On a late July morning, I flew from Atlanta to Louisville, KY, to spend a long weekend with two dear friends—the poets Dave Harrity and Matthew Landrum. The plan was for Dave to show us around town, hitting all his favorite spots, but not before visiting Gethsemane Abbey, a longstanding place of importance to Dave and of interest to me. And not least, because it was once the home of poet and monastic Thomas Merton.
The Abbey itself was impressive, the grounds beautiful—quiet yet full of energy, from the monk’s hidden work to a vast colony of ants that mounded up every so often along the verge of the walking trail. But what I was looking forward to most was finding our way deep into the monastic grounds to visit Merton’s private hermitage, where he lived and prayed and wrote up until his tragic death in 1968.
We sat on Merton’s porch for a long time, taking advantage of the moment to slow down and talk in a way our busy lives in three different cities don’t easily facilitate, and to share new poems we’d been working on. It was a brief departure from the world and yet an entry more deeply into it—a moment of unsayable abundance.
I created this triptych as both response and commemoration of that day, and also as part of a series I’m pursuing this year called DIRECT MESSAGE—a kind of correspondence with friends regarding conversations we’re having or experiences we’ve shared.
Thinking about that day at the hermitage, I started the triptych by writing thoughts and memories of our time together on the canvases, and then went through the process of building up the layers over the words, so that actual messages would be embedded in the paintings, though of course there’s no longer any way to read them. The hope is that somehow they’re still felt, but in a way that transcends mere recollection—something closer to the feeling of memory, or the meaning of memory, rather than memory’s information. Something that you, whoever and wherever you are today, might be able to access, too.