Penny McElroy

A Doorway to a Doorway

A Doorway to a Doorway

Patricia Geary

We love the experience of glimpsing someone else¹s creativity because it is revealing and intimate: a doorway into the mind of the artist, the inspiration and the hesitation, the intelligence and the fear. Penny McElroy¹s exquisite sketchbook, accompanied by evocative poems and messages, reveals the inner workings of her intriguing process and yet remains as fleetingly elusive as her rich body of work itself. As she writes in her attending commentary: Inside, you feel left out in the cold / all good is inside, inaccessible to you.

McElroy¹s haunting sketches and poems stress, almost invariably, her deep and unrelenting longing for the Other.  Lovers shall soon be separated. A child is juxtaposed with train tracks and the unknown, brooding distance: the tale of parting. Doorways lead to mysterious landscapes, which are only glimpsed, never entered. Hands reach up to giant birds in flight, birds that will never take the seeker/ the child/ the artist to the secret garden that she longs to enter. Ladders like star light on still water travel to what can only be glimpsed as a world of remote clouds, trapped in bubbles or reflected in the mirror of the ineffable. Children gaze longingly at remote passageways A door, a garden / the usual story.

A smile must have windows, McElroy tells us. But where do these windows lead? She sees the world running away. And still she reminds us: You remember the forest / planted for you.

These images are planted for the viewer. How beautiful it is under the shadow she remarks, revealing the lonely child, the stairs, and the doorway. We are free to fly on prisoners¹ wings, and she shows us birds¹ cages like balloons, clouds captured in impossible bubbles.

Perhaps most revealingly of all, more than the lost land of the dream world, the tearing apart of the lovers she could not bear it and the road that may never be taken, McElroy writes: She couldn¹t help it, she was afraid. / The beautiful dark wood / the proud white door. As the hands reach up, always beckoning, always searching, the giant, commanding rose blooms in the distance: And his spirit / followed her.  But shall we ever be allowed to walk through that doorway?

In the center of it all, The Magician, she tells us. The artist remains in the center, always beseeching us to enter but never quite letting us inside. The state of longing is an exquisite and hidden labyrinth, and McElroy teases us into believing that we may journey with her, into her complicated and elusive world of windows and doorways and pathways, and blue ravens. In the both exciting and contemplative process of experiencing her sketchbook, we are left with the illusion of on allusion, like a beam of radiant light.  And each time we experience these evocative images and haunting words, we believe, yet again, that one day we shall cross that disappearing threshold.



This essay (©Patricia Geary) first appeared in Everyday Mystery: a sketchbook by Penny McElroy. The book is available on


Patricia Geary is an artist, novelist and poet who lives and works in Redlands, CA.