When first he lived in that city he roamed the streets, returning
at evening to find a place for his box and curled inside he slept.
He was from Seattle, but he was in Los Angeles then, gathering
the materials he would transform into tableaux only he imagined.
Joseph Petta Jr. The Doors of Heaven and Hell, The Jinni’s Out:
the first is on memory’s wall, the second on the bungalow wall.
A clock’s doors open and inside is a wolf fronting the landscape
with–is she Red Riding Hood? or a more inflected replica of fear,
of a young, brave face whose beauty lies in her indomitable will,
intransigence, a quality boys know, even if they keep such secrets
concealed lest the doors fail to open when her hand turns a knob,
and the doors of heaven and hell refuse to yield, wind seals them,
and life’s brief tremor receives its hoary pall. In the other picture
a great red monster of its own closed space has found a way out,
one red arm raising a red hand above the gray helmet it wears,
eyes incommunicado, unaccustomed even to moonlight, reaching
perhaps for the orange moon that, if it turned from your eyes,
would wait until the cloud had sliced its middle, hovering over
the hand lifting out of its red chest. All else you must remember.
Petta lived on Alki Beach, in a house he was building, knowing
it might be washed away if he were not careful to build it as far
above the waters without girdling the asphalt walkway, and his
wife helped him. What was her name? Dave Cole would know,
and so would Doug Harper. Bobby was with them one Sunday.
The beams and rafters were up. Petta showed them the blueprint.
He said, Water stirs my imagination, I will never lack for desire
to paint. Here now I feel the sculptor’s need to chisel from the air
a habitat for my wife, for our kids. The children were sleeping
after rising with the dawn, as their father did out of habit daily.
They slept in bedrolls on the sand, blankets spread under them.
The Pacific kept time by its waves. So this was how art is made.
Dave Cole bought The Jinni’s Out and gave it to Bobby for his
birthday: So many years ago you open the doors and see your
youth gliding between Paradise and Pandemonium. Remember
the love of comrades in the bleak, rainy winter of their departure.
Petta went above Seattle, above Bellingham, to the town he found
once the war was on and art was indulgence in the eyes of many.
Dave said he didn’t know what happened to The Doors of Heaven
and Hell. Petta told him it was sold but to whom, for how much,
or where it was now, he did not know. Petta was casting jewelry,
thick slabs of gold and onyx and emerald light enough to wear
but with the sheen of weight that frightened most women away,
while a few loved it so much they wore it for their men in bed.
Joseph Petta was the first artist whose work would open doors
Bobby went through, or so it seemed. He tried for years to find
the words for what lay behind the doors, above the jinni’s hand.
He lived his childhood briefly, when his grandmother Murphy
showed him the books, read him to sleep, and upon waking
he let the images work on him until his own words appeared
on paper like a magic slate. That was how you started over.
His grandma showed him how to see through but not beyond
windows. She kept his mother beyond the doors of her house.
With ritual his grandma drove him to the redhaired woman’s
address and let him out on the sere lawn before driving on.
His mother was twice as tall as he. She had a voice he loved.
She showed her men the door. They gave pleasure, she said;
he would know that word once he learned what a body needs.
Bobby would never be lonely then. But what did lonely mean?
When he was much older Bobby hitched to L. A. and lived
how Dave and DG told him Petta learned what his life had
waiting if he did not begin now to search for what he loved.
When he found her she found him. With love art was made.
(14 March 2012)
copyright 2012 by Floyce Alexander