Seven Hundred Years ago–Haizi

7 Aug

Agnes Martin

By deliriumliberty

When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind.”

–Agnes Martin.


In the darkness of Chaco Canyon, over one of the larger Kivas, I spoke with a young Navajo man who wished to sleep with me, responding to his proposition by telling him that I wasn’t into men. Well, what was I doing here, he wanted to know.  That was a tough one, and I stammered something out about having studied Chaco Canyon at my university.

You’re on a quest, he said.  

Yeah, I admitted, something like that, a sort of an aimless quest that included living in my car in the Walmart Parking lot and rushing off from my six-day-a-week dishwashing job every seventh day  to see Pueblos and ruins. 

But the closest I got to a moment of enlightenment came about because I helped out an artist by the roadside.  He was driving a black model A and had run out of gasoline.  I can’t remember his name.  But because I helped him out, I got inducted into this circle of artists in Galisteo who all admired Agnes Martin.  I particularly enjoyed talking to the one-legged man who had invented a prosthetic leg and had it stolen by a corporation.  He did not have to work, since he had taken his Agnes Martins, which were gifts, and rented them out to a Museum in Paris.   Through him, I got vaguely acquainted with her as a sort of sage, an artistic savante, an orphic source of cryptic wisdom.

I had never been much a fan of abstract art, but I felt that I should use one seventh day to go to Pecos and have a look at these paintings that some said radiated the soft, inner fire of creation.  So I made the winding, forested trip from Santa Fe to Pecos, and I tracked down her miniscule gallery.

I sat a long time, despite a tearing pain up a long, hard muscle in my back.  I have to say that the experience for me was uplifting, serene, and deeply persuasive.  Years later, I sat with a roofer-mystic-jailbird who pointed out that if I looked deep into the sky, was peopled with swirling spots of light.  This was that same sort of giddy,  irridescent, meditative experience.

Ketro Chetl, Chaco Canyon

Now, I have another “quest”.  I am going to Haizi’s hometown–or as close as I can get to it.  My guide, my old girlfriend from a couple of years ago, hasn’t much interest, but she almost formulated a perfect trip, which would allow me to visit Hangzhou and Suzhou and the Yellow Mountain as well, but the tour company would not allow us to break off to search f or a bus treck to this backwater village in

Gray Stone II, Agnes Martin

Southern Anhui province. But whether she can use her saavy and come up with a plan B or not, there is a plan C.  Put the cash in my pocket, take up all the maps she printed, get in a taxi, and head to the airport and then to Shanghai and from there, take a train to Hefei and then on to Anqing, and so on.

Seven Hundred Years Ago

Haizi, translated from Chinese


All that remains today of the imperial city,

Seven-hundred years ago resplendent,

Is a shabby, grimy village.

In that year, I drove a horse packed with highland barley into the city;

I traded grain for eighteen heads.

Nine remain.  I have buried them in the center of the city—

Nothing has yet burst forth.

In a mountain cave, twelve wild beasts wail in unision,

Dreaming of becoming eagles.

A last cave upon the mountain peak,

Dreams vainly of sky.

A feeling invades me,

As if I were trudging a road, faint with hunger.

In the gloom, I scrawl my religious doctrine:

Untitled #2 1977

Once again on Earth:

Let there be light.


My work is non-objective… But I want people, when they look at my paintings, to have the same feelings they experience when they look at landscape, so I never protest when they say my work is like landscape. But it’s really about the feeling of beauty and freedom that you experience in landscape.

—Agnes Martin


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