February 26, 2007
if you come to visit me
I will show you a
mountain made of gold,
a tree that tells fortunes,
a leaf that holds memory.
if you come to visit me,
I will even sing to you.
— Sabra Segal, b. 1938
American artist and poet
I have carried that poem around for thirty-two years. It’s on a card about 4 inches by 6 inches, the size of the cards I once used to take notes for research papers. I bought it in a vegetarian restaurant where I went sometimes for a cream cheese and chopped date sandwich and Yogi tea. The proprietor, a convert to Sikhism and vegetarianism whom I’d known in high school, always tried to get me to try something else — she said her cauliflower and peanut casserole was light and delicious, her bean stew good for fortifying the blood. But I wasn’t there for the philosophy. I was there for the cream cheese and chopped date sandwiches and the faintly hippiefied greeting cards and chapbooks and beaded bracelets. It was 1975, and though I had a very conventional job teaching high school English, I was still pretty tie-dyed and moonstruck.
The card features a line drawing of three fantastic creatures, all long necks and huge lips, with eyes stuck at odd angles and necklaces made of stars. The poem appealed to me. It was lyrical and unconventional, and of course I had someone in mind to send it to. I was waiting for the right time, closer to summer. There was a misunderstanding instead, a breach that resisted mending, and by Thanksgiving we were both married to others.
But I kept the card, always enthralled by the idea of a tree that tells fortunes and a leaf that holds memory. It’s yellowed around the edges now, from the acid in the paper, and there are some odd splotches on the words from its service as a placeholder in my calligraphy workbook. From time to time I look at it, and at the name of the artist on the back — Sabra Segal, Woodstock, N.Y.
What did we do before Google? In recent weeks I’ve been finding and collating bits of poetry and fragments of wisdom I have written down on whatever scrap of paper was at hand when I encountered them. Last week the Sabra Segal card fell out of a volume of poems I’d bought in Ireland, and I googled her name.
Sabra Segal, whose work can be seen at the VARGA Gallery in Woodstock, New York, was born in Boston and has had an extensive education as an artist. She works in ceramic, gouache, mixed media, and collage. She is also a poet. When I began looking at the images, bands of color over words and spirally strings, I thought, oh my, that’s it. That’s what I’ve been seeing in my head when I’ve said, repeatedly over the last two or three years, I want to put some color in my life, some color in my notebooks.
Woodstock, New York is, if you want it to be, on the way to Vermont from central Pennsylvania. I signed the guestbook on the VARGA site, and got back a cheery note from Christina Varga, expressing Sabra’s delight and urging me to arrange a visit when I’m in the region.
Wow. One more reason to be excited about summer.
I will even sing to her.