Only Mystery

“Sólo el misterio nos hace vivir, sólo el misterio.”

–Federico Garcia Lorca 

“Only mystery makes us live. Only mystery.”

img_2918The 2017-18 Rural Oklahoma Museum of Poetry exhibit ONLY MYSTERY ended September 21, 2018.

The information and photographs below are one way of archiving the exhibit. Some of the impromptu poems created by visitors to the exhibit and other items may appear in the museum annex when ROMP Rummage Store reopens this fall.

Only Mystery: An Archival Tour

The idea behind the exhibit Only Mystery was to imagine a house exploded by poetry. The “explosions” transformed the elemental structure of each room. Each “room” provided a different experience of poetry.

This exhibit is exceedingly personal and equally inviting. Over the last two years, visitors have added a wealth of their own poems to every room in the museum.

When I began working on the exhibit, I realized the exhibit was also (or maybe, really) about the lives of women.

–Shaun Perkins, ROMP director

The Living Room

The living room began as a project between my dad Amos Perkins and me. I wanted the living room to be the sea, and the poem to represent it would be Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck.” I first wrote the entire poem on the wall, and then Dad began painting over it. The motif of the ladder was brought in, and the rest came together from there.

I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

–Adrienne Rich, “Diving into the Wreck”

The Bathroom

The bathroom is a place where water is a physical sensation but not of wetness. The ribbons invite you in and also slow you down. This room has probably had the most interaction of all of them in the museum. When I hung the ribbons I had no idea people would use them for hanging their own poems, but the ribbons are now full of them. Dolls are the motif, and Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” was the inspiration.

This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.

–Marge Piercy, “Barbie Doll”

The Bedroom

The bedroom is the place of the body and earth, bone and gourd, flower and leaf. The bed is a wood display table full of what we, animals, and nature leave behind, and an actual bed spring is the wall, full of old photos of women in non-traditional garb and activities. Two wonderful paintings above the window were made by Sydney Schwichtenberg, who is pictured in the photo. The inspiration was Audre Lorde’s “Hanging Fire,” and the motif is skin.

what if I die
before morning
and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed.

–Audre Lorde, “Hanging Fire”

The Kitchen

The kitchen is the outside world where the “news” happens. It it provides for us or interferes with us so that we talk about that world over the kitchen table. The cabinet shelves are full of empty bottles containing poems on various weighty themes. The inspiration was Anne Sexton’s “Her Kind,” and the motif is news.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
–Anne Sexton, “Her Kind”

The Office

I was invited to a local house by a landlord to take some items I might sell in the ROMP Rummage Store. They were left after an elderly woman in our small town had died and the family had taken everything they wanted. The woman had been a seamstress, and there were boxes and boxes of quilts, clothes, and pillows she had made. I took them all, as they had been stored in a leaky shed and many were falling apart and ruined already. But besides all of that, she probably suffered from hypographia, the inability to stop writing. She wrote constantly, most of it not original but things copied from the Bible, advertisements, magazines, etc. and there were boxes of notebooks full of things she had written. Those papers and notebooks are piled up in this office. The inspiration was Richard Wilbur’s “The Writer,” and the motif is trees.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.
–Richard Wilbur, “The Writer”

The Parlor

The parlor is the only “room” in the museum that looks like a normal one. There has to be some brief rest from the madness. There is a comfortable chair and an invitation to write a letter to someone who can no longer receive it and leave it in the black letter-writing box. The inspiration was Sara Teasdale’s “Night,” and the motif is family.
 Look for a lovely thing and you will find it,
It is not far—
  It never will be far.
–Sara Teasdale, “Night”

The Laundry Room

Each room in this house was created using things on hand, so when the washing machine in the poet’s retreat broke, it was ripe for repurposing. The inspiration for the laundry room was Ella Wheeler Wilcox’s “Camouflage” and “Amphibians” by Joseph Legaspi. Clothes are our camouflage. And so is what we hide with them. The motif is socks.
Amphibians seek land; immigrants, other lands.
their colors brighten, camouflage.
–Joseph Legaspi, “Amphibians”

The Hobby Room

IMG_5058.JPGThis room is a tribute to my grandmother Ruby Wilkinson. The Raggedy Ann doll and other items in the room were made by her. The poet’s retreat was her house for many years. She was a master seamstress. The inspiration was “Rune of the Finland Woman” by Marilyn Hacker, and the motif is patterns.

She could plait a child’s hair with a fishbone comb.
She could tend a coal fire in the Arctic wind.
She could mend an engine with a sewing pin.
She could warm the dark feet of a dying man.

–Marilyn Hacker, “Rune of the Finland Woman”

The Closet

In the closet is where we put two things: our clothes and the things we want to keep but never look at. And that second item signals so much of the mystery of our lives. The inspiration for the closet is the actual book I wrote, The Book with the Beacon Lights, illustrated by Ray Grass and Betty Perkins (my mom). I hid my poetry in the closet until I was in college. Some of it is still there though. The motif is Perry Mason, who brings everything out into the light.

The Bait

Like her namesake and Sherlock Holmes before him,
Perry wants to forestall boredom and to work puzzles.

When she bought the bookstore, she also found
a safe beauty in old cursive words locked in time.

Mason couldn’t help being tantalized by an odd case.
Once Paul Drake said, “It’s a trap of some sort,”
and Mason replied, “Well, the bait interests me.”*

Perry’s bait, the altered book, exposes the mind
with its marginalia, the words having everything
to do with the writer and nothing to do with the text.

These notes and doodles represent pure truth.
There is no need to tell a lie in the margins.

In fact, why else write in a book unless you knew
it would embrace the hidden life you told no one about?

*from The Case of the Cautious Coquette

–Shaun Perkins, from The Book with the Beacon Lights