In The Museum of Primitive Art
“Who said the dead are dead,”
the Thing in the showcase said.
“We are sent here to learn the lessons of toil.
We are sent here to improve the soil.
We are instruments of reality:
experiments in immortality.”
My mother, Cella Coffin, wrote this in 1964. I will share more of her poetry in the future, but this is perhaps the most appropriate poem she wrote for this website. She introduced me to art at very young age, taking me along with her when she modeled for artists like the Soyer brothers in New York City. My earliest memories include the smell of turpentine and oil paints in their studios.
Here is one painting of her (she is wearing the red sweater on the left):
Farewell to Lincoln Square by Raphael Soyer, 1959
Here she is again:
Cella in Red by Rafael Soyer
I love this poem because it not only speaks to art, but also the soil. I have a long background in horticulture therapy and urban agriculture, and these parts of my life aren’t separate, but part of a continuum – and they show up here in the same poem! Without my mother’s encouragement, I never would have imagined a life as an artist. She struggled her whole life to publish her poetry, and at one time papered a whole wall with rejection notices from publications that had turned her down. That didn’t stop her – she just wore it as a badge of honor. For most of my life, I placed my art on the back burner like my mother – she had to raise three children and poetry was a luxury for her. I’m honoring my mother’s work, and fulfilling a dream we both shared – to put our art on the front burner!