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for William Christenberry

Some people have told me that this subject is not the proper concern of an artist or of art. On the contrary, I hold the position that there are times when an artist must examine and reveal such strange and secret brutality. It’s my expression and I stand by it.


Because that form
Is still powerful to me

I went into the landscape
Never did I dream

a wedge of white wings
rising into the herald
of a hunter’s twenty-two
and falling, marked

If I could take that
Form—the pyramidal
Hooded head—and transpose
This feeling that I possess
About memory…. Beautiful
The way it cracked

into a bed of snow
destroyed by blood


It was dark
And the street lights
Were on

Ed said, I’m Jewish
I’m not going inside

Old marble steps
To the second floor

Eyes glaring
Through the eyehole slits

I went out of the building
Just like that
The form entered me

A death of blizzard
A murder of white

How could I
As a human being
Let it go by?


more than a few held the heft
of pain in their own
hands and judged the weight
too much to bear

and so drove it
down the road
to the homes of people
different from themselves
who wore no sheets
and walked about naked
in their pain

If you thought of the picture
As a dream or an apparition

but someone ignited it
and—through a plate-glass
window—hurled a sheet of
pain wrapped around
a rock the size of a melon,
a cocktail of fire, a can
of gas. Whatever it was
it splattered on the baby’s
bed and sprawled upright
in a flaming sheet
of gorgeous light.


These were tortured and/or
Bound & some had hot wax
Poured over them.


Time goes by.
He hefted himself
into the cab of the pickup,
arranging the fabric in
folds, lifting it delicately
above his ankles.
He drove away
laughing, one hand,
on the wheel, the other
scrabbling in the melting
ice of the Styrofoam
cooler. Nothing more
Than a distant feeling. He wanted
one more beer. He opened
the window and hawked
a thin stream of blueblack
haw into the white dust
at the side of the road
and drove away from that ruined
image that building on a back country
road with no windows and no doors


The places that still exist
Things that I grew up with
A memory house, a group of similar
Forms, covered in white wax
I can’t explain why—stabbed,
And pinned and strapped up
To various and sundry things
The things I grew up with—what you see
Is what it is…. An environment is
An environment—you have to
Walk into it—Black Memory
Form, Memory Form with Coffin,
Memory Form Dark Doorway,
I was always attracted to the warped
Shapes, the strange and secret brutality
Right at the heart of it—I’ve done
A lot of work there over the years….



Note: passages in italics are quotations from Christenberry.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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