“This the room he painted to cradle the boy he was.
The painter’s step, the sleepers think, is the floor settling.
His breath against their skin, they think a draft or the night’s cold.”
-Janice Harrington, “Topoanalysis,” in response to Horace Pippin’s painting Asleep
Sometimes I think we’re all still children. And toddlers, and infants, I suppose, and adults; we’re cooks and gardeners, writers and window washers. Part of me is still knee deep in a pond in the early 90s, watching the pollywogs wiggle, swept up in the fullness of life that isn’t mine, and part of me is the child a week later, bored by the polliwogs my parents let me catch. Part of me is the child kneeling by the glass weeks after that, wondering how I missed the change, the moment when they grew legs and grew up and became something new. Those are just a few of the spaces in my mind.
In “Topoanalysis,” Janice Harrington shows us a painter, Horace Pippin, as he goes back through two world wars (one of which he fought in) and five decades to the room where he was a boy. She lets the painter walk through that room, step on that floor, see that child. She watches Horace Pippin paint a room “to cradle the boy he was.”
I think we’re all still children: kids with skinned knees who feel like they have no one to talk to, or kids who feel smothered, or kids who learned too early that hugging isn’t cool. And we’re supported, loved children, too: children snuggled up to hear stories, children exploring the creek, children gathering magic stones. Harrington suggests that these moments don’t need to stay locked in the past. We can go back to them, like her painter. We can cradle the children we were. I wonder what rooms I still live in, asking something, needing something; what did I need to hear? I wonder what rooms you still live in. And if you can find your way back there, if you can paint that room with color or words or sounds, can you recreate your perspective? Can you paint the scene with open blinds, so you can see the trees outside your moment of hurt, the trees you climbed in later that same day? Can you cradle this child so it can sleep, deeply and safely, and wake up rested?
Reading Harrington, I think you can. I think I can. I want to keep thinking about this. I want to find the rooms I live in, and paint them to cradle the children I am.