the sea of its whiteness must be ironed
and the hands go and go,
the sacred surfaces are smoothed
and that’s the way things are made:
hands make the world each day. — Pablo Neruda
My mother, Faye Markin, was a deep thinker and feeler, and brilliant classical pianist. Like many pre-feminist, women artists in her day, she had a particularly difficult road, was often troubled and distracted in her life. Sad to say, she died quite young, at age 47.
So I am equally grateful for the other center of my early world, Millie Barry, who was basically our nanny. She modeled for me many, many things.
How to have joy. How to have an open heart. How to be down to earth and, at the same time, inspired and responsible to a higher vision of earthly and heavenly life. I so identified with Millie that when I meet African Americans I am surprised if they speak of me as a white guy. My heart is white and black.
Millie touched not only us kids, but everything in the house with a delicate, clear touch that was equally artful as the way my mother touched our Steinway piano’s keys playing Bach and Chopin.
Millie taught me how to iron. How to show care, to smooth out the wrinkles of life from the fabric, and to bring heat and pressure to bear and to pay clear attention to these second skins we choose.
To this day, I am grateful to her as I “iron up the erectors”. Those backs of our (and hers – I was privileged to work on her during the last years of her life) get so bent out of shape, at the end of each day we often need to be smoothed out literally and figuratively. The “tracks of our tears”, fears, and life tensions, go not only down our face, but also our backs.
Perhaps this whole planet, as Neruda suggests, needs to smoothed and stretched – with humanity and kindness, restored to the sacred flexibility that all of nature needs and deserves.
So I dedicate this fulcrum – “Ironing Up the Erectors” – to honor Millie Barry and all the love she gave me. Thank you, Millie Barry (1913-2005).