California Dry Tethered

brown mountains and field under a blue sky with white clouds
The radio plays back 
as she named me after an opera.
My mother painting me again

I was her easiest model
for practicing various lives on a face
I treasure these paintings -- the ones in which she recognized herself at work
And in the visible.

Without her to drag through the sunshine, 
I hug along the coast to ride the pearl.
We used to glance at the shutter just as it closed, 
the graphic before things have arisen
in the sunset sky.

Some glints of paint and zirconium asphalt spill into their own poem.

California – its contents stay dry.
The window dressing and restraint it must take not to sweat.
Only paintings know these secret things.

The opposite is opposition -
old dry nails hammered slightly into white plaster walls.
My mother’s paintings and those of other painters hang precariously and could fall any time

We wait, we dry out into plaster, and become the wall.
The dry and cold of a California I never mastered is coming back in plumes of hot pink, pueblo orange, and chartreuse yellow smile color.

My friend, a horse whisperer of plants, notices nearby piles of cacti carcasses left out in the air, -- they cling to the ground, lay, garnish, attempt.

Poem by Vanessa Hedwig Smith

Vanessa Hedwig Smith is a painter and filmmaker who has lived and worked in India, Nepal, England, and the US. Her series of 94 short films, The Art of Impermanence, was shown for six months at a satellite show to the Venice Biennale. Most of her work revolves around: process; ethics; beauty; health; spirituality; and the environment. Her work can be seen at She holds a BA from Stanford in Urban Design, an MA from Columbia in Anthropology, and is studying at The Writing Institute at Sarah Lawrence.