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Box of Blackness

June 29, 2012

Box of Blackness

(text and graphics by A. Leon Miler)

The rain washed away the last of the sidewalk chalk mural from the blacktop surface as the water pooled up into a parking lot playa. Tomorrow, the pool will be filled with tree frog tadpoles. If they are lucky, the pool will be refreshed by another rain so they can mature into yet another generation of tree frogs. Meanwhile, the mural just vanished, washed down the street with all its complexities of line and shade, with all its nuances gone. I don’t know that I’d call it a masterpiece, and I doubt that I’ll weep for its loss. Nevertheless, that one face had a bit of “the Girl With the Pearl Earring” to it, and the horses running wild had their swirling charm. But the rains came on time and now it is all a memory.

You always stood like that, in the doorway, with your hands in your back pockets. I was never quite sure whether you were smiling or smirking, and I guess it really doesn’t matter. You’re just a memory, a black shadow caught up in the box. And I would not have brought the box up either if you hadn’t made such a deal of it. I was buying a birthday present for someone at the bookstore, the sales clerk asked if I needed help, and, for no reason, I asked if he had a box of blackness. It was a joke, for crying out loud, but he reached down below the counter and pulled a box out, said it was the only one he’d ever seen, that no one had ever shown any interest in it before, and I could have it for a good price.

I remember how you opened the box. You looked in with half interest, set it aside and reached for your beer. And, as you sat, the shadows began to stir, shadows layered deeper than you can comprehend, shadows side by side with no seeming context; an ancient chieftain crying out over an apparent betrayal, a garbage collector reaching the end of his route, faceless people troubling the shadows, all in a box of blackness; shadows vague and gossamer, ancient memories, happy times, bad times, looking for paradise times, always seeking; restless shadows like the breeze pushed ripples on the water over hidden currents, over concealed depths.

It did no good to reach into the box to retrieve a fleeting image. All that was to be had in doing so was blackness without substance. You had to wait. Be still. With patience, the shadows would resolve themselves in fleeting, spectral moments; and, maybe inside your heart you could feel laughter or tears.

There, in my hands, were countless dreams, visions, aspirations. They were shadows, once attained, only to be blown away like words shouted into the wind, yet somehow captured,- a box of blackness.

When we were young, you drew hopscotch boxes on the sidewalk, blue chalk, white chalk, red chalk, and you sang: “Three six nine, the goose drink wine / The monkey chewed tobacco on the street car line / The line broke, the monkey got choked / And they all went to heaven in a little row boat….” Then we grew older and drew wild horses and other images in blacktop places and freeway underpasses, but even the colors have turned dark and dirty, blown by hot dry winds into a box of blackness.

Was not Birhtnoth the Earl of Essex when he stood on Blackwater’s shore near to Maldon and called challenge to the enemy? The tide turned, and all turned to blackness as I’ve been told. And so I’m left here with this box of blackness and nowhere to go.

I thought I saw you from the corner of my vision, but when I turned, it was only a fleeting shadow seeking shelter in a box of blackness.

I look back in vain for a glimpse of spring, the smell of dampness in the woods across the road, but its only a fleeing memory seeking shelter in a box of blackness.

The hills beyond the Rio Grande always catch the last light day has to throw its way, showing pinks and purples in the horizontal layers of sedimentary rock, as they have for time out of mind. Not much really happens over there, just a home for owls, coyotes, and wild horses. They aren’t imposing hills, just a slight uplift in the Rio Grande rift, called the Quebradas rather than a name suggesting altitude. We wandered through the bosque on the river’s bank, with the Quebradas a band of black beyond the other shore. We wandered hand in hand into the small hours of the morning, but that too, is just raindrops on the midnight water flowing into a box of blackness.

Tonight you can see the lights on the interstate. The big dipper is low in the north. The moon is awfully bright with mooncast shadows strewn across the desert. Toss cat’s moon in the mix, he’s just playing with me, paw poised to strike, and I’m here thoughtless and worn, holding tight this box of blackness.

Bosque Fire

the 3rd Raven

Cat’s Moon

The Day that Billy Died

June 27, 2012

(In memory of Oscar Norris who was my friend when I needed a friend, who taught me how to sharpen a knife, who taught me how to carve a chain out of wood, who taught me how to catch and clean a trout…)

by Emmie Domschot

There were horses running wild

and thunder in the sky

The day that Billy died.

Lightening flashed east to east

and broke the morning light.

The desert ran water in dry ditches

and floods over stony ground.

Billy said it would be that way.

His momma told him he was born

without a whisper or sound

And, by God, he’d have to redeem himself

on the way out.

It was time someone in the family

stood for something more than cheap beer

and broke down pickup trucks.

So it was that thunder ripped the sky

The day that Billy died.

Streams in the Desert by A. Leon Miler

The hills beyond where wild horses run.


May 23, 2012

I wrote this villanelle some time ago, and just revised it.  Coming soon: “the Box of Blackness”

(poem and graphic by A. Leon Miler)

To sing the song once it’s begun

Will find its way through out the day

Returns to start when all is done,


Or rainy days without the sun

Or greening leaves that spring through gray

To sing the song once it’s begun,


Or daffodils that bloom, they run

In haste, the days of March don’t stay,

Returns to start when all is done,


As summer days begin in sun

Sublime, involves the rest to play,

To sing the song once it’s begun,


The winds, they blow around, and gone;

Around and round, they don’t delay,

Returns to start when all is done.


Flower chains and a red ribbon

For you, my girls, to be so gay,

To sing the song once it’s begun

Returns to start when all is done.

Platypus and Lady (graphics and text by A. Leon Miler)

March 27, 2012

(Platypus & Lady A. Leon Miler)

So Platypus and Lady
Stepped into the moonlit night
Treading lightly over shadows
Into their waiting automobile,
Platypus carrying his instrument,
And Lady driving slowly into the
Many templed empire of the world.

Platypus had lived for many years
On the backside of the desert.
He had fallen in love with one like him,
A platypus, a lady, an Ethiopian,
Of rare and delicate demeanor,
And they had traveled through
Dry, dusty, and damp until
The night in Egypt along Nile’s
Well lit bank
She slipped away into the quiet
Murky pools where Pharaohs once
Had gazed.
The parting was such as might
Happen in a grocery store, when you
Are intent on finding your purchase
Among a crowd full of strangers and
Realize the one with whom you came is
No longer present, there is panic
Until the recognizable face is found,
Except she never returned.
This is when Lady found him
Wandering the back streets of Cairo
Looking for a ride to Athens or Rome.
She promised to take him only as far
As Bosporus or maybe the Black Sea,
But they continued on into Spain.
They were discussing crossing back into
France while strolling through an
Alpine meadow high in the Pyrenees
When a mighty rushing storm came fast
Off the sea from the north. Lady turned back
To Madrid, Platypus struck out for Marseille.
Once in town and with all memory
Of snow and Spain behind, Platypus fell
In with an Algerian princess. She held
His interest well past the break of day,
Then she asked for the principle
And obliged him to pay.
With his last quarter and deep in south France,
He called lady to ask if they might be re-united,
“It was a mistake”, he said, “to be parted in the pass,
Or to pass in the night with no one around.”

Platypus learned to play violin
In the south of France,
Folk music really, in a Breton style
With a slight Creole flavor,
“Platypus swamp” he called it.
He won great acclaim for this and was
Sought all the way from
Normandy down to Nice.
It was Lady who suggested he play
His music around the world,
Just as it was Lady
Who gave Platypus his first saxophone.
She had found it in a pawn shop in south
Baton Rouge and was taken with it’s
Highly reflective and cursive brass surface.
She was much taken with her reflection in its brass bell.
Lady was tender in her heart, quite
Romantic in many ways. Her eyes were blue,
And she had her driver’s license.
Platypus had grown to love her deeply.
So it was she drove while he rode writing
His scores for the next town.
At times they picnicked where gypsies stopped
to play beneath mountain shadows
Where medieval fortresses stood.
And again they would stop beneath the walls
Of some ancient Gothic church,
Or the remnants of some ancient forests
Where had echoed Roland’s horn or some
Druid had stood.
The village priest married them,
And the constable blessed them and escorted
Them to the edge of town.
Platypus had a soul of nobility though his
Heart knew nothing of responsibility,
But he loved Lady, and with Lady he played,
Tripping through the trees, rolling in the grass,
Running through the water, splashing where they might,
Kissing in the starlight at the end of every day.

Freedom is like wine, it makes glad the heart,
And then there are those who
Are drunk on freedom and remain
In the streets after closing time, slouched
In the door frames of stores
After the lights have gone out.
Freedom is the fermented remains
Of spring ripened in hot August sun.
Freedom is not a romantic notion,
Not a thing to be trifled with,
It is more easily broken than repaired.
I met freedom walking down the street,
“I don’t know you, I don’t know you”
is all she said,
I only smiled and said something about
Getting together once in a while.

(Freedom Cranes by A. Leon Miler)

Platypus did not understand freedom
Anymore than a blackbird understands flying.
Could it be that freedom is for the oblivious?
Not understanding flying,
Platypus soared from where he had stood,
But freedom was his natural domain,
If freedom can be compared to real estate.
Platypus and Lady took to their travel
Without much of a goal,
Without much real thought,
Without much money,
Just a Cadillac La Salle,
Just a smile and a wave,
And away they drove
Down roads bricked out in time,
Down roads black topped and paved,
Down roads divided and distant,
Down roads rutted and dusty.

Freedom finally came to a halt,
Broken down on tires bald and slippery,
In a place quite distant,
Far from south France.
It’s alright to break down
At night in a far distant place;
For you lie down to sleep,
And when the light creeps over
The edge of the world,
You awake in silence broken by birds
Different from those you have known,
And the cool of the morning
You would otherwise have missed:
Observation forced by circumstance.

Freedom has become slave to decay.
Freedom and circumstance
Dance a quiet dance
Slowed to the refrain of every breaking day.

What of Platypus?
He’s in the backseat sleeping.
Lady is combing her hair
using the rear view mirror.
All is quiet while freedom and circumstance dance.

Response is reaction to learned events,
Cognitive things stuck in your memory.
Responsibility is reaction to circumstance,
Like Freedom’s arms flailing
While she is falling:
Circumstance is a lousy dancer.
Lady is not.

Lady’s a queen, she plays it in spades,
She’ll trump you,
Then she’ll smile all sweet and demure,
And convince you she’s quite shy,
But in the end she holds
All the cards.

Lady was his model and she was his peer,
She waited while he ate avocados
And French bread buttered with hollandaise.
She held the violets to be the flower girl,
Her origins were ancestral,
She dated them to the beginning.
Her early youth were made of vague memories,
Random and rare, and mostly things
Beyond her.
She remembered nothing prehistoric,
And the historic was a remembered relic,
Like Adonis or Apollo,
Like Athena or Aphrodite,
Like Barbie, long legged and bare
Riding the ocean waves on a clam shell.
Her life was like a harmonic pattern
Like the grain of wood,
Like the cirrus clouded sky,
Or wind across the grassy lot,
Or like the water’s rippling waves.

Lady dances but she is discreet.
She was a traveler, but she knew her rights,
A lady in her right, she could see
The road ahead until it ran from sight.
Lady was a merchant who sold her goods
And received her return
All the way from Oklahoma to Istanbul.
She sold what was wanted,
She sold it well,
She sold with a personal touch
That was pleasant to see,
What she sold to others
She gave to me.
She was charitable.
She was an angel when she stopped in a dry and dusty land,
Platypus was a pilgrim when he took her hand.
This was the beginning of their friendship.

Lady’s a lady, and Freedom’s a queen,
And freedom is victim to noblesse oblige.
Freedom’s obligation gives her right,
But the card must be played,
Else right turns to license
And the Queen becomes libertine.

While seeming certain has its distinct advantages,
Composure under fire when nothing comes to mind has
Its merits;
Uncertain certainty,
What I don’t know, I don’t know well.
They say those on parallel courses will
Never meet.
It seems a shame to never meet the one with whom
You most agree.
Space; like time, is a thief,
A bandit on a holy pilgrimage with profane hands
Searching for profound thoughts,
And finding them, he becomes a holy thief,
A prophet of conceit.
Space and time are distant figures
On the edge of my vision.
I have no space and too little time.

(3 Wolves by A. Leon Miler)

There were three brother wolves
Posing in the shadows.
Their aim was not to intimidate,
They were just hanging out being cool.
Platypus was not predatory,
Predation disturbed him.
He did not care for the sound of being chewed upon.
So it was that the 1st Brother said to the 2nd Brother,
and the 3rd Brother agreed,
That Platypus in the shadows
Was out of his environment,
And maybe he should take his lady and leave.
They were not trying to intimidate,
They were environmentalists.
They were seeking only what was pure and unblemished.
The three brother Wolves
Had not been born in the shadows,
They had been born in a dirt bank,
And rocks were the only
Hard currency in their vault.
It had not occurred to them
That their place in the shadows
Was not original,
And they were only shades
Of what they used to be.
Seeing them posing,
Lady knew they should be released.
She followed after Platypus
And vowed to return and set them free.

It may be presumptuous to consider shadows as restraints.
I do not believe I would have presumed such,
Nonetheless Lady so presumed,
Or maybe she knew,
For Lady’s a queen,
And freedom’s a bitch howling at the moon.

(Freedom by A. Leon Miler)

Six miles high the clouds are forming
Crystal ice rings around the moon.
Freedom is left in a swirl of turbulence
Shearing around the word.
Freedom obscured is the motion of the moment.
Freedom remains a visualized abstraction.
Freedom in my thoughts is less than a word.
Freedom written is a crystallized abstraction.
Graphic freedom dissolves once again into a visual abstraction.
Freedom is thoughtless action in flight
Snatching the woodland mouse like a bird of prey.
Freedom thought about is captive to the idea.
Freedom captive is less than free
But nonetheless it motivates me.
Freedom chooses its own restraints,
Freedom bricked in with the mortar of choice
Becomes a barricade behind which I choose shelter.
I will not sell freedom for a dime,
Nevertheless, if you have a dollar, we’ll negotiate.
Freedom is a prison that constrains me from
Carrying the burden of the present.

(Closing Time by A. Leon Miler)

So Platypus and Lady
Stepped into the moonlit night
Going from the place of shadows
Where posers were
And walked off down the street
past all the darkened retreats.
It was past the hour when the late night
People were about.
The streets were empty.
It was here they found Happiness in pursuit
of one who could stay true and not depart.
There are those who claim a right to Happiness,
But he cannot be held when it is not his will.
Nevertheless there are those
Who make it their quest.
Sir Galahad had never sought the Holy Grail so earnestly.
Yet Happiness is an elusive soul,
Not one to articulate his desires past the moment.
For when Happiness has dined
And his soul is sate,
He is prone to fall asleep within his retreat
And stay until the summer sun
Is blown in with the wind.
This night Platypus and Lady dined with Happiness,
When morning had come, he had gone.

“Don’t talk to me of attitudes,” Lady spoke
After Happiness had disappeared,
For Platypus had awoke grouchy and glum,
“I have right to Happiness,” he said,
And threw his shoes across the room.
He did not wear shoes,
It did not make him happy,
So he complained of attitudes and such.

Lady’s a queen and Happiness is a knave,
Though its not quite clear
He stole tarts or hearts or anything else.
Happiness is a fleeting hope, a vicarious moment.
I saw the knave of hearts out on the streets,
Flirting with a skinny girl,
And though her heart was with his heart,
Her ideals would not allow a smile,
Would not allow the touch of a hand,
Would not allow a soft kiss in the night.
Happiness went weeping down the street,
So both Happiness and the skinny girl appealed to the queen.


Lady was reclining in a lawn chair
With Platypus beside her.
Both were in the shade of a distinguished tree
On the lawn beside the sidewalk.
Hollyhocks, poppies, and old fashioned roses
Grew between the sidewalk and the street.
The walk to the front door was lined with English yews
And rosemary.
Platypus was playing the saxophone softly
As Lady was singing a waltz
With the evening breeze as a counter point,
And the neighbor’s water sprinkler
Keeping time from across the street.
The curtains blew from the window above their heads.
From down the street, several blocks distant,
Almost to the corner store,
Happiness was was walking
Alone and dejected.
From up the street,
Past the corner where the grocery store was,
All the way past the old, vacant Presbyterian church,
The skinny girl was walking alone heading their way.
Lady had changed her tune, now humming softly
An ancient Irish hymn,
(Or was it a Mexican lullaby?),
Platypus followed with ease,
Leaning back in the grass
And closing his eyes to the sky.
The skinny girl and Happiness
Having arrived at the same time,
Slowly began their discourse:
“If Freedom is a Lady,
And Lady is a Queen,
Then Freedom is a Queen…”
Happiness stated categorically.
“Either Freedom’s a Lady, or—
But no, the alternatives are not so good…”
“What right have you to Happiness?”
Happiness is a knave,
He’ll play into your hand,
Happiness is vagrant and fleeting,
You play him and he’s gone,
Like a kiss in the night,
Like a shot in the dark,
Like a dog on the run,
But onward he spoke:
If Happiness is right, and right is supreme,
Then Happiness is supreme.”

The skinny girl;
Who until now, had not spoken,
Only said:
“That’s stupid,
For if Happiness is supreme,
What of the Queen?”
“Is the knave is a wild card
that he can trump all?”
“And what of the Joker,
He’s not been seen for awhile.”
Deduction pours facts
Down the funnel of reason,
Induction’s a shotgun blast
From the point of impact,
And Happiness stands to reason before the Queen.
But the skinny girl is no fool,
In the Parliament of cards,
She has made the rule.
And what of the impact of shooting stars
and striking metaphors? I guess it depends
on the point of impact.
Lady smiled and dealt another hand
From the lawn chair where she sat.
Platypus played on undisturbed.
Happiness comes and goes like a child.
And the skinny girl?
She’s a Lady.


(Platypus Playing Violin by A. Leon Miler)

Strawberry Fields (graphics and text by A. Leon Miler)

March 11, 2012
My desert strawberries.

We would wake up to the alarm going off a couple of hours before dawn, and stumble down to the glare of the kitchen light. Nobody ever talked too much at this time of the morning. We made our eggs, fried potatoes, and toast, ate, gathered up our sack lunches and headed out into the darkness.

At the time we lived in a small town sheltered at the base of Bald Peak called Laurelwood.. (We moved often, usually living in one place for less than a year.) Our house was at the end of a gravel road on the hill above Laurelwood. On one side, over a small brook lay a barley field, on two other sides were logged out clear cut areas growing back in columbine, fireweed, vaccinium, and assorted other things. In front, and below our house was the gravel road where we would wait in the darkness for the farmer’s old flatbed stakeside truck to come up the road, yawning and rubbing our eyes into wakefulness in the cold, damp, morning air.

We got to the field as the sun was just clearing the horizon. No one spoke above a hushed whisper. It just didn’t feel right. The row boss would come along and assign each picker a row. We would grab our berry carriers, go to our rows, and silently start picking. The plants were drenched with the cold morning dew, with the berries cold and wet to the touch. That was alright. Wet berries weighed more than dry berries even if they were cold and clammy. We got paid by the pound. I was eight years old, and this was the first time I got my own row to pick.

Morning Light

I promised myself I would not eat a strawberry at least until mid morning, a promise I usually could not keep, and doubt I could keep even now. I think I would concur with Izaak Walton (1593–1683) and his friend “… as Dr. Boteler said of strawberries, Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did…”

As the sun rose and slowly warmed the air, the bob white quail could be heard in the surrounding open fields. Occasionally a rooster pheasant would be heard startled by something and equally startling that something as he bolted from the brush. Layer by layer, the coat would come off to be tied around my waist, followed by the long sleeved shirt, leaving the white t-shirt between me and the sun. People started chatting and laughing as they worked, filling their berry flats with strawberries.  Occasionally a berry would be slyly thrown by one of us younger pickers, usually aimed at a deserving target, all the while making sure that the row boss was not anywhere in sight.

Further in the morning as the sun headed to noon, meadowlarks sang in the open fields, and we all headed off to take a half hour lunch break in the shade of an adjoining woodlot: white bread and bologna, or peanut butter and jelly, or the classic pinto beans mashed with mayonnaise and chopped onion on white bread. The adults always had their coffee filled thermoses.

The woods were a place of coolness even on the hottest of days. This was a place where the yellow wood violets resided along with wood sorrel and prostrate Oregon grape-barberries. The woods were a mixture of vine maple and wild cherry, Douglas fir and red cedar, and around the margins, alders, wild roses and sweet smelling thimble berries;- and, of course, wild strawberries strewn with abandon across the woodlot floor mixed in with dewberry brambles.

The afternoon was short. Red tailed hawks soared in the updrafts as kestrels hunted for grasshoppers or mice in the open fields, sometimes hovering stationary in a gust of breeze. Around 2 pm, we would do our final weigh in of berries so the trucks could transport them to the canneries for processing. We would climb back aboard the flatbed truck for the trip back down the mountain and onward to home, almost as quiet as the morning ride.

The seasons of summer could be measured by the smell of berries: 1st, and best were strawberries, followed by raspberries, followed by blackberries, with trips to the mountains in between to gather wild blueberries- or huckleberries depending on your point of view. Picking raspberries and blackberries always earned more money, but strawberries were always the most pleasant.





(The last 4 images are: 1. Columbine, 2. Wood Sorrel, or Oxalis (watercolor), 3. Kestrel (watercolor), 4. Chamomile and Viola)

Three Rivers Petroglyphs (graphics and text by A. Leon Miler)

February 12, 2012

Sieirra Blanca

The Jornada Mogollon people lived at the foot of Sierra Blanca in the Tularosa Basin on a stream that flowed year round from the surrounding Sacramento Mountains. They lived there for 500 years until a 2 year drought struck around 1400. The streams that came down from the mountains into the desert dried up never to return. The inhabitants left, perhaps to other Mogollon settlements further west, or joined one of the pueblos on the Rio Grande, or perhaps to Mexico. They never developed a large pueblo complex as many of the other settled farming tribes did, rather, they lived in pit houses, grew their squash, corn, beans and cotton, and gathered and hunted for the rest of their provision.

For 500 years they lived there, had children there, grew old there. For 500 years they also left their images on the rocky hill overlooking their homes, images of turkeys, rabbits, people, hands, geometric abstraction; the things of their world. They sang songs in a language none of us will ever know, they had their dances, their feast days, their high holidays, good days, and bad days. Young men and young women fell in love, and looked at each other the way young lovers do. Children laughed and played. Men went off to work the fields or hunt. Women gathered together to grind the corn, chat, and make the clothes from yucca and cotton; warm blankets from turkey feathers and cotton tail fur. The sounds have all blown away in the wind, the dreamers with their dreams have all gone, but the writing on the rock remains. The images are still there.

At 5000 feet in altitude, and 10 percent humidity, the stars on a moonless night are spectacular. The Milky Way is a cloud of stars. On cold winter nights, Orion’s belt hangs brilliantly, Sirius blazing bright, Betelgeuse is a bright twinkling red , and in the dark the coyotes are talking. I’m told Betelgeuse would fill half of our solar system, and yet on our speck of dust, the wind still blows, sometimes gently, sometimes not.

500 years of dreams, where voices echoed, the voices now are only transient visitors just passing through. They leave and the wind keeps on blowing, scouring out the discordant noise.  But the stones still stand and in silence speak to those who have ears.

A 2nd response to the question “What is Avant Garde?” (graphics and text by A. Leon Miler)

January 24, 2012

Coyote was avant garde, quick on his feet, and smarter by far than the rest of us. Being quite clever he always sought new ways to exploit his environment, not for anything all that bad, but for the aesthetic of it, and maybe for food. It wasn’t that Coyote tried to be avant garde; he didn’t really think about it. While others ran well defined and familiar rabbit trails, Coyote would just casually pick up a bit here, a bit there, like a junkyard thief, passing unnoticed, an Egyptian bone, a scrap from Ishtar’s gate, an Etruscan urn, all served up with just a twist of fate.

Like the wild horses that run the other side of the Rio Grande, Raven liked to run with the wind. She rode the updrafts ever higher. She was not known for the quality of her voice; it really wasn’t all that good, mostly just croaks and cawings. Late that night, though, she began singing melodiously, haunting and beautiful, an ancient tune though the words were not, a sweet, sweet song:

“The star tree spreads its branches over fish,

Whose dreams are difficult to catch with bait,

Or webs and pennies tossed out on a wish

That slip from human hands to heaven’s gate.

Bow down the branches; shake the starry fruits;

The fish will pause and rise to taste the air.

Lean on the water, grasping at the roots,

Then bait your bucket with a song and prayer.

The fish you catch will disappear from sight;

The river’s own will snatch your song’s good cheer,

Then fill your dreams with bucketfuls of night,

Of stars and fish lost in the atmosphere.

Then bait your bucket with a song and prayer,

Of stars and fish lost in the atmosphere,

That slip from human hands to heaven’s gate,

That slip from human hands to heaven’s gate.”

Far below her, Raven saw a twinkle on the river bank. Far below her, Coyote saw a small light in the darkened night. As they both drew closer, a small fire burning resolved itself inside a circle of stones on a bank overlooking the river. While no one in particular was looking, Coyote dashed in, grabbed a burning brand and disappeared into the dark trailing a row of embers behind him. Raven rose up following on quiet wings trying to divine the Coyote’s actions.

Coyote was avant garde, and avant garde is a fire.  If the fuel is good, it keeps you warm and light, if not, the embers just float off into the night bravely challenging the stars for a moment.

(Poem by Jill Domschot)

After the Flood

After the Flood

In response to the question “What is Avant Garde?”(graphics and text by A. Leon Miler)

January 18, 2012

“Avant Garde.” It has a nice ring to it. Sir Walter Ralegh, the 16th-17th century English poet, writer, explorer, while writing his “History of the World”, said “He who follows truth too closely at the heels might get kicked in the teeth…” so I’ll try not to get too close:
They say that Aphrodite washed up like a Barbie doll on a clam shell on a beach in Cyprus. I would suggest that what really happened was that an Egyptian teenaged guy was carving the proto-Barbie on a piece of wood, got bored, tossed it in the Nile, and watched it float downstream where it entered the sea and ultimately got washed up tangled in seaweed and clam shells on the Cyprus beach. A Greek sailor found it, and from there the story kind of got out of control.
Sandro Botticelli painted the definitive Aphrodite-Venus-Barbie. I did a painting of Sandro B.’s lady, only I dressed her up as a cafe waitress. I was just trying to make her respectable. I realized he must have used a man for the model, and worked hard to feminize the figure. I had to slim her way down to get her into that waitress uniform…
Effect or Affectation?
Rubens’ Venus would have capsized the clam shell. As good a painter as Rubens was, a lot of his rotund people ended up looking a wee bit silly. Manet must have been of somewhat the same opinion. When he painted “Olympia” he took away all the affectation and ended up not with a nude, but a naked lady. This shocked a lot of people at the time. They thought it was just a little vulgar. Maybe if he had dressed her up with just a small amount of affectation, just the slightest casting back of the eyes with moistened and slightly parted lips…
So was Manet being Avant Garde? Olympia certainly has more effect than affectation, and the painting has always been slightly amusing to me.
I wonder what would happen if you used a Mayan hieroglyphic motif to re-translate Olympia what the effect would be? It couldn’t be the end of the world.
Has there ever been a good Avant Garde greeting card?

Luminarias, 2014 Update (graphics and text by A. Leon Miler)

December 13, 2011
"Polar Bear Luminarias" 14" x 18" oil painting.

“Polar Bear Luminarias” 14″ x 18″ oil painting for the 2014 Luminarias on the Plaza.

My 1st Luminaria

1st Luminarias on the Plaza art.

Luminarias, or faralitos are a standard part of a New Mexico Christmas.  They are placed on the pathways leading up to your door way to help light the way for the Christ child.  This was part of the Las Posadas celebration, where for nine nights before Christmas, Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging is re-enacted, with each night a different house being the house to proclaim they had room;- and food for the weary travelers.  The travelers sang carols along the route.

Also called “luminarias” were the bonfires lit to guide people to the church on Christmas Eve.  This is still done in some places.

Now, people put the luminarias out as another part of their Christmas decorations.

The 6 paintings shown here I painted for our annual Luminarias on the Plaza Art Walk that is part of the City of Socorro’s celebrations welcoming the start of the Christmas season.  This is done in conjunction with Socorro’s Electric Light Christmas parade and lighting of the Christmas tree on the Plaza.

The final photo is Socorro’s plaza decked out with the luminarias all lit.

Luminaria 2007

Lighting the Luminarias on the Plaza. This is a 24 x 34 oil painting.

Watercolor painting for the 2009 Luminarias on the Plaza Poster

Watercolor painting for the 2011 Luminarias on the plaza.

Luminarias on Socorro’s Plaza

The Annual Migration (graphics and text by A. Leon Miler)

November 29, 2011

They come to Bosque del Apache every fall to watch the annual migration of photographers who usually arrive at dawn, bundled up in their warmest clothing, and burdened down with massive amounts of camera equipment.

The sandhill cranes chatter a bit among themselves, commenting on the migration, and then fly out, dispersing up and down the Rio Grande valley checking out the corn, chili, and alfalfa fields for breakfast.

The photographers also slowly disperse, usually looking for hot coffee and, perhaps, a breakfast burrito.


I have attempted to come up with some different approaches to presenting sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis).   Enjoy & comment.




Colored Pencil

Colored Pencil


Pen & Ink

Pen & Ink

Mixed Media


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