talk dwindles, paranoia creeps visible on the bodies and faces around us for we will not stay too long nor speak too deep lest the brushes clutched in our individual hands be sullied by the penultimate horror of someone else’s idea so off we slouch to streetlights. Painting is private. We wrap ourselves in heather and sea foam and secrecy and find our trails alone, the way ghosts slide with diminished outline out of view we depart from one another quietly bursting with originality, future conquerors of the universe. Us!  Me!



                      One devastating night I am hopeless and frantic. I spend tortured hours on a painting that lacks the decency to have a mind of its own but instead goes nowhere. Dawn is on its way. Money-earning work will force my wrenching leave of this troubled mess. What is worse? To be in its presence or know it sits waiting for my return for resolution. I stand fractured, cursing myself that I ever touched paint. If my brain is afire with the discovery of color and form I am incapable of expressing I may as well die. I watch a waning moon fill my rooms and taunt me with its hue and know I will not in my lifetime get what is in my heart out onto canvas. I scream. I roar in agony.  I seize a wooden kitchen chair and splinter it against my floorboards. I am lost to life, emptied from an upturned boat into a cold raging ocean nightmare.



                    Then, as if led by some unseen force that intends for life despite the odds, I proceed to conjure up a friend a compatriot. My hands shake. I am panting. I seize a sketchbook. Pen. Bottle of ink. And begin to draw Vincent Van Gogh visiting my Brooklyn carriage house to view my work. To talk to me. The tortured man to share my torture. The pen strokes are hard and firm and bold. Within minutes he appears at my front door. The adventure begins.


Van Gogh to 125 Bond Street

13 thoughts on “Hawk and Gogh

    • That’s a delightful thing to say, many thanks. I may use words in ways people may not commonly think to, to cause a bit of thought about our language and its flexibility of meaning. And fortunately…or unfortunate…is the vocabulary residing in my brain.

  1. Oh Barbara, I’m sitting here in tears. Thank you for trusting yourself, and us with this gift.
    that is you. Continue my friend, we are all ears.

    • So many layers in that last paragraph. It could be used in any graduate school writing class as the apitome of flow, of short staccato sentences, ending in the final 4, that like Dickens, say it all. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

      • I’m more than a little stunned, and happy! at what you wrote. I was nervous posting this for myriad reasons, chiefest that I was not sure it was any good. Or even interesting. But the overriding factor was that, as Vera says, someone needs to say more about the process of painting than that it is a good thing for covering a particular bit of wall that matches the textiles on the couch. Painting has led me on journeys more robust, delightful, and terrifying than I ever dreamt. And I’m going to try and set the record right here. With a little help from dear old Vincent. Thanks, Bette.

  2. This leaves me breathless, Barbara. Your words bleed and cry and leap from the page. Those years as painful and yet as exciting as they may have been absolutely have to be revealed, and I am so happy you are writing them out for the rest of us. Don’t ever think your writing takes a back seat to your painting. Your talents are multiple, and exceptional. I was so thrilled when I read your “Gandy Dancer” stories, and now I can’t wait for each new installment of you and Vincent. Wonderful sketch of Van Gogh, too!

    • Oh John, thank you so much. There’s a kind of terror in putting up new work and I thought this was good but wasn’t sure. Your reaction will give me a peaceful night and day. They were exceptional times, and I want to write about the experience of being a painter, too. Thank you for all you said so movingly here, it means the world to me.

  3. This is powerful Barbara. It so tells those years. It was not just youth it was also ‘those years’. Which you describe very well from your own point of view. I thank you for permitting me to see you as you were, as you are. What better life that that ? to relive yourself in the new year. More power to you. And I try to do it also, like going to the movies. The movies of our lives, so deeply lived, loved, and fought. The 60s were not mine, but the 70s, and thereafter till now, yes !

    • So much appreciated, Vera. Thank you. It’s an odd position to feel oneself in, a sage of times gone past, but how many writers of another time have helped me understand my life in the present. Is that my job in some way now, I don’t know. But these were important, heady times, all our times are, and telling needs doing. I don’t know if the experience of painting has ever been properly described and maybe that’s what I’m up to. More on the way…..

      • PLEASE !!! the experience of creative people trying to pull out those strands from their souls is arresting, needs telling indeed. And not by a third party biographer either.

        • I do believe that’s true. You can do a lot of discovery and revelation about any person by their actions, but I really would like to adequately describe the depths of painting. Again, thank you.

      • I just read & reread this first chapter, looking for the line that says “how many writers of another time have helped me understand my life in the present.” & of course, I find it here in the comments.
        In answer to your question, “Is that my job in some way now?”
        Yes, it is.

        • Thank you, good Bette. I surprised myself writing that, and am surprised at the response to it because it is about the last thing in my life I’d have ever thought before I wrote it here. Though I DID know about painting and have for many years considered the effect of other painters on me and known I wanted to continue that tradition as best I could.

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