In a corner of Seattle that sees a particularly diverse crowd, BONFIRE Gallery is a cultural whirl of activity. Shoko Zama and Joan (Thornbrugh) Laage dance Butoh in the shop windows to a varying line-up of musicians. Behind them are large, gilded canvases which reflect upon that which transpires in front of them, adding a layer of dimness appropriate to the meanings of their dance. Further in, there are more large paintings tracing energy and movement, the shape of an arm, perhaps, moving in harmony with the shifting shadows. Hung along the western wall, intimate and intense, David Thornbrugh’s words and Shoko Zama’s smaller paintings echo and rebound. Their deep resonance both defies and embraces the ideas and ideals of culture.

There is an inner meaning expressed through Shoko Zama’s act of creation, cataloguing a moment in her world. Her smaller paintings are assembled from scraps of shimmering fabric, pearly buttons, and parts of dictionaries, washed with watercolor and marked with gel pen. Words from the dictionary fragments are her inspiration for these paintings. Walking by these paintings, their glistening draws the gaze and lends a three-dimensional aura.

Shoko Zama, “Wrath of God: How Do You Define Art?”


Wrath of God:

How Do You Define Art?


Looked at too closely and too long,

the commonplace becomes strange,

no more familiar than the back side of the moon.

Take the quotidian to the extreme,

and the foreground is the background,

the stage setting all there is

and no backstage beyond the painted screen.

Think of the alchemist on his knees

at the edge of the landscape in the medieval manuscript

poking his head through the scrim of stars

into the spectrum of colliding galaxies,

where winged horses roller skate down rainbows

and angels giggle as they pee lemonade.

The foreground is what you break your nose against,

and the background is here your grandparents are buried,

gnawing through Old World tombstones

like horny gophers. What are you looking at?

The world bristles with beauty

the way cats stare at premonitions none of us can see,

but suspect are coming for us.


Shoko Zama, “Bluejay Moon & Gossip Mushrooms: One Definition of Flying”


Bluejay Moon & Gossip Mushrooms:

One Definition of Flying


My head is filled with bird words:

flight plan, bird’s eye view, soaring, tweeting.

A bird’s worth is a mouthful of song

slung at the dawn with no expectation of reward.

Bird words call up the sun without any preamble

or constitutional convention,

though birds once had a conference.

Bird words reflect the first sound

on the recently aerated planet,

one big rock in a parking lot of blackness.

You can be born as naked as any jaybird,

but you can’t fly without letting go of the ground.

3 Snake Charmers:

Beyond Definition


We’d been hiking since the end of the last ice age.

We were getting close to the end of the trail,

breathing hard and sweating,

what we call get smelling the barn,

when a blur passed us.

What the hell? I yelped,

my pack riding low on my back

like a continent resisting subtonic plates.

It was three button-headed runners,

my wife said, her eyes like saucers.

No, they’re very rare around here, I said.

I’m sure of it, she said,

Red ones, like the eyes of demons.

Now don’t exaggerate, I said.

You know there’s no such things as demons.

I was whistling past the graveyard.

Everybody knows the sight of button heads

is a sign someone is going to give birth,

and neither of us was pregnant.

Not even with meaning.




All photographs are generously provided by BONFIRE Gallery. Copyright remains with the respective artists: William Gaylord, photographs; Shoko Zama, paintings; David Thornbrugh, poetry. Please visit BONFIRE at

–Martha Dunham

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