walt whitman and the legal composting of the dead (20210411)

out of the ground
i steal a bucket of soil
from a previously dug grave
now a healed over wound
in the loamy earth

my theft is to make
a small amount of clay
not even a handful
an artistic experiment

(this is science)

(this is magic)

my breath is the breath
of my ancestors
and yours
my hands dig and mix and form
this clay
this body of our ancestors
what whitman has assumed
i have assumed

The First Head

SO, I started taking a sculpture class two years ago. I had never worked in any kind of art medium besides drawing (no, you won’t see any of those) since I was a teenager. Writing had been my thang for as long as I can remember. My stepfather was an artist and painted and encouraged me to do so, but when it came time to decide on a future, art major was argued down by both of my parents. No money it it, apparently.

So, almost 30 years later, I find myself somewhat disillusioned with my writing (no one wants my YA novels) and while the poetry is a very important and necessary creative outlet, I itched to do something with my hands. My wife and my daughter are both very talented artists, but I didn’t want to paint or draw or do digital art. Those were their pursuits, and I would always feel like I was crashing the party or playing catch-up. and I liked play-doh and sculpey  as a kid. Why not sculpture?

Below, you will see my first attempt at a human head. I have done more, and will post more later, but these things take a long time (for me) to do. If I put them all up now, I would have nothing else to talk about (who am I kidding? I never shut up).

The sculpture is not based on any one person. It is instead based on the ideal face, as my sculpture instructor puts it, the faces you see in mainstream advertising. The course I took was once a night for about three hours, for ten weeks.  It took that long (plus a handful of weekends) to get this young man into shape. Maybe about 40-50 hours total.

Anyway, I was pretty proud when I finished. Looking at it now, though, I think, so many things I would change…

I may follow up with some process pictures of this piece if I can find them. Thanks for looking in!

the origins of sculpture (20170128)

o, unlucky bastard who dug
uncovering wet sticky globs of clay
not for planting, but for
the first grave he ever had to dig

grimy and covered in filth
did he know the worth of those
handfuls of red earth that made it
impossible to grow his crops

did he have the capacity to
imagine or to indulge in idle
thought about that dense earth
that squeezed through his fingers

that kept the impression of his
thumbprint, his fingernails, his toes
did he make an image of a child lost
an image that baked in the sun

did he remember an old story
of life entering the earth
as breath or did he make that up
himself, and did he not

try to resurrect that child
did he not breathe into that clay
did he not rise with lips red and wet
his own lungs empty

Poem 20150901

not so picky about the details
or where the clay flies
the artist
pulls with the fine metal loop
tears out a huge
iris-shaped blob of soft clay
from the eye creating
the illusion of depth
and drives the tapered tip
of a paintbrush in
to make the pupil

it’s like those busts
at the haunted mansion
that seem to follow you
concave depressions
made to look like stone
but with the afterimage
of life
as they track you

these sculpted eyes too
follow you as you walk around it
even though they gaze into a future
of fire in the kiln
and uncertain finishes

Poem 20150815

the face seems
not quite right
maybe the chin too soft
or the brow not strong enough

something insouciant
about the mouth

but the clay
–red on the hands
red on the fingers
red under the fingernails–
the clay forgives
and forgives
and forgives

while you can fix a
broken nose
with a thumb and your index

and scrape away
the lips with
a wire loop
and start again

you can’t re-sculpt
any words that pass
those lips

Poem 20150804

the clay is pretty quiet
when you work it

it doesn’t talk
the mouth only opens
if you’ve taken the time
to make a mouth

even then
one side is higher
not quite

there’s no tongue
no teeth behind the facade
of lips

if you work the loop
fast enough
you can hear the clay
as it smooths out
and falls in curls
onto the table

that’s a kind
of subtractive talking
all goodbyes
all goodbyes