Gary Lehmann - Author

Author's Publications and Upcoming Appearances

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Some new Creative Non-Fiction

The Testimony of Ida May

Gary Lehmann

Ida May: Every evening when I get home, your Honor, I put my key in the lock and wait just a second as the door opens to hear Freddie’s, you know, hi-fi in the next apartment. They’re not real apartments, just rooms I suppose you’d say. He keeps it too loud, but he turns it down when he hears me come in. I turn on my television real low so I don’t bother him too much. While I’m making dinner, I hear him open and close the refrigerator, and I guess he hears me do the same. He generally listens to his music until late, and I watch my shows. Then I get up and run my broom a few times over the kitchen wall. That’s the signal we have agreed upon. He turns off his music when he gets finished, and I turn off my television. Then, I hear the springs as he lowers his Murphy bed. I generally go to bed about then, sitting up late most nights reading the Racing News ‘til midnight. I fill out the form till I go to sleep. That’s how it goes most nights.

Judge: So, what happened on the night of the murder?

220 words

The Death of the Painter, Michael Sweerts
Gary Lehmann

The painter, Michael Sweerts, had his brains fried in the hot desert sun of the Persian Plateau in 1662. He came to realize he was living a lie and that everyone on this Missionary Expedition was lying to themselves as well. That pompous ass, Father Rene Brunel, just came along to find a field where he could set himself up as a dictator. Bishop Pallu only organized the Expedition to prove to his younger brothers, all highly accomplished, that he could do something creditable before he died. Now that they could write died leading a mission to China on his tombstone, he has lost all interest in the expedition and its problems. Father Rene found his chance to take over.

Everyone lies. Sometimes it’s harmless, even beneficial as in when you tell a small lie to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or when you give reassurance knowing full well that the situation is desperate in order to maintain order, but then there’s the most hateful lie of all. This is the lie you tell yourself because you must make it so, like the one Michael Sweerts told himself before signing up for this mission. The state of Europe is so terrible that there is no point in going on as a painter. I’ll do more good by dedicating my painting skills to God and to the heathen who can use my pictures to see the one true faith. It was a shining illusion, burned away by the hot desert sand and the relentless sun. Now he faced facts, but what was he to do about it?

In the desert, surrounded by nasty camels, millions of flies and people whose motives are unraveling as quickly as the desert sun rises, Sweerts learned that there is no holy place to go. These missionaries were either running away from their failures in Europe, as he was, or hurrying to make a profit from the sale of Christian artifacts, Bibles, and paraphernalia to the newly converted in China. It is a sorry selfish world and acting pious makes it no better. Sweerts started to curse the Bishop and Father Rene and the whole lot of them separately and collectively in a loud voice that would not be silenced. Hour after hour, he revealed their secrets and the sham it kept hidden. Finally, Rene complained on behalf of a deputation of others and Bishop Pallu, by now Rene’s puppet, gave in.

Sweerts was supplied with a camel he did not know how to ride or feed, some water, and his own clothes. He was sent off alone. They may all be deluded, and some of them may be coming to understand their lies as he had come to understand them, but officially the mission would have him no more. It must march on in its own cloud of unknowing. It would not do to have some lunatic telling the truth when their mission was already set. They handed him over to the Love of God from which he perished in the Portuguese coastal town of Goa. It was a mercy that he even arrived there alive after so many days in the desert with no guide. Yet, he did arrive, and with help from some Jesuits, he managed to eke out a marginal existence for another two years before some Oriental disease, from which he had no defense, cut him down before he ever learned its name.

The Lazarist Mission that expelled him into the desert proceeded on toward China and disappeared from the record of history.

597 words

More real than the real thing

Gary Lehmann

Minnie Clark, the artist’s model, was the picture of health and beauty. She sat by a grand piano, her hair drawn back, wearing an elegant black dress of chiffon. To this day, the woman in the painting by Thomas Wilmer Dewing conveys a sense of youthful strength, command, wealth and privilege. She is the very image of emerging American womanhood. Her picture said to the world, “I am the new powerful woman who is ready to beat down all obstacles and win.”

In 1890 in the artist’s New York studio, nothing could have been farther from the truth. Minnie Clark, who sat with her lovely back arched away from the keyboard of a grand piano, was just putting on a show. In fact, Minnie couldn’t really play the piano and had been holding that pose for several hours as the painter labored to capture her beauty on canvas. The painting does not reveal the cold of the unheated studio or how sore her muscles became straining to remain still.

In truth, Minnie Clark was just another working girl. She was not even American, and, as a 28 year old Irish immigrant, she was hardly a girl any more. A widow, she modeled because she had no other skills with which to support her two children. She looked the very picture of youthful vigor, but she was in poor health and could not afford the medicines she needed. Her family lived in a series of tenement houses from which she moved frequently when the rent came due.

She was beautiful and in reasonable demand, but could only command $1.50 for a morning’s work from artists who had little cash. Occasionally, she found a job for as much as $30 a week, but mostly, the work was erratic and women like Minnie struggled to escape from it into more respectable occupations. Many others were forced to work as actresses or chorus girls to make ends meet. Eventually Minnie married an architect and vanished into the American middle class.

Still, when you see the image of a Gibson girl from the Roaring Nineties, laughing and throwing her hair back so the gentle winds could tease her admirers with its display, think on Minnie Clark, and know that the person whose bold and sassy image stares back at you is in fact that of a strong and remarkable person, but not for the reasons the painter has struggled to suggest. The real person who posed for the busts and nudes of the Fin de Siecle were braver than you could know.

438 words

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Some Recent Poems

Settling Down

Gary Lehmann

The American painter, John Singer Sargent was born in Florence,
but he traveled around Italy and France for most of his early years.
As a teen, he showed a love of painting, but due to their nomadic life,
his mother insisted he work quickly to complete a painting every day.

As he accompanied her on morning walks, where ever they might be,
Mary Newbold Singer Sargent sketched in the open air with her son
teaching him the pure joy of rendering the surrounding countryside
in rapidly executed bright watercolor sketches of stunning beauty.

“No matter how many works are started, one must be finished each day.”
In the end, it was her abiding legacy to him and a useful one at that.
The world little values the work of artists. It is best if they can learn
to work fast and true -- not dwelling for too long in any one location.

Getting the News

Gary Lehmann

It was an early winter day with snow lingering in the air.
I walked out to pick up my mail from the box by the curb
when I heard this clatter of squawking overhead,
a bomber squadron of geese resolutely flying -- North.

You crazy geese, I thought.
You’re in for a nasty surprise when you get there.

I pulled the newspaper from its holster.
The headline told of troops being killed in some foreign land
not worth fighting over. More deaths and more suffering
as if the world had not had its fill of that already.

You crazy fools, I thought.
I’ll bet you never thought you signed up for this nonsense.

I pulled out the mail and leafed through the bills and circulars.
Everyday the post man brings me ads for things I never buy.
Most of it goes directly into the trash unopened.
Somehow the world rolls on despite our inefficiencies.

You crazy people, I thought.
Don’t you know you’re in for a nasty surprise one of these days?

What Sarah Said

Gary Lehmann

After reading the news of his wife’s death,
Sarah Goodridge, notable Boston miniature painter,
decided to paint something very special
for her long-time client, Daniel Webster.

In her studio, she positioned a mirror by the window,
took off her blouse and proceeded to paint on ivory
a perfect watercolor likeness of her bosom,
plump and full, the envy of Aphrodite.

Some woman at 40 may have blanched at such a challenge,
but Sarah produced a small, exquisite image
which shone with a luminous quality that
reproduced very well the glow of breathless flesh.

Each nipple stood out in bright pink contrast
to the creamy flesh around it, all
framed by drawn white curtains of fine lace.
She called it Beauty Revealed.

Sarah rarely left Boston, but for this occasion
she boarded a coach for Washington DC
to present her likeness to the great man herself.
Oh to have witnessed that interview!

Evidently, no clerk was available to sit in or take notes.
Were there tears? Recriminations? Or passionate embraces?
Did she throw herself melodramatically upon the protesting Puritan?
Or did he secretly admire her all those years of fruitless marriage?

We know he kept the miniature for the rest of his life.
In fact, it stayed in the Webster family for over 150 years,
locked away from prying eyes and inquiring minds until
no one can quite recall the true character of either party.

The Ice Man

Gary Lehmann

My Uncle Frank drove his truck on the ice every year.
Regardless of the weather or what the boys said
at the Chat and Chew about ice conditions,
he just laid out two planks and drove
his red truck right out there on the ice.
Damn you all!

He was always the first with his shed on the ice,
because he refused the hard labor of pulling
it manually when he could drive out.
I think after a while the bigger thrill
was tempting fate each year.
Damn you all!

He was an arrogant cuss
and you’d be excused for anticipating,
even wishing, that sometime
he’d drive his red Ford truck out there
with his damned shit-eating grin
and go right through with a quiet blurp!

But you’d be wrong.
Much as every man on the lake
wished it secretly, that bastard
drove his big red Ford truck out on the ice
year after year in confounded redneck defiance.
Damn you all!

The Inheritance

Gary Lehmann

Fingering through
this careful assortment of objects,
accumulated over a lifetime,
I see many were well-worn with hands
not unlike mine.

Now I stand here like a barbarian at the gate
demanding gold of these objects
so I can buy new objects
which I will wear down
over my score of years

to pass in time
to some other stranger to sell
and reforge into
a new life --
not unlike mine.

Addie, 1910

Gary Lehmann

The orphan girl, Addie, leans back on her machine uncomfortably.
Behind her is a six foot bank of cotton spinning machines.
Her arms are emaciated.
Her left forearm looks like it may have been badly set after a break.
She wears a checked smock over a calico blouse.
Her sleeves are rolled up above the elbow.
Her patch pocket bulges and is stained with greasy smudges.
The edges of the pocket have been sewn for reinforcement.
Bits of thread cling to her smock.
It has no shape or size.
Grease marks spot the lower half.
Her hands and bare feet are grease covered.
Her toes splay out from long hours standing shoeless on the slippery floor.
Her hair is pulled back to keep it from getting caught in the bobbins.
Her eyes are partially hooded, blank and staring.
Her face is gray.
Her mouth registers no emotion.
You can almost hear the clatter of a thousand bobbins behind her.
Everything except Addie is moving.
She has taken a moment to allow someone to take her picture.

Upon Opening the New School
After Cinders from the Train Crossing
Burned Down the Old One

Gary Lehmann

“What do I remember of my early education? Well, not much.
I do remember when the new one-room school opened in 1912,
and we all sang Marching through Georgia to celebrate.

It may be have been Mrs. Hartfeld’s idea to sing that song,
but it was Sparky and Slim who got the idea of marching and
pounding on the desks so the whole place would rock and sway.

The girls yelled Stop! Stop! You’ll bring down the whole school,
which just made it all the more fun. The pictures swayed,
the floorboards joined in the chorus. The potbelly laughed out loud.

The teacher didn’t seem to mind, and I guess we did no damage
as the school remained standing for two whole years more
before cinders from the train burned it down -- again.”