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  • Writer's pictureSarah Taylor Ko

The Invisible Wings of Bees

It is one thing to elicit the invisible in a poem, but how do you paint it?

That was the challenge I set for myself in interpreting Japanese American poet Miho Nonaka's poem Contained Things from her recent book, The Museum of Small Bones.

In the poem she talks about confinement being both safe and restricting. She recounts a scene in a Lyon cafe in which she perhaps felt captured like the goldfish in a bowl, "the flaming tongue barely contained inside a perfect dome of glass." When I read that, I immediately saw in my mind's eye the image in the painting I created, a bright fish spilling out of a white circle. What I hoped to depict was the sense that poet's spirit, like the goldfish, was precious, out of place, and too large even for the poem.

But Contained Things is mainly about relationships. The title of my painting originates from a line in the poem, "I could hear the wings of invisible bees between people." I have heard that myself, the electric tension especially between men and women. I depicted it visually utilizing an obscured image of a woman turning away, a crown of bees on her head, a man from an acupuncture chart also obscured, large illustrations of bees, a 19th century drawing of a man proposing. I employed the image because of it's ambiguity. Is the woman delighted or sad, saying yes or no? Like the poem, we observe and feel deeply but ultimately find the circumstances around us mysterious.

I used circles to emphasize the feeling of containment. In order to underscore the raw feelings in the poem, I utilized rough texture in contrast to the more finished illustrations. I attempted to convey visually what Dr. Nonaka did so well with words, the power of acutely observed invisible connections in an everyday moment.

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