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Deep, Bog, Night, by Fred H. C. Liang

I bought this painting by Fred Liang last year after my mother died. It was part of a gorgeous show of Liang’s work at Bernie Toale’s gallery in the South End of Boston. From the minute I saw it, I felt as though I had found the perfect repository for my newly acquired funereal sensibilities.

The image here is painfully inadequate; Liang is known primarily as a printmaker, so his layering of the paint is actually more reminiscent of a wood engraving, with elegaic lines reflecting the cross grain of wood and the surgical exactness that can be etched into that hard surface. There is an underpainting of reticulated white lines that is also hard to see in this image, as if the nappy velvet of the dominant black forms is still jockeying for dominance. Perhaps the white substrate is in fact another way to see death (a concept in several Asian traditions) and the black is more representational of what we know as the terrestrially material. And a small patch of mint green in the lower right quadrant (which is not delectable at all in this reproduction), subtly threads itself between the black and the white, offering another anchor of a completely different order.

To be truthful, assignation of significance for any of these forms doesn’t really matter to me. This painting, hanging close at hand and in my sights every day, is an ongoing source of mystery and awe. And every time I look into it I feel I am giving death a pass, offering it some familiarity in a life that, until recently, had little congress with its irrevocability.

My friend Bonnie’s service yesterday was just what she had outlined for herself over a year ago. She asked 4 of her friends, myself included, to speak on her behalf. Her husband Gerald also took a moment at the end to offer up his final adieu to his wife of nearly 50 years. As seems to be my experience with these memorials in the past, a few hours spent in communal remembrance of someone you love brings its own sense of completion. I came back home exhausted, but I did feel as if some arcs in me had completed their designated paths. Bonnie’s arc, one that spanned so many years of my life, has another home now.

A note for my readers who knew Bonnie, some of whom were not able to attend the service: Anyone who would like a copy of my tribute to her, please email me.