Artist Talk - The mountain beneath the soul

Recently I had an art opening and poetry reading at a fantastic gallery space called, Phoenix. Here is the transcript of the talk I gave that evening.

“Welcome and thank you for coming. My name is David Nyquist. The art, writing and poetry you see tonight is mine.

I’d like to introduce myself tonight in a way maybe you don’t yet know me.  

I am a mystic

Being a mystic is a way of life -    not by religious order, but by a love for contemplation, quiet, and stillness. 

These “spaces” that I create throughout my life are not ends to themselves but doorways to a rich spirituality woven into the essence of the natural world. 

Spending time “awake” in the natural world has taught me how to receive a deep sense of belonging to my life that surpasses my insecurities, is helping me to overcome my selfish ambitions, and is freeing me to love more the things in this world that I find difficult to love.  To this transforming experience I ascribe the word “Belonging”.  This is a belonging that understands no national borders, nor any reason for shame.  It is the interconnectedness and interdependency of all creation.

I realize for some of you this sounds too woo woo; too high minded or idealistic to be of any practical good.  I will grant you that.   

And yet, in this place of belonging,   what I know is that if we all belong, and we are all different, then it is for some of us to write, to paint or to sing for the the high minded ideals that will restore our humanity, and for others to resonate with this inspiration and discover their part in the whole, their work on behalf of what is GOOD and right and just.

So, I am first a mystic.  My spiritual practices deeply inform my creative practices.  

My paintings are an attempt to capture the essence of what life feels like for me, and likely what life has felt like for you.  For example, I worked on the Marooned Series for several months.   

They are each distinct, and yet they came from a time in my life when I was learning how to trust the unknown and how to trust life and others when I am not control. Because the natural world is my great teacher, without conscious intent, I find myself using the imagery of oceans, fire, light and darkness to communicate my experience.

It was just 3 years ago that poetry found me. I was in Guatemala with a group of Westerners for an immersive experience into Societal Injustices for a Master’s program.  We were driving down a highway outside of Guatemala City - after leaving La Limonada, which is the largest slum in Central America.  I couldn’t keep it together. I pulled my hat over my eyes and wept silently for what I had seen. Moments later I had a pen and paper and was drafting this poem - La Miseria. 

La Miseria


Weave our way

into your tapestry of pain

through streets

     carved 

into the womb

     of a nation

daughters and sons

     of oppression 

fathers and mothers 

     whose confession

can not be written

     will not be heard

though their blood 

     cries out

          "No more words!”

It paints the walls

     and makes holy 

the stream

     at the bottom

of this ravine

     whose coarse is charted

by mounds of garbage

     and buried dreams

 Please,

     in your overcrowded

home 

     of discard 

and smoke

     across Devil's bridge

at the bottom of

     hope

make room for my heart

     I leave it with you

weave in me your

     unspoken truth

La Limonada, Guatemala City


Returning home I entered back into a world that seemed more upside down than the one I had just left.  Being American is a difficult identity to embrace when you consider the many genocides and human rights violations that have secured and continue to secure for us our land, resources and wealth.

My experience in Guatemala shook me awake, and pushed me deeper into the marriage of my spiritual and creative practices.  

One of the ways I learned to confront my grief and outrage was by taking slow walks. Slow walks happen at the sort of pace that makes other people wonder if there is something wrong with you. 

But a slow walk actually slows everything down; thoughts, heart rate, attention span, our bodies, and it helps create a present-moment awareness.

Here are three poems from three such walks.

Birdsong

I’m turned around, 

looking down the dirt path 

I have just tread.

Why did I come so far

unthinkingly? 

Some fear or grief 

arrested my mind

and stole my body 

as I strode the 

familiar path home.

I have no recollection 

of the paces which 

have brought me 

to this point.

The birdsong I long to know 

has yet to become my own.

Wasting the hours 

The evening sun is bright 

and I want 

an unvarnished look 

at my neighborhood. 


I’ve never noticed 

how this young tree 

bends toward the sidewalk 

just beyond the brace 

of its formative years. 


Further down the path 

I become the man 

spied by boys 

while tying his shoe. 


I am avoidant;

of their eyes 

(and the story 

they conjure about me);

of the smell of the estuary 

(as she purges herself of our shame);


of the cars reproval 

(for my slow, meandering way);


until this moment,

when the smell 

of some blossom 

stops me in my tracks,


and I linger like a fool 

with my nose in the air;


but it has gone,

and I 

for the life of me, 

cannot find it's source.

A Walk Within a Walk

Tracing my steps 

on a well worn path to sea

I can easily miss the beauty

as I pine for a mountain to climb. 

The sound of a jet plane above, 

an electric saw 

reverberating across the estuary,

a city shimmering on 

the bay in spring

as I seek the solitude 

of one alone with nature.

Time to begin again.


The mountain 

will soon rise before me, 

but not before the tide comes in, 

and with it an abundance of life.


I have come from 

the dust, mud, and clay, 

like the mustard flower,

the beetle, 

and the tide, 

which needs little help 

returning to shore.

Neither the writing, reading nor publishing of these poems, nor the making of paintings is enough to assuage my outrage over the many injustices in the world, and nor should they be.  

As much as I’d like my contemplative practices to heal the world of its ailments, both human and nonhuman, they really only serve to help me know how to better respond. There are times that a slow walk takes me further away from the point of inspiration I needed to find in my outrage and grief.  

This next poem is  A Keening for Liberty.  A keening is the sound of wailing you might hear at a funeral that goes on for days, in a place where they understand what to do with their grief.

A Keening for Liberty 

There are no new frontiers.  We have claimed them all. To 'own' untamed wild will cost us a lifetime of societal enslavement. 

Now 40 acres might suffice, but recompense has yet to come and so we wait (as sons and daughters do) for our parents to lead us into truth; but truth is lost on a piece of land somewhere between the coasts of my body. 

When we speak of such things it is better to ignore the tide that rises in the throat threatening to consume an honest reflection, lest perception be won by those who think that winning is the same as victory. 

Powers that be, your lot may be large but you are too small to see the forest for the trees which block your view and yet shelter me. 

In hidden places of the mind, where a man can truly be free, I sway gently in the breeze as my roots go down deep into a land you cannot see.  


As a mystic and contributor of creative things to our world, I have tendency to seek solitude. I’ve found that if I am attentive to the needs of my soul then I will show up better as a husband, father and friend.  This next poem was written after spending nearly a week in one house with four other families who are some of our best friends.

Together

From our separate, hurried lives

we come together to savor again

the intimacy of belonging.

We swim through hot days

which dwindle all too fast

into evening.

 Then rest our weary bodies 

in close quarters

for the comfort we find in the 

soul of companionship.

The armchairs are where

spoken dreams are born 

or laid to rest.

Around the table

candles illuminate

our dark nights

with laughter 

and memories.

Our song is witnessed 

only by the stars who 

hold space above

and remind us of our own

eternal brevity.

This crease in time 

gathers the sacred waters 

of our friendship.

Here we learn to swim

and find strength

to meet our unknown horizons;

Where grow the promise

of thorn and thistle,

though the child within 

shall find an abundance of fruit.

Arnold, California

Cherishing one’s self is important, and if we learn to do that well, we will also cherish others, and hopefully find language to speak it forth. 

This final poem is called Friendship, and while it was written after a lovely evening with my friends Sarah and Tom, it goes out to all of you with whom I have ever had the pleasure of sharing a fire or an intimate conversation. 

Again, thank you again for being here tonight.

This is Friendship

Friendship

Friendship ablaze 

around my hearth

like starlight, 

the afterglow of being seen.

Our words wove a tapestry 

into the night sky.

Threads of long suffering 

bound by glimmering hope and 

dark, unspeakable grief.

Now I sit alone, 

an ember.

The warmth is a memory

to which I return

until winds that blow

fan our flames 

once again.”