All Posts in Volume 66
Mary Terrier '10
Everything is exposed: the twitching limbs
of leafless Aspens, the glinting asphalt wound
around mountains, the succulents: armed,
defensive. Here, every street is named
for a saint, every church bell chimes at once,
but try finding the horizon—blocked out by the dark
charred shoulders of mountains—only visible
if you climb, and climb.
Forest Purnell '12
When trains were first introduced in the U.S., many people believed that moving at the obscene speeds involved would cause the blood to boil. Yet as thousands of Americans began fanning across the continent in the mid-19th century, blood no hotter than usual, the concern subsided.
The train was an alchemical re-purposing of energy and material, a bizarre thing had neither appetite nor breath nor capacity for fatigue, yet on its own seemed somehow to move. The question first posed by a people habituated to the wafting of reeds and panting of horses was, could this machine be safe? Could the flesh of a human being withstand its conditions without being blistered to death in its act of biological transcendence, of hubris?
One orange summer, below the aerosol shroud surrounding Shanghai Pu Dong International Airport, my father and I ran bag-strapped down a long, wide corridor. Our footsteps clacked on the shiny linoleum as we passed from the arrival terminal to the magnetic-levitation train station. The first operational high-speed railway of its kind in the world, the Shanghai Maglev Train had been running its one-way trip between the airport and downtown for three years by this time.
Magnetic levitation trains do not touch their rails. Instead, they float over an infinitesimal space held open by strong like-charged electromagnets. Because the only resistance that they meet is air resistance, maglev trains are among the fastest mass-transit ground vehicles. Today, only a handful exist worldwide.
Outside the glass wall of the causeway, we caught a last glimpse of endless crowds in a dusty world being siphoned off by bus and taxi. We arrived at the ticket kiosk and passed through spotless chrome turnstiles, finally settling into the nova-blue interior of the train while a few other passengers arrived.
Shortly after the doors slid shut, a whirring din rose as the train began to creep, first walking speed, then running, then faster than any human being. The digital tachometer over the baggage racks read 40 kilometers per hour as we pitched out of the station. Soon the number doubled, then doubled again. We were bolting over the sweltering landscape on elevated tracks raised by stilts a story above the ground. The distant skyline approached as we overtook car after car on the adjacent highway. Everything under the sky began to transform. People in the passing slums and construction sites became impressionistic figures then abstract blotches, then disappeared completely. As we approached 350 kilometers per hour the same began to happen for nearby buildings; the music of architecture began to unfreeze. Factories and farms transformed into tones and rhythms; it became possible to feel more than see them. The horizon flowed along at a creeping speed while a city engulfed us. At 400 kilometers per hour, my blood began to boil.
Toyo Ito is an architect known for designs that challenge conventional concepts about urban design, energy use, and the human body. "We posses one body as lived experience,” Ito says, “and another body which tries to burst through it." In the fact that a telephone booth is both a "physical space," connected to its immediate surroundings, and a "virtual space," connected to a multitude of other places, lies the fundamental distinction that Ito uses to describe the "duplex body." For Ito, the human body can be spoken of both in terms of physical form and the ideas latent in that form.
Many of Ito's buildings are designed to act as "media-suits" that extend the virtual body in the same way conventional architecture accommodates the physical body. Ito began exploring these ideas with his work on the Mediatheque, a multi-purpose public building in Sendai, Japan that allows patrons to access both traditional and new media.
What do the media devices Ito pays so much attention to have in common? They evoke elsewhere. The whole intent of cars, airplanes, trains, and other vehicles are on elsewhere. Yet these vehicles are more than objects; they are the buildings themselves.
Thus, architecture that moves has always been about elsewhere as well as here, virtual space as well as physical space. An airplane extends the physical body by moving it, but even as the body moves, it remains―from the reference of the airplane―static. The experience of flight is not an experience of movement, but rather a dream-like sequence of being still, waiting in lines, sitting in rows, drinking, using the toilet.
We look out the window and see our surroundings sliding by, but it is not movement in a physical, bodily sense; it is movement in the sense that we know intellectually that we are in motion. The world outside is like the world we could walk through, except if we did so it would not effectively be the same to our senses. We, as three-dimensional creatures, cannot envision a fourth dimension; neither can we experience the speed or the energy transfer involved in machine transport. The faster the maglev train goes, the less the world outside seems like a tangible reality until―at 400 kilometers per hour―it evokes a dazzling kind of cubism. Yet even at low speeds―10 kilometers per hour, 20 kilometers per hour―we are not actually experiencing the physical space the vehicle passes through as much as the interior the vehicle itself and the exterior imagery it generates.
While a static building's physical space is connected with that of its immediate environment, the moment a piece of architecture begins to move relative to its surroundings, a disconnection occurs. Once the speed of the structure exceeds a certain limit, human passengers can no longer experience physical space outside the vehicle. Thus, the surroundings of a piece of moving architecture become abstract. It has been the nature of machine transport, ever since the first passenger trains, to convert physical space into virtual space.
Isabel Marlens '12
Indian farmers have been growing Basmati rice for thousands of years. They cultivate it with knowledge accumulated over the course of generations. The seeds are saved from one summer to the next. The rice adapted over centuries to thrive in the ecosystems they call home. This uniquely aromatic rice is a staple of the Indian diet -- and possesses significant cultural importance as well. One strain is used to mark a wedding, another, a funeral, a third, the birth of a child.
In September 1997, the Texas company RiceTec took out U.S. patent No. 5,663,484 on Basmati rice. Soon after, the world's largest seed corporation, Monsanto, took out a similar patent (EP 0445929 B1) on a traditional strain of Indian wheat. Scientists from the U.S. and Europe then began to genetically modify these crops in ways they claimed would promote higher yields. In reality, they undid centuries of traditional breeding by Indian farmers. The GMOs (Gentically Modified Organisms), not adapted to the unique environmental conditions of the places they are grown, are no longer able to survive without chemical fertilizers and pesticides. They are subject to disease and blight. Some genetically modified seeds are even self-terminating -- meaning it is impossible to save them from one year to the next.
Genetically modified seeds infect and interbreed with crops of the same species planted in their vicinity. If farmers save seeds from their own crop -- as they have always done – the result is that they are almost certainly violating a patent. As food activist and physicist Dr. Vandana Shiva explains: "It's basically a system that criminalizes the small producer and processor." In order to plant legally, some farmers have no choice but to buy seeds from huge multinational corporations like RiceTec and Monsanto every year.
GMOs are expensive, and the seeds unreliable. These added costs, combined with new competition from foreign markets are a death knell for many small farmers trying to maintain their traditional way of life. They fall deeply in debt. Their land is taken away, and they are left with no choice but to migrate to urban slums. The desperation provoked by these corporate patents and the debt they lead to has driven 100,000 Indian farmers to suicide.
Everyone knows Italians love their cheese. Mozzarella di Bufula, Parmagiano Reggiano, Pecerino Romano. Each region of Italy has a unique culture, a unique cuisine, and at least one very unique cheese variety to its name. In Puglia, a dry but fertile southern region on the Adriatic, Caciocavallo Podolico del Gargano is the favorite. It is made from the milk of Podolico cows, a rare cattle variety that lives exclusively free-range, roaming the Lucanian Mountains to feed on rosehips, blueberries, hawthorne, and cornelian cherries. Caciocavallo translates to "cheese on horseback," which is thought to be a reference to the way the cheese is hung to age -- one ball of cheese on either end of a rope, held by a hook in the middle. But it could also stem from the days of the Roman Empire when traders and soldiers hung the cheese from their saddles as they rode the major trade route -- which runs through Puglia -- from Rome to Constantinople.
Either way, this cheese and those who produce it have a history that is lengthy and rich. Caciocavallo producers insist that the only way to age their cheese properly is to hang it for years in the caves of soft Tufo stone found in the Puglian countryside. Time spent in this cool dark environment is what gives the cheese its delicate flavor, its consistency. It’s also important that the cheese be made from raw milk. Caciocavallo producers take great pride in their history, in their product, and in their way of life. They insist that cheese made from pasteurized milk is simply not the same.
Recently, however, their caves have been scrutinized by European Union (EU) health regulators, who also argue that selling cheese made from raw milk is unsanitary and illegal. It is often prohibitively expensive for small farmers to pay for the sterile, industrial kitchen set-up the health standards require. Only corporate scale food producers can afford to compete causing a precious cheese, a precious understanding, and a precious way of life to vanish. As the "Manifesto in Defense of Raw Milk Cheese," published by Slow Food Italy, warns: "Be aware that once the knowledge, skills and commitment of this culture have been lost, they can never be regained."
For traditional farmers and food producers like those in India and Italy, growing food, cooking food, and sharing food have significant cultural value that has developed over hundreds or even thousands of years to fulfill social, spiritual, and ecological needs as well as the physical need to eat. Here in the United States, we have less depth to our cultural history. Since European colonization, our nation has been a cultural melting pot with few unified traditions. Today, however, a blossoming interest in gourmet cooking, a wide variety of ethnic influences, and the movement for organic, fresh, and local foods, are converging to sow the seeds of a vibrant food culture.
But for the past fifty years, the food market in the U.S. has been dominated by the same vast corporate interests now threatening rice-growers in India. These corporations have put up powerful structural opposition to movements made in the direction of localizing food economies. They have justified their dominance by presenting one argument after another for why their system benefits consumers.
Among these justifications is sanitation and health. Recently, health regulations, like those affecting the Caciocavallo makers, have been instituted all over the world in the name of public safety. While many of these regulations have a degree of validity, many more of them involve the purchase of equipment and facilities that bankrupt the small producer, while doing little to promote the health and safety of consumers. Only corporate scale operations have the capital required to follow the safety codes without falling into debt, and it is interesting to note that much of the research done in support of these new health regulations is conducted by organizations like the Stanford Center for Food and Health Research, which was founded with a three million dollar grant from corporate agricultural giant Cargill.
Much corporate enterprise has also taken place in the name of efficiency -- supported by the argument that only through industrial scale food production will we be able to feed the world's ever-increasing population of poverty-stricken hunger. The assertion is that large-scale production is by nature more efficient than small-scale production. But to corporate agribusiness, efficiency means reducing human labor to a minimum and substituting it with mechanized technology and chemical pesticides. This creates both unemployment and debt for farmers who feel they need to purchase ever more new technology in order to compete. In the United States, throughout the 20th century, much of the land once owned by small family farmers, planted with diverse edible crops, has been lost to agribusiness due to debt. It has been converted into monoculture -- space where tremendous amounts of cash crops like corn and soybeans are grown for export. Food and jobs were removed from local economies. Heavy machinery and chemical pesticides arrived in their stead. Those farmers who remained and chose to grow for agribusiness were more than ever vulnerable to global market swings and commodities price manipulation.
Today, this model is being exported to countries in Africa, Asia, South America, and traditional farmers everywhere are losing their land to agribusiness, to soybeans and corn. It has been said that by purchasing food imported from developing countries we are helping to prevent poverty and increase infrastructure. But as Vandana Shiva explains: "The idea that poverty reduction in the south relies on access to northern markets is a child of globalization. We (in India) have limited resources. There's limited land, there's limited water, there's limited energy. And if we have to use that limited land and water and energy to produce one extra lettuce head for a British household, we can be sure we are robbing Indian peasants of their rice and their wheat. We are robbing India of her water. We are in fact creating a situation where we are exporting, to the third world and the south, famine and drought."
One way in particular that globalized corporate agriculture defies efficiency is in its relation to resource use and the environment. As Zac Goldsmith, former editor of The Ecologist explains: "We often hear about efficiency of scale but the truth is we have developed a system that could not be more wasteful. We have tuna fish caught on the east coast of America, flown to Japan, processed, and flown back to America to be sold to consumers. We have English apples flown to South Africa to be waxed, then flown back again to be sold to consumers." Every year in the U.S. we import 365,350 tons of potatoes, and export 324,544 tons. In come 953,142 tons of beef, and out go 899,834. We buy 41,209 tons of coffee, and sell 42,277. Tremendous amounts of metals, plastics, and fossil fuels are required to make this system operate. It is often extolled as "free trade," the foundation of a new global community. But in reality, as Goldsmith goes on to point out, it is the farthest thing possible from free trade -- it could never exist without massive government subsidies.
As Helena Norburg-Hodge, founder of the International Society for Ecology and Culture explains: "Because of hidden subsidies and regulations, we have a situation where food from the other side of the world often costs less than food from a mile away." Those who run corporate agribusiness have enormous amounts of money at their disposal, and they use it to wield considerable political power through congressional lobbying, campaign contributions, and the placement of former agribusiness executives in key government posts. The end result is that the U.S. tax payer winds up subsidizing the giant corporations that grow the food, pump the oil, and manufacture the transport required to keep the industrial agricultural system running smoothly. With these government subsidies giving agribusiness an increasing competitive advantage, it grows ever harder for the small farmer to compete.
"We're living in a country and in an environment where we don't value food," says Barclay Daranyi, co-owner -- with her husband Tony -- of Indian Ridge Farm and Bakery, a small, diversified organic farm operation in Norwood, Colorado. "We're used to food being one of the cheaper things in our budgets. We're used to the high price of gas, we're used to the high price of energy -- there are even people who won't blink an eye when they pay five dollars for a latte. Yet, you consistently hear people complaining about the high cost of organic food. People go to the farmer's market and say this is ridiculous, it's so expensive -- but I think what they're looking at is the actual cost of what it takes to grow the food. People aren't used to paying that." Barclay Daranyi acknowledges that as a small farmer -- especially considering the expense of land, which is usually priced for development or industrial agriculture -- it can be difficult to make ends meet. But then she adds, laughing, "people don't usually go into organic farming because they are looking for a get-rich-quick scheme."
When asked why she did choose a farmer's life, Barclay says simply: "It seemed like the most direct form of action I could take … I think a lot of the world's ills stem from exploitation of our resources whether it be environmental resources, human labor, air, water, soil, the spirits of people. If you do something in a very sustainable and conscientious manner, you will be doing your small part to right some of those ills."
Barclay is one of many hoping to end the domination of agribusiness and rebuild a more sustainable food culture here in America.
She had the good fortune to grow up on the famous (in the organic farming world, at least) Caretaker Farm in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Her parents, Sam and Elizabeth Smith, were pioneers in the organic farming movement, and they ran one of the nation's first CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture programs). She began learning to run a farm from a very young age, and she acknowledges that this was a big help when starting one of her own. Yet, she did not always intend to be a farmer herself. Barclay attended Yale University, where she majored in art and thought of becoming a painter. Her husband Tony earned an MBA at Northwestern, and the two met in the small ski town of Telluride, CO. They bought their farm in nearby Norwood several years later. Some may express confusion that such well educated people with access to a world of opportunities would choose to spend their lives farming. But as Barclay says: "It's hard to separate out how much I farm because I think it's important, and how much I do it because it's my passion … It sustains me spiritually, physically."
The Daranyis are frustrated by the fact that farming is often painted as an undesirable occupation because it involves physical labor -- a notion prevalent in the U.S. and currently being spread to sustainable farmers all over the world, who, for the first time, are feeling ashamed of their traditional ways. This is explained by Eliana Espillico, founder of PRATEC, an organization which strives to maintain the ancient farming traditions of the native people in Peru. Native Peruvians have farmed sustainably for thousands of years, and, although they have very little money, their knowledge of the land allows them to enjoy a very high quality of life – certainly higher than that enjoyed by those who have lost their land and live in the slums of vast, third world cities. But now, Eliana explains: "Our children learn to reject their own culture in school.Why? Because the teachers tell them 'if you don't learn multiplication, you'll go feed the pigs. If you don't learn multiplication, you'll go farm like your father.' As if to farm would be an offense or a crime or something bad!"
Any time spent on a farm like the Daranyis' will likely convince one otherwise. At Indian Ridge, it is easy to see the beauty of living simply, sustainably, and the act of being in touch with one's surrounding environment. From the graceful comfort of the straw bale home they built themselves, to the soft clucking of the chickens and the garden rows stretched out beneath the bright mountain sun, it all feels somehow right. "I've always loved Little House on the Prairie," Barclay explains."I've been enamored with a more subsistence way of life. I don't see it as archaic or primitive. I see it as really interesting and fun."
Just like Ma and Pa Ingalls, the Daranyis have taken care to insure that they run a diversified operation which can satisfy a significant percentage of their basic needs. They grow many varieties of organic vegetables and raise pastured poultry for eggs and meat, goats for milk and cheese, and pigs for meat as well. They bake and sell organic bread, pizza crusts, and granola. This is done in part to insure that, should one area of their operation suddenly fail -- say due to a drought, or a disease affecting chickens -- they would still be able to rely on the others for income. In addition, a diversified farm, unlike a farm planted in monoculture, functions in some ways like a diverse natural ecosystem. Certain plants and animals, when kept in balance with one another, play beneficial roles by maintaining soil nutrients, keeping pests away, and regulating disease. This lessens the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and leads to healthier plants, animals, and human beings.
The sense of community is also important to the health of humans, which is something Americans often have difficulty finding. The Daranyis feel that this problem is one that CSAs are able to address. Barclay explains: "Running a CSA really connects me with a community-- the people I feed off my farm. Families with children will come, they bring their grandparents. We have harvest days and members volunteer. Their kids come and pick flowers, and maybe ride the pony. People have connections to each other and to the places they live, and these connections are strengthened through food, and sharing food."
CSAs are also crucial to the survival of small farmers like the Daranyis says Barclay: "There are many variables in farming that are out of your control. There is weather, and if you are a commercial farmer, markets, price fluctuations. Your own health is a big variable too." CSA members give a degree of security to farmers by paying at the start of the growing season, accepting that some years they may receive more produce for their money than others as Barclay says, "A CSA is a close relationship between a consumer and a farmer -- it's the consumer saying, God forbid you have a terrible year, I'm going to support you. We will support you as our farmer because we want you to be around next year and the year after that and the year after that."
The Daranyis are just one example of a worldwide movement toward living and eating in a more sustainable fashion. Organizations like Slow Food (originally founded in Italy, now global) and Terra Madre, which strive to protect the unique and varied food traditions of cultures all over the world, are gaining victories against the forces of corporate agriculture. Basmati rice is no longer under a U.S. patent and, after presenting their manifesto signed by 20,000 thousand traditional cheese producers, Slow Food has convinced the EU to legalize the sale of raw milk cheese. The living heirs of these ancient food traditions see them as something worth fighting for.
Those of us attempting to build a new food culture here in the New World melting pot may not have ancient traditions to inspire us, but we do have one valuable example to follow. In 1990, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the economy of Cuba and its industrialized agricultural system threatened to collapse as well. With the U.S. determined to maintain its embargo, Cuban oil imports were cut by more than half, food imports by more than eighty percent. But the Cubans, relying on the traditional knowledge of the nation's older generation, were able to work together to save their people from starving. They stopped growing for the export economy and converted all the land once used for industrial agriculture into land that would produce food for local consumption, for example American housewives planted Victory Gardens during WWII (gardens planted in vacant city lots and on the rooftops of apartment buildings). Communities worked together to find a way to live local and sustainable lives that did not require fossil fuels -- and to rebuild a healthier culture surrounding food. Which is what people like the Daranyis are trying to do.
One lesson Barclay Daranyi says she learned from her parents is this: It is the responsibility of small farm operations like Indian Ridge to be classrooms for the farmers of tomorrow. "I think farming is one of those professions where you truly, truly have to learn by doing it," Barclay explains. She says she sees increasing numbers of young people becoming interested in learning to farm --in returning to a simpler, more rooted way of life. Many schools throughout the U.S. and the world are incorporating garden education into their curricula and placing added focus on sustainability, community, and the creation of a local food culture. Professor Keibo Oiwa of Japan, author of the book Slow is Beautiful, says of the young people he teaches: "They are desperately looking for contact with nature. It's important to learn traditional farming, but at the same time just being in the mud, having fun, working like this, they are learning what it means to live."
Allie Simmons '10
a parchment from which writing has
whispered those adjectives immediately yours (capable,
understated, the smile – I know) and
nudged what is left to uncover,
to pull from sea sand, to blow with salt breath, to discover
with new-comer’s worshipful hands, find
the part other long-haired girls
like me have touched and tampered
until it has
been partially erased to make room for another text
a person who deals
the tarot knows the order of things, the
syntax of coincidence. you and I met
without foretelling – between the entries on
‘astrology’ and ‘astronomy’ – and
we have been spangled with stardust
from three dollar vials, with salt
from upset shakers,
with things lacking importance
the use of extreme
happiness must be guarded. a story
with a happy ending, you say,
will not tell truths. all of us – in our
secret rib-shadowed cores, dark
and wet and sweet – want
contrasts of light and dark
made a lover of me. my passion is barefoot
red; yours, baby-blue soft. where
I see you do not, where you feel I am
tasting. but we agree the magnolias
were bruise-white; we both nod
with respect to green
spine or axis of
tiny tender things
slim as nettles and needles
and easy to put beneath skin.
I have paid for it from others, have
asked for the needles to bear ink
to my body’s seams but
every coupling is to me a tattoo
and the permanent acts scareme
more than the ethereal
body; in order I feel:
a feather; the spinal chord
a small one-seeded
body: thick-skinned, weak-hearted, tired
of perennial blooming. you want me to
plant with you, to grow new
things in the muscle’s dark
soil but my seasalt
has made me too thirsty to bear
fruit or naked seed of plant
becoming sour; souring;
reversing the colors of skin; giving
new adjectives to old sounds. I tell you
my nouns are my own; you answer
in the infinitive
and your clauses grow duller
as the color
of my vocabulary
turning of milk
the delirious fumbling with
the texts I have consulted
on the subject of you: you
do not like loud yellow; you touch
without purpose; you heal
slowly, with time and blood thinners. also
your fingers are slow to relax
when you’ve been tugging too hard and what
will I do with these lessons?
they were taught from you to me, so they will not
do for other
bed clothes in fever
a humid southerly wind
is all I need; that is what I really learned.
a callused hand
with a mis-healed thumb would be just
nice enough, a dark
stubble would hurt
in the proper amounts, but the wind
is all that is needed, just enough to whisper
the lichens in the tangled oaks and make
the salty ocean breath come calling across
accompanied by rain
Chelsea Harlan '11
I hear the hinge whine, the screen shake,
count footsteps on fingers and meet you
past one. You’ve promised me icebergs.
I dream them and they’re there. Chandeliers
of sea cerulean splint our sheets together,
we wait and lie and thaw. Above arctic:
Saturn, all opal-bashful and stunning,
winks when we see her. I hesitate,
I have no fate in space but want it and you
fascinate me, pull me in fast and sinking.
This is Saturn’s own summer. Beneath her
I think now I am getting to know you,
knowing to get you, the starlings caw.
It’s not far to where the hay hills are
so we will go soon by beeline, humming
heads tucked between knees. New me.
Honey tea teeth and I can’t stop touching,
I here, you there, wading in from the sea.
Emmet Penney '11
--As sung by Greg Puciato
Broad-chested, teach my
Bare breast a new breath
To match your heaving hips.
Lock your veined arms
Around my skull. Swirl our sweat
On the pavement. Unholster me,
Show me what trigger fingers
Were made for. Beg you bite
My bottom lip. Let the bruises
Bloom where they may. Pray
You stubble rub me raw. Hold me
Sara Judy '11
You saw him first, trying
to cross the highway.
You swerved to miss
hitting his curved shell,
woke me up and kept me
that way—talking about fissures
and dark wet spots.
You told me newborns
would come out of the pond
near your house. In your
sixth year the older boys
stamped them out. The one,
still moving, that you picked up
dyed your hands, oil dark.
When I drove home
two days later, I stopped
to call and say there was
no stain. The next July you
came home, hands sticky
with urine and salt. You saved
him from the road, you say,
recognized the shape of his back.
I hope he loved you
how I do when we walk
and your hand, on my curved hip,
guides me away from the road's edge.
W. A. Kirby '10
Tuesday was just one of them days where by five a.m. you’re already behind. I was more’n halfway to the bus stop when I noticed my nametag wasn’t in my purse, and Chuck’d already yelled at me twice this month about not wearin’ it, so I jogged the best I could back to the house to get it. I’d rather risk bein’ yelled at about bein’ late than about my nametag again. Chuck doesn’t like havin’ to repeat himself.
That might seem strange, I guess, but not to me. See, I been here my whole life. I was born only about a half mile from where I live now, down round the knee-bend on River road. Still don’t know why they call it that—Maybe the crick used to be a river, but not since I been alive. Reason I mention it’s cause most people might think it worse bein’ late than not havin’ a bit of plastic with your name on it, but that’s not how we live ‘round here. Here, you can wave off bein’ late by sayin’ the dog got through the screen door again or the bus was late, and that don’t matter. It’s the littler things that get to Chuck. He always says, “Meg, I tell you, Meg, you got to look perfessional when you’re helping the customers.” I tried to tell him that the nametag don’t matter s’long as the food’s good, but he don’t think so, just yells “perfessional” and wipes his nose with the back of his hand and spits in the grease bucket under the grill.
That’s why I wasn’t too worried on the bus. When we got on the highway by the Piggly Wiggly I was actually feeling good about the day. The sun’s comin’ up earlier than usual, and it broke through the clouds somethin’ beautiful. Like how they talk about God’s grace in church on Sunday. I hollered to the bus driver when it was time for me to get off, and I walked from mile marker four down the exit ramp to Chuck’s Stop. You wouldn’t think it’d get business, since it’s about ten miles off the interstate, but for the hauler who knows these parts, our highway is a neat little shortcut round the city, save you twenty or thirty minutes; just enough to get an extra meal in between breakfast and lunch. That’s what they used to call it when I started workin’ here, Shortcut, I mean. That was before Chuck though, before nametags.
When I walked in the back door of the place Chuck was sittin’ on a big pot mixing up the potato salad. He looked up as the door slammed shut, bounced, and slammed again.
“You’re late,” he said.
“Dog got out the screen door again,” I said, and he nodded and stuck his arm back in the potato salad. New girls always ask why he does it that way and not with a big spoon, and he’ll laugh and I’ll laugh and then they have to come in early and mix the salad for the next week. By Thursday, sometimes quicker, they got their arm in the bucket, elbow deep in mayonnaise and celery—it’s just easier that way.
Today was our day, me and Chuck. Most other days there’d be another girl sides me who’d come in early, help get the place ready, but Tuesdays it was just the two of us, me and him. Sometimes they were good days, we’d laugh a little and each have a cup of coffee before the first customer came in, but most times, these days were the worst. There’s a lotta work that needs to be done, and four hands just ain’t enough to do it.
I walked out into the front of the restaurant and flipped on the lights. Same as I left you, I thought and I slipped off my coat and slid it and my purse under the register. I went through my usual, gettin an apron off the shelf in back, puttin the coffee on, takin the till out of the old tobacco can and countin it before puttin it in the register. I mixed bleach and water in the buckets and set some rags to soak, made sure the toaster was plugged in and the muffins were good-side forward. By then it was almost 6:30, and even though I’d come in late I was about five minutes ahead. I looked around to make sure I wasn’t foolin myself, then I poked my head through the swinging doors to the kitchen.
“Hey, Chuck,” I said. He turned half around from what he was doin. “Do me a favor?”
“What is it?” he said, wiping his hands on his apron.
“My legs hurt somethin awful from runnin to catch the dog this morning. Would you do the ice for me?”
There was a second where it looked like he was just gonna ignore me, but he didn’t, instead he said awright and leaned back before taking off his apron. “You gonna come with me?”
I nodded. Nobody likes to get the ice anymore since our ice machine broke about a year back. Since then, every morning we gotta walk a quarter mile up the road to the pump station and buy us about six bags of ice. Most mornings I do it in two trips and it takes me the last half hour before we open, but on good days—today was a good day—Chuck’ll help, or even do it for me.
We weren’t but ten foot out the door before Chuck spoke up. “Since I’m doing you a favor, you got a cigarette for me?”
I nodded and reached into my shirt pocket for my pack. It was more’n half empty but I gave him one and he stuck it between his lips and reached for a lighter before he spat it out and stepped on it. “What the fuck is this?” he said.
I went immediately for the cigarette, but his boot and the gravel had ruined it. “What do you mean what’s this? It’s a cigarette.” I said, “If you didn’t want it, why’d you ask for it in the first place?”
“You know I don’t smoke menthol, dammit.”
“Well I do, and I aint got no other cigarettes sides these.”
He stared at me for a moment and shrugged. “Get your own damned ice.” And before I could say anything he was back inside. My legs did hurt, and it took me an extra trip get the ice. We opened twenty minutes late because of it. Just one a those days.
When I did flip on the open sign and unlock the door, I was surprised to see a man already waitin in the parking lot. He was heavy, but so were most of the men who came through, except for the occasional bean-pole who was probably skinny cause of his metabolism or drugs and not cause he cared. What was surprising about this’n was he was driving a silver sedan, not a truck or a pickup.
When he opened the door and set the bells to jinglin, I said, “Mornin, hon, sit wherever. You want coffee?”
He grunted and sat down at a corner booth. I went back to polishing the counter while he looked at the menu and out the window. After five minutes, when he set the menu down, I grabbed an order pad and walked over.
“How you doin this morning?” I asked in my tip-voice. I know I do it, every girl who works a table or a pole’s got one.
“Eggs, bacon. No toast.”
“How you want the eggs?”
He shrugged. I took his shortness in stride, writing egg, bcn, no tst on my order slip. “Anything to drink?”
“Do you serve beer?”
I shook my head. “Coffee?” I offered.
“I’ll just have a glass of water.”
“Sounds good, I’ll have that for you in a minute.”
I walked back towards the kitchen and stuck my head through the door, “Hey Chuck, got an order. Eggs, bacon. Scramble em.” I laid the order slip down on the shelf between the kitchen and the front of the restaurant and went back to the counter, attacking the smudges with my bleach rag, trying to get the fine scratches out of the Formica and chrome. It used to shine, back when I first started here. It would catch the morning sun, everything in the place would. The silverware, the register, the counter—it was bright, and more people came through then. People from the town and the city instead of just the truckers. The truckers and this guy who sat, staring out the window at his own car, checking his watch.
When Chuck rang the order bell I took the man his plate, a glass of water and some silverware. I set them down, asked him if that would be all. He didn’t say nothin, so I turned around to see what needed doing.
“You fifty?” he said.
I turned to him. “Excuse me?”
“Are you fifty? You look like you could be fifty.”
He paused, but not long enough for me to talk back at him.
“I’m fifty. Today, actually. It’s my birthday.”
I knew what to say to that. “Happy birthday,” I said.
“My dad died when he was fifty.”
I stared at him for a minute cause I didn’t know what to do with what he’d said. He hadn’t said much, but his eyes were talkin to me, sayin somethin more’n just the words, and I still wanted a tip, so I nodded and said, “I’ll get your food,” like I understood what he was really tryin to say.
He opened his mouth, but the bell on the door jangled a new customer in and I excused myself before he could talk. He sat there another hour, but I didn’t go near his table again, and when I finally got up the courage, he was gone. Slipped out when I wasn’t lookin. All the same, I couldn’t get his voice out of my head. You fifty? Might as well be, guess I look it.
He didn’t leave a tip.
That means I been workin at Chuck’s for thirty-one years. When I got the job I was eighteen, and it was just a way to make money for going to see a movie and for Momma’s pills and the rent. I liked the work but I was so sure I was gonna make it outta here. I had a boyfriend I loved, then a husband I didn’t, and then he died. By then the thought of bein anywhere but here was too far gone, and I just stuck. After he died, I moved back in with Momma, and things were good again, real good for a bit.
Then Chuck came along, and he was a good cook, and I liked him and he said I was pretty. He said it so that even though I knew it wasn’t true I believed him. Even when he said it to all the girls, I believed him. He was sweet to me, and he was sweet to my Momma when I brought him home for dinner, even brought her flowers once. That night was the first time we slept in the same bed, and in the mornin I told him to be quiet so he wouldn’t wake Momma goin out the screen door. Pretty soon after that I moved out from with Momma and in with Chuck. We were happy, and he asked me if I wanted him to ask to marry me, and I said no. I wasn’t gonna do that again.
When Ed died—Ed owned the diner—he left the place to Chuck, said that he deserved it, that Chuck was the best employee he’d ever had. That changed everything. Chuck changed. He fired a couple people he didn’t like and he hired on some new girls and they left pretty quick and he got angry and fired some more people and hired some new girls and they left too, and when I found out why the girls were leaving I threatened to leave and I did for a couple months. I went back to my Momma, but I couldn’t find work, and she had to spend all her money on her pills, so I asked for my job back and Chuck said okay. I didn’t know any better. I guess I don’t need to say it, but it was never the same again. For a while it was just him and me and he changed the name to Chuck’s Stop and he cooked and I served and it worked out all right and we didn’t talk about how it used to be. He even came to the funeral when my Momma died, and said some real nice things about her even though he didn’t know her that good. Things were okay after that, and he hired on another cook and another girl and he behaved himself a bit better and they stayed longer.
Now it’s me and him and a few girls from the town and another boy from town who cooks. His name’s Jason and he shows up at about noon for the lunch rush. He’s got greasy black hair, the kind where you can’t tell if it’s on purpose or cause he just don’t shower much. He talks big, talks with his arms and hands, and he likes to whistle and flirt with the girls, even me. He says I’m pretty. Reminds me of Chuck sometimes.
When I heard Jason come in the back, I was fixin to brew a new pot of coffee. That’s when the day started going really wrong. I could hear him whistlin and then I heard Chuck tell him to shut up, and then there was a crash. I went in the back and I could see why Chuck was mad. When Chuck cooks he likes to keep a bowl full a eggs next to the grill. Says they’re easier to get to if he don’t have to take em out of the carton every two minutes. Jason musta hit it with his elbow, or maybe Chuck did when he turned around to say hello and tell him to shut up, and now Jason was on the floor trying to scoop yolks back into their shells, and Chuck was just standin there, not swearin, just fumin. Then Chuck saw me.
“Meg, did you leave the front unattended?”
“I just came back here to see what that crash was.”
“How many times do I have to tell you not to le—fuckin stop it Jason, it ain’t no good, the eggs are broken, just clean em up and get your damned apron on—how many times do I have to tell you not to leave the front unattended?”
“Sorry Chuck, I just wanted to see what—”
“I don’t care what you just wanted to do, you get your fat ass back to the front and deal with the customers. That’s what I pay you to do. Dammit Jason I said clean up the fuckin eggs! Do not make me repeat myself or I will shove this spatula so far up your ass I could use it to flip your eyeballs.”
I started movin for the door, but I wasn’t goin fast enough I guess, and Chuck put his hand on my back and shoved me, just sayin, “buncha goddamn amateurs. You gotta be perfessional.”
Now Chuck’s a big guy. Not real strong big, but more like kitchen big, if you know what that means, and when he shoved me, I went. I bust right through the swingin doors and tripped myself up a little, and I put out my hand, and that coffee pot I had been gettin ready to fill was just sittin there on the edge of the counter, right in my way. I hit it and it slid. Fell. Shattered. Then everything was quiet. That was the real problem, right there. See, like Chuck just said, he don’t like to repeat himself, and I, well I had done just exactly what had just happened, what had pissed Chuck off in the first place.
In that quiet—me almost on the floor, the glass everywhere—in that quiet everything stopped. Then two things happened at once: I went to my knees to get the glass before it hurt somebody, and Chuck burst through the kitchen door and grabbed me by the collar and pulled me through the back and out into the parkin lot.
“Stop it stop it stop it,” I was shouting, smacking at his hands, but he was stronger than me. He let me go and I fell down and I don’t know what he said cause I was just saying I’m sorry over and over again.
“Get up,” he half shouted, and I got up. “What the fuck were you thinking breaking the fuckin coffee pot like that, shit, how stupid are you Meg? How goddam stupid? Buncha fuckin amateurs.”
And I just said I’m sorry that I wasn’t thinking, I was startled and I was sorry, and it wasn’t my fault, if he was gonna hit someone it should be Jason because Jason made him mad first. But then Jason was there too, and he helped pick me up off the ground and brushed the gravel off my knees. “You okay?” he asked, and I felt bad for sayin that Chuck should hit him. Chuck was smoking a cigarette and looked calmer.
“Shit,” he said. “Go make sure the customers pay before they leave.” I got up and hurried to the door and he yelled to clean up the coffee.
When I got back to the front, no one would meet my eye. I cleaned up the mess, and then I went to the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and I did not cry.
By three the lunch rush was over, and Chuck and Jason were in the back cleaning the grill, feuding and not talkin about it. I’d done my best to keep my nose out of the kitchen. When Chuck gets angry he gets real angry. A few years back he popped a girl in the eye cause she was mouthin off at him. She told her momma and her momma told the police, and the police told a judge who made Chuck go to meetings every week for two months. They said he had an anger problem. Now I’ve known Chuck for longer than anyone a those people, and seems to me that if someone has an anger problem like Chuck does, the last thing you’d wanna do is tell him that he’s got an anger problem—it’ll just make him angry. But Chuck musta knowed how serious it was, because he behaved himself and went to the meetings and even called up the girl and her momma to say he was sorry, I heard him do it. After six weeks of his “sessions” they said he was cured. But I know Chuck, and he was angrier than ever. That’s why today, I was keepin out of it.
At three thirty, Susan’s momma dropped her off so she could help me close. She was a skinny girl with ratty bangs and shoes that used to be white. I saw her in the parkin lot, her momma parked where the silver sedan had been this mornin. Susan’s momma was yellin at her, and she was ignoring it, walkin away with her head high. She came in through the front, still wearin a backpack, and chewing gum with a snap and pop and a casual “Hey” as she tossed her things under the counter next to my purse. She went in the back to grab an apron and I knelt down to pick up her books that had spilled out when she threw her bag on the floor. I looked at them one by one, Chemistry, Geometry, somethin called The Old Man and the Sea. I turned them around in my hands, flipping the pages before put them into her pack. I didn’t know what they were about.
“What the hell do you think you’re doin goin through my things?” I turned around and Susan was standin there tying her apron with a scowl on her face.
“I was just puttin your books back, they spilled and I didn’t want them to be ruined.”
She rolled her eyes and muttered somethin under her breath before she skipped off to help a man sitting in a booth. I stood up slowly and brushed my knees. I watched Susan’s smile as she wrote the man’s order, and watched him watch her as she skipped away. She gave me a grin that said she knew he was lookin, and what was I gonna do about it, then she called the order back to Jason. There was somethin in that girl that hated me.
Chuck hired Susan a few months back when her momma brought her in and said she needed to be workin so she would stay outta trouble. Chuck looked her up and down, asked how old she was, and handed her an apron. I spent a week tryin to teach the girl how to use the register and how to grind the coffee, that you need to shut the door and lock it at night and to count the till before it goes back in the can. She never really listened, but would slouch back on a stool and draw on her shoes. Once, when I was showin her that she had to wipe down the tables between customers after someone had complained, I heard her call me a bitch, and I grabbed her by the ear and marched her right back into the kitchen before I told her she needed to shape up or I was gonna tell her momma. But she told her momma first, and her momma told Chuck, and Chuck told me to keep my fat ass outta where it didn’t belong. So I shut up and did my work and tried not to worry about Susan. Chuck liked Susan, said he liked her for two reasons. “She’s easy on the eyes,” he said, “and easy on the customers’ eyes. Real perfessional. Always wears her nametag. She brings ‘em back for more.” When Susan heard that she’d just giggle and pop her gum and skip away. She was always skippin.
I wanted so bad to hate her and her dirty fingernails and her pretty young face. I wanted her gone all the time, and I know she felt the same way about me. Some days I’d see her scream at her momma and slam the car door and I’d wonder if I ever acted like that to my Momma. Other times she’d come in quiet as a lamb, walk straight into the bathroom and come out smellin like cheap gin, and spend the rest of the day with one eye half closed. She’d come in with boys who would sit in a booth all afternoon, never orderin more’n one cup a coffee, or she’d tell Chuck she was sick, and I’d watch her get in a car with some friends, then give me the finger as they sped out the parkin lot. But as much as I wanted to hate her, as much as I wanted to be rid of her, I couldn’t.
I couldn’t because, every so often, when her friends were sittin in a booth and the afternoon was slow, I’d hear her talk about college, and New York City. They’d be loud, makin a mess of salt and pepper, drinkin creamers like shots, and laughin at me, and I’d look over and see in her eyes somethin familiar, somethin that I used to see in the mirror before I went to bed. Somethin desperate, somethin far away and over the horizon, like the sun but bigger and brighter. Then she’d catch me starin and make a face and the look would disappear, and she’d laugh and her friends would laugh, and I’d go back to work.
This was not one of those afternoons, and all that I could see in her eyes was meanness. When I started closing down at five, we hadn’t had a customer in over an hour. Chuck was in the back takin inventory, and Susan had disappeared somewhere, probably down to the pump station or in back to smoke a cigarette before her momma came around to get her at six. I undid all the things I’d done in the morning, and felt again that I might as well just leave them done instead of do them and undo them every day.
I swept up and dumped the bleach buckets and took the decaf coffee pot, which I was usin instead of the one I broke earlier, in back to wash it out. I swilled what was left of the coffee around and dumped it down the drain, waiting for the tap water to warm up. I washed it and I turned around, but musta turned too fast or something caught my foot, it don’t matter, what does is I almost fell and when I reached out to catch myself on the counter, I dropped the coffee pot for the second time, and it cracked and splinters of glass skittered across the floor. I looked up and Chuck was standing right there, and I opened my mouth to tell him not to yell and before I got my words out he smacked me. With the back of his hand, twice. He didn’t yell, just stood over me while I sobbed on the floor. “Clean this shit up. If you don’t bring new ones tomorrow so help me God I hope it’s cause you’re dead.” Then he was gone. I looked around for Jason or for Susan, for anyone, I didn’t care who. I tasted blood, my lip had been split by his middle knuckle.
I rushed myself into the front of the restaurant, past the counter and into the bathroom. I pushed the door open and there was Susan, bent over the sink, her skirt around her waist and Jason’s pants around his ankles. I stared blankly and she screamed get out and I did. I ran out the door to the parking lot and didn’t stop until I couldn’t breathe and my heart felt like exploding. My legs hurt.
I wanted to go back, to walk right into Chuck’s Stop, into that bathroom, to grab Susan and shake her till she listened. I wanted to smack Jason in the mouth, and pull Susan by her ear back to her momma. I wanted to scream and shout and cry till my throat wouldn’t talk. I wanted to say get out get out get out. Don’t be here thirty years workin at Jason’s Stop, taking the bus and dying a day at a time worryin about nametags and a dog you don’t own. I wanted to say this to her, but I wanted even more to call back to another girl, call in a voice no bigger than a whisper, get out.
Silas Van der Swaagh '12
Although athletics and art are rarely thought of as having much of a relationship, sports have had a presence in visual art since ancient Greece. Recently, the fusion of sports and art has been reconsidered by a small, but thriving, group of “jock artists” who seem to see sports as a metaphor for larger life experiences. These artists have recognized the potential of sports as a subject for their art and, although they go about it in very different fashions, engage similar themes. These themes include masculinity and camaraderie (even to the extent of homoeroticism), the exultation of the victor and deflation of the loser, endurance, working within the constraints of a set of rules, and the very physicality of sports and how it relates to the active process of creating art. This response to what artists have witnessed in sports, both as spectators and active participants, has been expressed in all mediums of the fine arts: painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, video, and performance art.
People have always been drawn to athletics, and the realization of sports’ potential to communicate significant themes is not a recent one. Ancient Greek artists were among the first to demonstrate an interest in sports to communicate ideals and values. Possibly the most recognizable example of Greek, sports-related art is a sculpture by Myron entitled Discobolos
(The Discus Thrower, c. 450 BCE). In this sculpture a discus thrower is caught in the moment before the ascent of his arm to release the discus. In a carefully planned expression, perfectly balanced between tension and release, Myron skillfully executed an example of the idealized, muscular depictions of male nudes that were so common to the art of mid-5th Century (BCE) Greece. Through the perfect order and symmetry of the athlete’s taut body, the well-known Greek philosophy that “man is the measure of all things” is symbolized. Just as the equally famous sculpture, Dying Gaul (3rd century BCE), which expresses the power of Greece by showing its defeated enemy not as a weakling, but as a strong, intimidating foe, Discobolos acts as propaganda for Greek ideals and values. Myron succeeds in using athletic and physical prowess to represent the order and superiority of Greece, thus pioneering the rich relation between sports and art.
After an absence of some 1,600 years, sports reclaimed a presence in Western art in the 17th century through the paintings of the Dutch Golden Age (Hume). Unlike their Greek predecessors, these artists do not dwell on the magnificence or pathos of athletes, but rather depict hearty Dutchmen in their leisure: playing golf, ice skating, and sledding. As Canadian writer and critic Christopher Hume states, there is “not much truth or beauty” found in the Dutch Golden Age sports paintings, “just chubby-cheeked Amsterdamers out for an afternoon's fun on the nearest frozen river” (Hume).
In the 19th century, though, an American artist emerged whose sports-themed paintings and lithographs differed greatly from the Dutch depictions of people at play. George Bellows (1882-1925), whose paintings and lithographs span a variety of subject matter, is perhaps best known for his depictions of boxing. Organized boxing was prohibited at the time that Bellows was painting and the unglamorous, illegal matches that the artist attended are captured in works such as Stag At Sharkey’s (1909) and Both Members Of This Club (1909). These are “gritty and violent” paintings that express the ferocity of two humans in physical competition and, as art historian Mahonri Sharp Young states, deliver “the rush and wallop of the ring” (Morris).
Bellow’s artistic focus on sports was most likely born from his personal experiences in atheletics. In his youth, Bellows displayed passion and talent in both sports and art. During his enrolment at Ohio State University, Bellows illustrated for the school yearbook and played varsity baseball and basketball. After college, Bellows was offered a contract to play baseball with the Cincinnati Reds, which he rejected, choosing instead a career in art (National Gallery of Art). This athletic experience was not left behind and is evident in Bellow’s work. The broad, quick brush strokes of his paintings convey an energy that is felt inside the ring, reflected on the faces of the spectators and passed on to the viewer. One can imagine Bellows in his studio, transferring the violence and exertion he witnessed at dark, illicit matches, to strokes on his canvas – moving his arm with the same intensity as his subject’s arching punch. “The illusion,” claims author Joyce Carol Oates in her examination of boxing and the art of George Bellows, “is that the artist (and by extension the viewer) is physically present at ringside, not coolly detached from the violence but vicariously, voyeuristically participating in it” (Morris). Bellows recreates for his viewers the furious expressions of masculinity and drive for survival that he witnessed in the shadowy, underground matches he often frequented.
One hundred years later, a new league of primarily American “jock artists” has attempted to tackle similar subjects as those of Bellows. American artist Lee Walton (b. 1974), who works within a wide range of media, shows an interest in the rules by which sports are played. His “baseball drawings,” for instance, are similar to the stunning wall drawings of American artist, Sol LeWitt, in both process and composition. Like LeWitt, Walton creates for himself a set of rules that govern how he composes his drawings. These rules are often directly related to the play of a particular baseball, basketball, or football game. For example, “curved lines can stand for base hits; a fly ball out is a straight line…; a double is a
wide stripe running to bottom; a home run is a thick line across the top of the space” (Agee). In a baseball drawing such as The Yankees vs. Mets - 3 Game Series (2007), one can even see Walton’s rules written out in the upper left hand corner. The results are visual score cards that delicately and gracefully record the details of each game.
Australian photographer and filmmaker, Tracey Moffatt (b. 1960), is another contemporary artist who has shown interest in sports. Her series Fourth features twenty-six stills from television coverage of the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. Rather than focusing on the winners of the athletic competitions, Moffatt scoured Olympic coverage from all over the world searching for images of the athletes who came in fourth place. These competitors, who just missed the top three medal positions, often display blank, unbelieving faces. Moffatt’s photographs are poignant and express sport’s power to elicit authentic, deeply felt emotions from the players.
Another artist in the forefront of the “jock art” field is American artist, David Rathman. Rathman (birth date unavailable) has always shown an interest in American culture, especially American images of masculinity, such as cowboys, punk music, and car racing. Home and Away (2006), from Rathman’s series of ink and watercolor paintings of high school football, is representative of the artist’s painting style. In this painting we see the back of a stocky football player as he gazes over the vast playing field and, as is typically found in Rathman paintings, expansive sky. Members of the opposing team are huddled together, casting long shadows
across the ground, and on the distant scoreboard one can read, “Home: 20, Guest: 30.” Rathman’s work is dramatic. His grandiose use of negative space, often humorous titles, predominantly monochromatic hues, and frequent use of text within the paintings (in the case of his football paintings, clichéd phrases such as “Time to Deliver the Shiver”) give his work the melodrama of a sports movie or classic American westerns.
Rathman has extended his interest in expressing masculinity to boxing and wrestling as well. In his effort to capture the essential moments of the athletes’ time in the ring, Rathman, unlike Bellows, strips away the violence of the sport and presents his subjects as quiet dancers, elegantly moving around their stage.
Although Rathman addresses macho, American themes, he does so with grace and elegance. His details are always delicate and the perspective presented is never from within the action, but from the viewpoint of a quiet observer. Perhaps the way Rathman treats his violent subjects with such gentleness stems from his own background with sports. The artist explains that as a child, growing up in a small Montana town, he was always interested in football but never played because he was “small” (The Rake: Magazine). In Untitled 7, from Rathman’s football series, we see players huddled together, awaiting the news of an approaching referee. From a removed perspective, Rathman’s ever faceless, always masked subjects lack the bruises and sweat that would most assuredly be present. This fondness for elegance is present even in some of his
most violent images, such as the triptych Into Your Arms (2005), in which Rathman transforms the image of a racecar flipping through the air and crashing back to earth into a delicate abstract against a pure white backdrop.
The sport of wrestling proves to be a subject favored by “jock artists.” For years, American artist Collier Schorr (b. 1963) has photographed high school and collegiate wrestlers during practice and before and after bouts. Schorr’s photographs do not share the same distant perspective as Rathman’s paintings. She talks of the experience of her ducking and weaving among the wrestlers’ bodies as she photographs them grappling with each other (Art:21). This “dancing” among the wrestlers has resulted in very intimate portraits of the young men.
A piece like Catch/Caught (A.C. & S.S.) (2002), demonstrates Schorr’s intention to distort the “extremely macho, extremely masculine” (Art:21) attitudes often associated with sports. In this image, two wrestlers are shown carefully practicing a takedown; one on his knees, holding the leg of his standing partner whose arm gently rests on the kneeling wrestler’s shoulder. The two teenagers look to be in the middle of quiet moment of intimacy, rather than a wrestling practice. When explaining her interest in wrestlers, Schorr asserts that “masculinity has been depicted in very black and white terms…There never seems to be a wide range of emotional definitions of men” (Art:21).
As Schorr explains, “I love…to see two guys throwing some moves and then being careful that they didn’t hurt each other. Pushing as hard as they can but then pulling back, making sure they’re okay. Talking about it, how to do it better, giving each other advice. All that...is a rich part of masculinity” (Art:21). Through images such as Catch/Caught (A.C. & S.S.) and An Image and a Likeness (2003), Schorr attempts to present the full range of emotions that she observes on wrestling teams, moments of determination or toughness as well as those of tenderness.
As would be expected in such a high contact sport, one of the main studies of Schorr’s work is how wrestlers physically interact with each other. Schorr presents camaraderie between teammates that, at times, is almost homoerotic.
The rivalry between God and other gods (2002) depicts two shirtless boys in a strong wrestling embrace. Considering the relentless assertion of machismo that is often linked to “jocks,” these two teenagers appear intimately familiar with each other’s sweaty, muscular bodies. Images such as Lives of performers (G.R.) (2003) and Reaching (H.T.) (2003) further demonstrate Schorr’s skill to alter her subjects, transforming the violent wrestlers into beautiful abstractions sprawled out against the black canvas of the mat.
If any artist has successfully considered all of the themes discussed above—the physicality of sports, self-imposed rules and obstacles, masculinity, and ambiguity of gender—it is Matthew Barney. Barney (b. 1967), heralded by chief art critic for the New York Times, Michael Kimmelman, as “the most important American artist of his generation,”, has received, since his emergence in the art world, a mixture of unadulterated praise as well as unabashed criticism. Overall, though, Barney must be acknowledged as one of the most imaginative, ambitious, and significant artists of his time. Throughout the vast, eccentric collection of sculptures, videos, and performances that Barney has created, there is a constant presence of sports. These recurring athletic references are rooted in Barney’s personal experiences with football and weight training.
Since an early age, Barney has been familiar with locker rooms and gym equipment, weight training, and the physical endurance that athletics demands. In high school, he was the quarterback of his football team. Later, he paid his way through college as a model, part of the time working for J. Crew. Clearly, Mathew Barney is a “jock.” His familiarity with athletic subject matter is very accessible in works such as Transexualis (Decline) (1991), but becomes more abstracted in Barney’s later work, such as his Cremaster Cycle (1994-2002) video series.
One of the most commonly recurring concepts that Barney gleaned from his athletic experiences is the breaking down of muscle tissue in the body in order to encourage its growth (SFMOMA). This theme of enduring a challenging and often destructive process in order to develop is present in much of the artist’s work. Although this drives virtually all of Barney’s art, it is most clear in works such as the Drawing Restraint series, which Barney first began to develop while still in college. In these performances and videos, Barney would impose physical restrictions on himself, which he would then have to overcome in an attempt to create a drawing. It is only after struggling against resistance and enduring severe physical strain that the drawings are created. This theme continued to fuel Barney’s work on his five-part Cremaster Cycle (1994-2002) series of films. The cremaster, the muscle that
regulates the temperature of the male testes, and the embryonic process of sexual development in the human body provided the starting point for this set of cryptic films. The Cremaster films are rife with symbolism and historical references—including Harry Houdini, Gary Gilmore, Freemasonry, and the Mormon Church—that are all connected and significant to Barney in some mystifying, esoteric way. Although the Cremaster films are much different from the Drawing Restraint series, they are inspired by the same concept: a long, challenging process yields development.
Ostensibly, the connections between Barney’s art and his past life as an athlete are much more conceptual than they are visual and, as a consequence, are not always obvious. Although he is greatly influenced by organized sports as is David Rathman and Collier Schorr, Barney’s creations are much different. Beyond obvious images and references, such as the role Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho plays as the stage for the synchronized dancing in Cremaster 1, or his gigantic photographs of his high school idol, former Oakland Raiders center, Jim Otto, as well as the use of wrestling mats in his Jim Otto Suite instillations, it can be unclear that Barney’s art has any connection to sports at all (although his still very athletic physique, which is featured in many of his near-naked performances, might hint at his former life.) When Barney addresses “unacknowledged or suppressed sexuality in men’s sports” (Woodward 3), the same subject that has fascinated Rathman and Schorr, he does so, not by delicately portraying violent, macho
images, but by a performance of him pushing around football blocking sled while wearing a cocktail dress. In all of his art, what establishes Barney most as a “jock artist” is his conceptual references to the physicality of sports and how that physicality relates to the physicality of his own process of creating art.
This interest in the physical activity that goes into creating art links Barney to the early process and performance artists of the 60s. A piece such as Splashing (1968) by Richard Serra, who plays a lead role in Cremaster 3 as an architect of whom Barney is the apprentice, is directly quoted as being influential by Barney and is reenacted in Cremaster 3 (although this time, instead of Serra flinging molten lead against the corner between a floor and wall to create a mold, Serra hurls one of Barney’s signature mediums, Vaseline). Similarly, Bruce Nauman was interested in using his body as a medium for his art. Many of his pieces involved him exploring the space of his gallery with his body. A video piece such as Violin Tuned D.E.A.D. (1969) for instance, features Nauman strutting around his while studio droning the open strings of a violin, examining how the sound changed with his movements. Another influential predecessor of Barney was Chris Burden who was made famous for his highly physical, often violent, performances. His gruesome Trans-fixed (1974), in which Burden had himself nailed to the back of a Volkswagen Beetle, certainly exhibited endurance through pain.
The lineage of this fascination with the physical process of art can be traced through the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock (1912-1956). Descriptions of Pollock working on a painting in his studio, as well as the famous documentation by photographer Hans Namuth, depict the artist dancing around a giant, outspread canvas on the floor, flinging paint. This physical energy and movement is abundantly clear in paintings such as One: Number 31, 1950 (1950), an emblematic Pollock painting. To extend the lineage further, author Joyce Carol Oates argues Pollock’s “action painting” (a term coined by American critic, Harold Rosenberg) is anticipated by the quick and energetic brushstrokes of George Bellows whose paintings exhibit a “rush of skilled activity" that evidences the fact that Bellows certainly wasn’t standing perfectly still as he created his art. Barney’s artistic ancestors are clear: a family of artists who are fiercely interested in the way the physical movements of the body create, and sometimes are, works of art.
The relationship between physicality and art appears to be what unites the team of jock artists. Sports and the creating of art are both highly physical acts. As Schorr dances around her wrestlers and Matthew Barney struggles against a harness to try to complete a drawing, or, by contrast, Rathman delicately details his paintings, they are all responding to the potency of sports, even if that response is, as Rathman’s art presents, a gentle one. Through such artists two seemingly disparate disciplines are brought together.
Jock artists, regardless of whether or not they themselves play sports, have realized the power of sports to affect people. They see athletics as analogous to life, even more, as a microcosm of life. Through sports, humans are pushed to mental and emotional extremes. They compete in a drive for survival and victory that could be compared to the experience of fighting a battle; and when they fail, their grief is deeply felt. The sometimes painful, often blank, faces of Moffat’s subjects are not the just faces of defeated athletes, but human beings who have battled and lost; their pathos is recognizable to everyone. Even Matthew Barney’s concept of development being achieved through endurance, is not one exclusive to sports; consider, for example, all the unpleasant experiences that have been justified by parents to their children as “character building.” Collier Schorr, too, believes there is universality to the characters her photographs presents when she states, “I think a lot of people see their own struggles as teenagers in the pictures. They see that transition from adolescent to grownup to adult” (Art:21).
Athletics has proven to be a resilient resource for artists. From Myron to Matthew Barney, jocks have had their place in the art world and sports’ ability to evoke authentic, deeply felt, and recognizable emotions in both the subject and the viewer, has been acknowledged for centuries. This power coupled with the image of sweaty young men grappling together in an effort to force each other into submission, renders sports a subject that is understandably too enticing for artists to ignore.
Agee, William C. “Lee Walton: Drawing and Baseball.” LeeWalton.com. 2005. 15 October, 2008 http://www.leewalton.com/biography/William_C_Agee_Essay.html
Art:21. “Wrestlers Love America.” Art:21. <http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/schorr/clip2.html>
Clementine Gallery. “David Rathman.” <http://www.clementinegallery.com/rathman2004.html>
Hume, Christopher. “Athletic heroes once art staple.” Toronto Star 1 July 2001 Sunday Ontario
Edition: SPORTS 08- . Lexis Nexis Academic. CUNY Hunter College, New York, NY. 6 Nov. 2008 <http://academic.lexisnexis.com/online-services/academic-overview.aspx>
Matthew Barney discusses his influences. SFMOMA, 2000
Morris, Daniel. "Figuring and disfiguring: Joyce Carol Oates on boxing and the paintings of
George Bellows." Mosaic (Winnipeg). 31.4 (Dec. 1998): p135. Literature Resources from Gale. Gale. HUNTER COLLEGE. 28 Nov. 2008
National Gallery of Art. “George Bellows – Biography.” <http://www.nga.gov/cgi-
The Rake: Magazine. “David Rathman.” The Rake: Magazine 29 Jan. 2007
Woodward, Richard B. “Home Team Advantage.” The New York Times 15 Feb. 2004: Section
2; Column 1; Arts and Leisure Desk; Pg. 17.
 Although it may not be the first time it was used, the term “jock art” was found in the New York Times article “Home Team Advantage” by Richard B. Woodward.
 Only a Roman copy of the Greek original remains.
 Examples can be seen in images 17 and 18
Abbey White '13
I am from red clay, born with bare legs and elbows stained with dirt.
When the sky got too big to carry, I pressed an ear
to the ground, listening to the heartbeat that lay beneath.
And when the hoof beats of the buffalo shook my bones,
I knew it was not man who set the world to spinning.
I am from the open prairies where my hands,
small and starved and caked with dirt between nail and flesh,
reached down to grasp fingers belonging to a man
with a fiddle on one shoulder and a gun on the other, in a place
where the trees give way to the sky in every direction but down.
I am from the crest of a hill where I crept to his place, watching him
as he cried from his shoulder. It was the strangest sound
I ever heard, the way those horsetails cried— the bow looping
up and around, dancing, as he pulled that stick into song, singing
Oh Mary, Mary, will you marry me?
I am from a cloth village, possessing not what the brick village does—
skirts that reach my toes, corsets lacing me up like a cakíra¢ in a cage.
With my hair wrapped round like a little rock, at the nape of my neck,
he let a whistle escape from his puckered lips. But by the smudged mirror
I had never seen anything so ugly.
I am from a dowry of beads and buffalo skins and his house upon the hill
where he learned my real name. From making cornmeal with bacon,
stirring dough with my hands when he wasn’t looking, smiling
at his blue-as-the-water eyes when he was, and folding his clothes
with flour covered palms, as if a ghost had done the laundry.
I am from an imprint left on cornhusks and feathers, leaving him wake
to a clap of thunder and the sight of me standing in the doorway,
the wind pulling at my nightgown and hair I let loose. Rain drips
through windows, licking at his feet as he kisses my cold cheeks
whispering, Bright eyes, Bright eyes, why ain't you shinin' no more?
I am from stolen land, bought lakes, lost tribes, and captured souls.
Salt skin with blistered feet from blistering sand— a brown mermaid,
plucked from the sea, in borrowed gowns my ocean eyes stain with tears.
Katherine Perkins '11
In a photograph you capture only a millisecond, if that. We stumbled out the back door of the bar into a semi-deserted patio. It felt like somebody’s backyard and therefore like trespassing, but the space was muffled from the music and general debauchery inside, so we stayed. The rest of the river guides were trying to set the camera’s timer so that we could all be in the picture, but James was too drunk and probably too slow to begin with—sometimes he got all of us in it, but in those cases the flash didn’t go off so we looked like blurry ghosts, orbs caught by accident on film. In other cases the flash worked but the aim didn’t so all you could see were twelve or thirteen groping bodies with beer bottles.
I had grabbed Matt’s hand and told him to come outside, but the confidence of the impulse left me as soon as we stepped off the dance floor, so we joined the rest of the photo crew like it had been our intention all along to stand there with a bunch of drunken, hugging, almost-strangers and smile at a digital camera in the dark.
That night I decided I was more in Maine than I had ever been. The weekend had seen me compromise all of my definite morals. Friday midnight I was driving back dirt roads with stoners and drunks, who drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on a Bud, slow, not to save the occupants, but the interior of the car from another coat of Jack and soda. Saturday afternoon, sitting in the back of a stranger’s coup, I took sips of drinks mixed in Styrofoam by a thirty-two-year-old mother with cigarettes and beer on her breath—where’s the kid, someone asked, and she laughed, he’s with James, he’s with James. That same night I danced in a bar with girls who pretended to be lesbians so the men who walked in, stinking of bug spray and whiskey and smoke, would drool in their general direction. There still, I tried giving signals with my eyes to the boy I’d known all of twenty-four hours and stumbled with him into someone else’s drunken Kodak moment. Everything about the place made my insides revolt, but I didn’t want to be an outsider there. In the back of my mind there was a steady inkling of the notion that none of it could possibly end well, but that was combined with the other voice in my head, that self-effacing voice that said Stop being a mother; Stop being so goddamn responsible; When the hell else will you ever do anything like this? So I gave in to the second voice and decided that I would be a little bit of a different person for the evening—I was more in Maine than I’d ever been.
Before that weekend, the boy, Matthew Leisure, was the river guide my cousin Alix kept telling me about. As usual, Alix was more concerned about fixing my dry spell than I was, so her cogs were turning way ahead of time, making considerations about who might be the fix. She described him as tall, overall-wearing, Texan, blue-eyed, sheepish and a bit of a drinker, so I was pretty much all for it—except for the drinking part, which she kind of glossed over with a half-apology that it was only this summer, now that he was living in The Forks.
You couldn’t really be part of that world without drinking, Alix kept saying. It was like one collective bad decision after another, but because everybody took part, it was okay. This is how you really live, they said with everything they did. If you’re not risking your life, how do you know—how could you possibly—that you’re living it?
Alix told me this—it was Friday afternoon and we were driving down the dirt road to the Moxie Guide Service base camp and the light was real nice through the trees because the light is always nice through the trees in the late afternoon in Northern Maine, and she told me this: You’re the kind of girl that a boy will never make a move on, unless you give him a real sure sign. You’ve gotta put something out there that he can grab ahold of, she said. See, you’re the kind of girl he wants to marry, not make-out with. A guy doesn’t want to go in for something casual when he thinks you might be a marriage prospect.
The thing about my dry spell, is that it doesn’t bother me so much until somebody I love and care for gets to addressing it like it’s their own. My own disappointment would, for the most part, be manageable, but seeing the looks on their faces makes my stomach grimace because you would think, from those looks, that they’d all had five hundred dollar bets going that I had an engagement to announce.
But Alix told me this: that unless I want to come across like a marriage prospect—for somebody’s younger, more religiously motivated brother, or a boy scout—I’ve got to make a general announcement with my body and my mouth that I do not, in fact, intend to be a cloistered nun. Touch his leg or something, she said. Give him a little sign. Use your eyes. Use them. You’ve gotta use what you’ve got.
The frustrating part is when she gets to giving me these pointers, the whole time I’m thinking: but wait. Wait a second. Don’t I do that? Don’t I do that already? If those weren’t signs I was giving with my eyes, then what the hell were they? Which leads me to the question: when you say ‘give clear signals,’ how overt are we talking here? I begin to think, based on these and other conversations whose primary subjects have been my dry spell, that the best approach would be to say it all straight out: Hello, my name is such and such and I am a sexual being. Would you like to ----? Or something along those lines. Very clear, very direct, a statement of what is, followed by an attractive proposal. Of course there are some who would say that there is nuance lacking in this approach. But the world seems to be in agreement these days that nuance is secondary to sex appeal, so I’ll go for the clear and direct I guess.
I didn’t realize until more than a month after I’d left The Forks, that I was getting inadvertent lessons in all the advice Alix was trying to give me from a woman named Maria. She was mentioned earlier as the thirty-two year-old mother mixing drinks in the front seat. She’s the mother of a seven-year-old named Romeo and she wears a skirt so short that you can see her underwear when she leans over, or you could, if you were looking. Our first night in The Forks, she came upstairs where all the guides were drinking Buds and chatting, and she sat down with her legs spread and Romeo right there between them, facing out at the rest of us. I don’t think there was a person in the room who could have avoided the thought that if Romeo decided to move just a tick to one side or the other, we would all, whether we signed up or not, have a free peak at Mother Maria’s downstairs.
You could say Maria knows what she’s got—it’s not for no reason that she wears that little tiny skirt—and I say ‘that’ skirt because there is just one that she wears, her goldy-tan legs coming out like little roman statues in all their naked glory—every day. I know it’s the same because on Sunday morning, following Saturday night’s debauchery, the object in question was muddy and stained with beer and who knows what else, and she was there in the kitchen in that, a Moxie T-Shirt and an apron, mopping the floor at 7:30. Maria is nuts, the guys kept on saying, but she’s a hard worker. She’s a hard fucking worker.
On Saturday afternoon the drinking started as soon as we got off the river—Buds opened up out of coolers in the flatbeds of muddy pickups—just like a bad advertisement. The overall-wearing, sweet-singing Texan invited me to go swimming with him at some falls somewhere nearby, and I thought this swimming trip might just be the beginning of a ticket for relief from my dry spell. Also, as my presence hadn’t really allowed Alix and her fiancé, Todd, any hanky-panky for the weekend, I decided it would be a nice gesture to accept.
A long, skinny girl named Meredith with kind of hunched over posture was driving and Matt hopped into the back with me. For a minute, I thought he was being romantic and letting Meredith be our chauffer, but then we stopped at the Moxie base camp and Maria got in front with her short skirt and a bag of ice and a cloth bag over her shoulder. Maria’s teeth and her legs are the most vivid parts of her and she was showing them both, grinning big to have her Mommy obligations on hold for the moment. She turned around in her seat and produced a stack of Styrofoam cups, a liter of coke and a bottle of Bacardi from her bag. She pointed at me with the rum. Who are you again? She asked. You’re Todd’s other girlfriend, right? Your Todd’s other girlfriend.
Kate. I filled in the blank. Kate Kate Kate, she said. I’ll remember it now. I swear I’ll remember. She turned back to the front. Okay, driver first, she said. You ready Meredith?
With the cap of the rum in her teeth and the cup balanced between her knees and the bottle not in use at her feet, she mixed it strong, all the while saying, Don’t worry—it’s mostly ice. Looking at her, you wouldn’t think this woman could possibly be a day over twenty-three—even less that she could be the mother of a seven-year-old, or of anybody for that matter. She passed one back to Matt. Jee-sus Maria. His whole body winced as it went down. I’m sorry—do you want me to dilute it for you? I could pour some into mine, she said. Naw, it’s alright, he said. But Christ.
By three or four dead-slow miles, bumping and sloshing down the road—all of the cars and trucks in The Forks smell like drunk driving, mostly on account of the fact that that is their primary occupation—Maria and Meredith were all over each other and loud in the front seat, saying how good it was to get together like this and why the fuck hadn’t they ever partied together before? Matt and I in the back seat were, for the most part, pretty quiet, except when we were laughing at the two in front and answering the occasional questions they threw back at us, like, Do you want another drink, and What’s your name again?
So far, I’d gathered a number of facts about our trip and its participants:
1) We were going to some falls that were really beautiful to swim before dark; 2) They planned on smoking pot when we got there; 3) The distance from the base camp to the falls was anywhere between five and ten miles—Why? asked Maria, grinning all her pretty teeth at me, Do you want to get out?; 4) That Meredith had gotten in some degree of trouble for previous drunken afternoon and evening expeditions; and 5) That Romeo was in the responsible, if slightly inebriated, hands of Maria’s well-intentioned, dumb-ass younger brother, James, for the duration of her binge.
The fact of the eventual pot-smoking got significantly more attention than the other facts, as we spent considerable time discussing the cost-benefit ratio of smoking in the car vs. smoking when we got there. Matt said he needed to smoke a cigarette to give the issue proper thought and asked Meredith to stop the car so we wouldn’t have to breathe his second-hand. Meredith enjoys driving a stick-shift with one rum & coke down the gullet and another in hand, but she draws the line firm and clear at cigarettes, a delineation that I think deserves at least some vague form of acknowledgement or appreciation, if not respect.
Standing outside the car with a thin line of trees and the lake behind him, Matt asked Meredith for her lighter. Would you look in the backseat? she asked me. And in that box at your feet? I found a clothespin and a condom and part of a candy bar and a stack of papers, but nothing resembling a lighter. Shit, they began to giggle in the front. We’ve come all the way out here and we don’t have a fucking lighter. Two things were decided: one, that we were officially too far out to turn around and go back, and two, that we’d come too far to turn around with only half our mission complete. So they decided that as soon as we saw somebody, anybody, we would ask them right away if they had a lighter and how much they wanted for it. Matt got back in the car and we were on our way again.
What didn’t seem to be occurring to any of them was what seemed to me the very distinct likelihood that we wouldn’t see anybody at all. They were discussing what they would say to somebody and whether they would offer to borrow or pay for it, and I was thinking how I should go about phrasing how ridiculous they all sounded, as I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen another car, or house for that matter. Then like an apparition out of nowhere, a vision of an angel, there was an old guy with a beard and a beer-belly, fishing on a bridge on the road in front of us. Meredith leaned out her window—Hey. Do you have a lighter?
The guy had one of those mouths where the bottom lip is constantly moving out and in, like he’s trying to chew on something without using his top teeth, while also making it prerogative to maintain his frown.
Yeah, I’ve got a lighter, he said, fishing in his pocket.
You catching anything? asked Matt.
Naw, he said. He turned out to look at the lake for a minute. He turned back again, still frowning. Naw, he said again. There’s nothing out there.
He produced a lighter and handed it to Meredith, glancing in at the rest of us with big sad eyes. Thanks, said Meredith, and she shifted the car back into gear. Wait, you’ve gotta ask him if it’s okay if we take it, said Maria. Yeah, said Matt, or ask him if he smokes. Hey, do you smoke? asked Meredith, sticking her head back out the window. Yeah, he said. He was a little bewildered now. You smoke pot? No, I don’t have any on me, he said. But you smoke it? Sure he said. When I can.
We’re just gonna pull over up here, Meredith said. You wanna smoke a joint with us? Yeah, sure okay, he said.
We pulled over on an old side road leading up towards an old gravel yard and he left his fishing gear on the bridge. You wanna drink? Asked Matt. No, don’t drink, he said. Just smoke. When I can.
I was feeling kind of antsy by this time on account of driving piss-slow on a dirt road that was in no way familiar to me for upwards of half an hour with people who were also unfamiliar and also drunk, and also on account of not knowing how much longer we’d be driving to get to the nowhere that was our destination in the middle of even more nowhere. On account of all of those things, and also the fact that pot makes my heart beat about a million times a second and turns my mind into a paranoid den, I didn’t want to smoke with them, and I didn’t really feel like standing around and watching them get high, so I said I wanted to go look at the reflection of rocks in the lake and I took off. Hey, I’ll come with you, said Maria, and she left the stoners to join me by the water.
So you don’t really drink, she said.
Not really. I said. Occasionally. Sometimes.
So you don’t. It’s okay—I don’t really either—just sometimes. Weekends, you know. I can’t really. With Romeo.
How old is he? I asked.
He’s seven. You wouldn’t know though, looking at him, would you? He’s small for his age. I’m small too, you know, she said after a minute, like I hadn’t noticed her hairline at my chin level. So I’m hoping he takes after his father. Romeo’s father is really tall.
He’s not in the picture? I said.
His dad—Romeo’s father—he’s not around?
She looked me in the eye to see how her words would affect me. She tilted her head to the side and rubbed her fingers through her hair so the sun struck her eyes and her hair and her teeth just right. No, she said. Romeo’s father is in jail.
That must be rough, I said, and we were both silent for a while.
Yeah, she said eventually. It is. He’s a good person you know—we’re all good people right? But he’s the kind of guy who makes a lot of bad decisions. She looked at the lake, Fucking beautiful isn’t it?
It’s nice to have a conversation with somebody you don’t know when you’ve got something scenic to look at while you’re talking so you’ve got a real decent, genuine excuse not to make eye contact too often.
No kidding, I said, Fucking beautiful. I was trying to figure out how to phrase to her that she was, in fact, the kind of person that I most wanted to connect with and that it seemed like there was something cosmic about out meeting here like this. All winter I’d been talking to and thinking and writing about women whose husbands and brothers and boyfriends and fiancés and child-fathers were behind bars—women in California, women in the city—and I thought, how strange and purposeful this whole world must be, if I’m meeting this woman here, like this, on a planet so unrelated to the first. What I ended up saying was something mostly incoherent about how the women’s stories—the stories of the women on the outside, the ones who were suffering from the absence rather than the confinement—were so often overlooked, which is why I’m interested in telling them. But I think I said too much and I’m not sure if she believed me, though she did most likely develop an impression of somebody significantly stranger than her first glimpses had indicated.
I kept on getting struck by how much younger than thirty she looked, standing there with the late afternoon sun in her face. The word to describe her may not have been vulnerable, but she was worn to being open for a moment at least—a young person worn through and weary to the core. And also with a kind of brimming drive and intelligence that her looks and circumstances got in the way of far too early on in her existence. It was no innocent game she was playing, but I also got the sense that she was programmed to play it from the start.
Come on, she said. We should go back. We walked along the edge of the lake to where three blood-shot-eyed individuals were waiting, staring into space, leaning against the bumper of Meredith’s car. Matt gave the fisherman his lighter and got in with me. We pulled away, and I watched the old man through the back window as he returned to the fishing gear on the bridge, where he would sit and catch nothing until the sun went down.
Faith Griffiths '11
Scene One: The Restaurant Kitchen.
Tristan and Lorena are in the otherwise empty kitchen of the restaurant where they both work. Tristan is sitting, shaping cookie dough, while Lorena stands, fidgeting, in the doorway. Kitchen sounds and yells are in the background so both characters must shout.
I’m sorry Tristan, but I’m leaving you.
Tristan drops the pan of warm cookies he is holding.
I said, I’m leaving! Look, I’ve fallen in love with Antonio, and-
The new sous chef?!?! What, are his knives sharper than a measly baker’s? Is it because he has a perfect dice? Because he smells like garlic and liver and onions? You like that, Lorena?
Antonio is nice, he’s good looking, he has a normal SLEEP PATTERN! I can’t do this anymore, Tristan. I can’t be with a baker. I mean, you’re a professional baker. A man who bakes. Who makes cookies and cakes all day. I need someone more…more… (quieter) serious.
Serious? Serious? You think I just play little dessert games all day? Fine! Go be with the handsome, serious chef. See if I care! You never appreciated me! You never respected my profession! Just go!
Lorena slams the door, leaving Tristan alone in the bakeshop. He stares at the crumbled cookies on the floor. He takes deep breaths, an attempt to be tough. He fails, sinking to the floor and starts crying in his hands. (Fades.)
Scene Two: The Grocery Store.
Tristan is sadly moping around the aisles, every so often (seemingly at random) picking up baking ingredients and dropping them carelessly into his basket.. He is continuously sniffling and occasionally right out sobbing (pretty exaggerated and a little embarrassing for him, but he cannot help it). Other customers are giving him either strange, embarrassed looks or very sad, sympathetic looks. During this:
Tristan, usually a rather happy, go-lucky man (but serious when he needed to be, certainly), was a baker. He had been for many, many years. He knew he wanted to for as long as he could remember. He still used the recipe he’d created as a boy for his very first cake – German chocolate with thick chocolate butter cream frosting. Tristan had worked hard in baking school and in all the restaurants and bakeries throughout the years, putting in 110% to his craft and climbing the ladder to get to be head pastry chef at the prestigious restaurant of the preceding scene. He’d been dating Lorena practically since he’d arrived at the restaurant, half a year ago, when he’d won the job over 14 other very good bakers. Lorena had begun flirting with him almost immediately. She’d idle around the bakeshop, asking him questions about baking, trying samples; seeming genuinely interested in him and his art. Tristan had been delighted and soon the two began dating. Now, in his despair, Tristan realized how deceptive it all had been, how Lorena had only been interested because of his title, and now so quickly won over by new prestige. Even so, he sobbed and sobbed, heart-broken and hurt. Bakers are sensitive people after all, even if they can be serious when they need to be.
(mumbling not-so-quietly to himself) I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it! After all we had together! All the soufflés I baked for her! The marzipan roses! The heart-shaped cupcakes! She told me she loved-
Tristan stops dead in his tracks, frozen. A hearty and silent pause before narrator starts up.
The reason for Tristan suddenly freezing in his latest lament was because, right then and there in the produce aisle, he saw her. Rather, he saw her basket. He didn’t even see her yet. It was as if she was blurred, but the basket, well, the basket was crystal clear.
We see the blurry figure of a woman (a large pane of crystal glass is in front of her, but there is a hole and we can see the basket quite clearly – light is shining brightly on it – it is glorious.)
This basket, friends, was filled with-
TRISTAN (in a sort of daze)
-granulated sugar, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sour cream, butter, eggs, and poppy seeds. And-
-The blurry figure was bent over the shelf of lemons, clearly intent on finding the three most perfect lemons. Obviously, she had-
-ALL THE INGREDIENTS TO MAKE LEMON POPPY SEED MUFFINS. MY-
-absolute favorite dessert. (pause) Tristan finally forced himself to look up from the basket, at the woman herself. He barely needed to, though. For he was perfectly certain that he had just found-
-the love of my life.
The glass is slowly wheeled away from the woman. She is holding up a lemon to the light, trying to gauge any flaws. She and the lemon are both quite beautiful.
Tristan gulped loudly. (gulps loudly) And he could not help but burst out grandly with the music of his brimming heart:
(bring light on Tristan)
TRISTAN (with musical troupe)
Let me be the lemon to your poppy seed
I will give you everything you’ll ever need
We’ll share flour, butter, and sour cream
For your sugar I will have an endless greed.
We’ll make heart-shaped muffins
Baked to golden brown
And when we wed,
You’ll wear a lemon-colored gown.
A lemon-colored gown.
(with Lemon chorus) Ohhhhhh, Lemons! Lemons! Lemons! Lemons!
Poppy Seeds! Poppy Seeds! Poppy Seeds! Poppy Seeds! (repeats 3 or 4 times)
Let me be the lemon to your poppy seed
I will give you everything you’ll ever need
We’ll share flour, butter, and sour cream
For your sugar I will have an endless greed.
Let me be your… poppy… seed.
(When the “Ohhhhhhh, Lemons!” section arrives, the chorus comes out and stands behind Tristan, playing instruments and singing along with him for the rest of the song. They also dance around the woman, who is oblivious to the entire number as she continues to focus on finding the last lemons. As the last line finishes, the stage lights go off and the chorus members slink off quickly. Normal lighting comes back on quickly and Tristan remains in his last pose, hands raised and reaching for the woman, who is now rummaging through her basket.)
Well, the music was just in his head. Don’t you wish people really proclaimed their love like this in real life? Tristan did, too.
(turns around, breathing heavily and trying to muster his courage)
(to himself) Okay, okay, I’m just going to walk over, and say “hi”. No that’s stupid – maybe, “Oh, are those lemons you’re choosing? I may be mistaken, but I do believe those are the ingredients for…” No way. How about, “My, do I love lemons… Oh – you too?” Okay, okay… that’s good, okay…
(Woman has left behind a shelf during his mustering – she walks through the audience and out of the theater)
(Tristan turns and says) MY, DO I LOVE LEM- oh. She’s gone.
(Tristan crazily searches around the aisles of the stage, into the audience.)
Hello? Uh, miss? Uh, Lemon Lady? Hello?
“The Lemon Lady” was gone. In and out of his life, in an instant. But it didn’t matter. Tristan just knew that he would find her! And when he did, he would profess his love to her for real. And then they would make muffins together.
(in the middle of the audience) I just know I’ll find her! And when I do, I’ll profess my love to her for real! And then we’ll make muffins together.
(Exits through audience.)
Yinglei Zhang is a Chinese artist and teacher. She grew up in China and came to United States in 1985. She teaches Chinese painting and calligraphy both privately and through Saint Michael’s College, Williams College and many other institutes in the area. She studied Chinese painting with Xubai Li ( China) , and Guozi Yu (Hong Kong) and has a BA in Chinese language and literature, an advanced certificate in Chinese classical literature and a Masters in Art Education. Yinglei currently teaches at Bennington College.
Rachel Piacenta '10
Rachel Piacenta '10 is currently a senior studying the intersection of visual arts and education. She has been using photography to understand how conceptual thinking is transformed into process and how this process is then explained to students.
Emmet Penney '11
To do: remember that he is not you.
You have plateaued where he plummeted, stayed
afloat where he went under. Back when you
were younger, the inert july air made
you woozy in the back yard. He tried
and failed to keep himself from falling in
front of the neighbors. Mr. Baker sighed,
like, Now I know why I never liked him.
You watched as your mother shook him awake
then took him inside. It was like a crop
circle—even the new seeds failed to take.
After enough kids asked you learned to stop
trying at the truth. “It was just some bum.”
You can’t explain where marks like that come from.
Sara Judy '11
Clay-colored men outlined in the thick smoke;
I will hold them in my hair. The morning's
water frees them. My sweet grass ghosts, mourning
feet that touch the ground while moon shine coaxes
the beat out from resin-hard skin drums. Beads cloak
the arms of dancers, feet are offerings
painted red in dust and sweat, mixed. Cêskwa
I will tell you a story: what sleep softens.
In my dream I squat like a squaw, hunched up
over my ankles. And when I wake up
the sheets are wet, you are a still vision,
you become a soft woman, beside me.
I follow your spine in living worship.
I’ve never been in love with a woman.
I’ve never been in love with a woman,
(I can see that you are not a woman)
but when you ask me, kapîsin, and touch
my breast soft as new leather, breathing such
that I can hear the distance between us
and sky. Endless prairie, suffocating sky.
I sleep in the dust of the arena, in the dust I lay,
in places tamped down from frantic dances
and frightened cattle weeping hot skin,
black cow eyes, beads rather, I remember
them red. I remember yellowed feathers
that were mostly black. I find one, worn thin,
under my body, think that must be why
I can’t sleep, not because of your absence.
I can’t sleep, not because of your absence,
but because the wind will not leave my hair.
No, not my hair. It bends through the wheat spires,
those thin reedy women stand crowded, present
visions to fill the eye even at night,
singing we will be cut down soon. Thresher,
combine, saying them even tastes finite.
Hiding in red morning clouds, horror
lives here, too. Watching the dangerous sky,
Omisi, I will show you what they do:
while we are pierced and bound, metal mouths chew
into earth. You circle the pole four times,
ignore the spin of combine teeth, undone
for the whistle of a bird’s hollow bone.
For the whistle of a bird’s hollow bone;
why do we insist on better reasons?
I long for the nights alone on the plains,
reaching for the milk-blue and yellow moon.
Visions come from the yarrow, whitlow-grass,
Moon is an illusion; they light themselves.
Instead I had those painted nights with you–
naked, too smooth. When I reached for you, passed
my hands to you across the dark bedroom
the quilt appeared to me, but no visions.
My elbow lifts me to the window, watching
I pretend to see a fox move, so low
that all I have is his grey back flexing.
The skin-taut moon is very much herself.
The skin-taut moon is very much herself.
I push at the smoke. My hands move through it
as if it were a ghost, clothed in red bands
cast off from the fire. The sparks live, fly lit
to be reflected in eyes and glass beads.
I should get up for the dance, but I sit,
watch figures move in rings, the moon recedes.
The night takes over my eyes, barely lit
figures move to re-light the fire, to coax
away darkness. I tried singing, but spoke
to myself instead; tired woman, rise.
Wâpiw, can you see them? I strain my eyes
to see, profiled against one sky’s expanse,
three men moving, outlined in the thick smoke.
Three men, moving outlined, in the thick smoke;
they will do this again tomorrow. Beating
drums that start down low, deep inside my chest
the circle passes with wide steps, bent heads.
How do they know what to do with their hands?
I never know. Their feathers blur, never rest.
This pains me, so I walk out to the vendors.
A large, old woman, dressed in jeans tells me
her dream catchers cost a dollar for four.
Their red beads are questions, or no, just beads.
I drink a warm canned soda and move bees
away from my face with slow, awkward hands.
If you were here would you buy the promise
of quiet sleep? Of a night without visions?
Of quiet sleep, of a night without visions,
would you sing to me? Wash the smoke over
your body. I have heard you make the pledge:
braided sweet grass, four days without water.
Wail in early morning, meet in the woods
to make your war against ceremony.
The men will sing with you, show you how to
close your eyes, to not look at the women,
hanging your red strips of cloth in the trees.
Focus on your hands and the thirsting sun.
When we met, you let me ask a question:
What do you think to do by catching me?
Holding my arm you brought me out, saying
Kiya niya. Yes, but only for a while.
I am yours, yes. But only for a while
can you keep me. Outside the painted dreams
I lose myself. Under your sky, I find
that I never belonged to you. I came
out from fields, milkweed and cone-flower; all
my red petals hang down, drag in the clay.
That is to say, I am from the expanse
between destinations. Stay too long, risk
my body to the fields of gumweed, sam-
phire, all gone to seed. Here they burn fires
for the night’s dance, collect embered feathers;
women paint visions across their cheekbones,
see sparks flying up and think: Manitou.
I lied to you; give me back to the moon
Written and Performed by Faith Griffiths '11 w/ Fiddle and Voice back-up by Amanda Vorce '10
Faith Griffiths has had a personal affirmation this term that she likes best creating work that is childish/fantastical/dinosaurs/baking/but-not-necessarily-just-for-children themed. In the past she did not believe that these were themes she could do serious and respectable work on; her time at Bennington proves that if she works very hard and is true to what is inside of her, "I most certainly can".
Nick Janikian ‘13
The chair reclines as the oral surgeon presses down a button on the floor with her foot. She is reassuring, keeping a mundane but comforting conversation about my senior high school career flowing while she prepares the tools for the surgery. A drill, an IV needle with accompanying bag, filled with a mysterious liquid, and an assortment of other sharp looking tools not necessarily meant for the inside of the mouth all lie on a metal tray to my right. I am not worried, only antsy.
A large rubber tube with an opening in the middle is placed over my nose. The surgeon tells me to start taking heavy breaths. Laughing gas. I’m smiling almost immediately and stare at the plaster tiles on the ceiling. Each groove of the tiles is different, like thousands of rocks surrounding me in a cavernous enclosure. I’m floating now, my whole body becoming a giant balloon. The IV goes into a vein on my right arm, allowing what I think is water to travel slowly into my thirsty blood (it has been ten hours since my last bite of food or sip of water, doctor’s orders). The surgeon comforts me, asking if I’m feeling okay. I tell her yes, my voice a weak, giggling whimper. I’m still smiling, on the verge of laughter as I keep inhaling and exhaling through the contraption on my face. She places monitoring devices on my right index finger, right and left wrists. The beeps on the monitor send me into a state of desolate brain activity. Every thought stops and then starts again by the beeping intervals of the machine.
Another woman enters the room, smiling at me and asking if I remember her. Of course I remember her. She's the receptionist from the front desk. I then realize I have no idea how long ago it was I was out in the waiting room, inattentively flipping through a magazine as I awaited this procedure. I picture my father still sitting out there, reading his book and chuckling out loud at the witty little passages that he tried to explain to me (without much interest on my part, but considering the gravity of my situation, could I really be to blame?).
The surgeon tells me she is starting the anesthesia and if the ceiling starts to spin, it’s a perfectly normal reaction. She is correct in her explanation; the plaster tiles slowly rock back and forth, move into a swirling motion, and remind me of Van Gogh's “Starry Night”. I don’t fall fully asleep, yet I am not aware of what is happening to me. My perception of time is lost, my eyelids heavy and free. At certain points I feel awake, conscious enough to have a clear image of the surgeon and the receptionist removing my wisdom teeth. I do not know if this is a figment of my chemically impaired imagination or a murky reality.
The operation ends in a cloudy haze, my vision and motions like that of a car crawling through an October morning fog. I shuffle slowly back to the waiting room, my knees weak and loose. I am stuck in my own state of mind, not aware of others around me. My father escorts me out of the surgeon’s office and into the car.
I arrive home not feeling much pain, just the taste of iron from the blood in the back of my mouth. My spit is a vibrant red like that of a heavily dyed fruit punch. Two small gauze pads sit atop the bottom-back corners of my mouth. The surgeon told me these pads are vital for the forming of blood clots. Still, trying to talk with gauze layering my teeth is not a lighthearted affair. My father fills two bags with frozen peas and places them into tube socks. He tells me to hold them against my cheeks. This task quickly becomes tiresome so I use an elastic band to keep them in place as I watch television. Every twenty minutes, the pea-filled socks come off, go back into the freezer for twenty minutes and then return to my face. Twenty on, twenty off. Everything has become an exhausting process.
For my first night of rest (or rather lack thereof), I have been instructed to sleep in a propped up position with my back flat, body facing forward. This is unfortunate considering I cannot recall a single night in my entire life in which I’ve fallen asleep this way. With my head inclined by two pillows, I sit back in an armchair and try to sleep. My mouth is sore, the pressure from my jaw sharp and constant. My neck is tense, strained from this awkward position. I look like a vampire resting in his coffin. I can’t sleep so I move from the armchair to a sofa, propping myself up with more pillows. No luck. I move to another sofa and end up lying awake for 4 more hours until the sun comes up. All hope of sleep is lost.
My diet for the first few days after the surgery consists of pudding, ice cream, mashed potatoes, refried beans, jello, chicken broth and water. To some this may seem like a dream come true but the desire for hard, substantial food drives me to the edge of insanity. I miss the feeling of grinding up nutritious delights between my teeth, which have been rendered useless by inflammation and pain. My jaw throbs and my gums burn whenever I accidentally open my mouth too wide, generally yawning or trying to talk. I watch as my parents indulge in a delicious meal, munching away with powerful bites that I am utterly incapable of performing.
The swelling at my jaw line extends into my cheeks I appear as I did in my pubescent days, chubby and clueless. Frozen peas no longer help. I sprawl my body across the couch and escape reality, entering a world of sitcom reruns and romantic comedies. Daytime TV programming proves to be almost as dreadful as my appearance.
Five days in, the bleeding has long since ceased and the swelling starts to fade, my skin no longer stretches across my face in an unequal fashion. These early teases of a healthy recovery make each day move by quicker, sunrise to sunset no longer takes an unbearable amount of time. I close my eyes and fantasize about my first solid meal: a juicy steak, cooked medium-well, accompanied by a baked potato (no more of that mashed nonsense) slathered in a heap of almost melted butter. For dessert a slice of chocolate cake with thickets of creamy frosting. Ah, the sweet bliss of chewing once again like a person with a fully developed set of teeth. I can barely stand the thought of these foods, can barely wait for their triumphant return to my palate.
Seven days after the extraction I look into the mirror to see a face staring back that will not scare off innocent bystanders, pedestrians simply strolling down the sidewalk to bask in the afternoon sun. Jolts of pain throughout my mouth still occasionally take hold of me, but, for the most part, they are much more subdued than those in the exhausting days past. The rawness of the sites of incision remind me of fresh puddles of mud an hour after a torrential downpour, soft and loose atop the wet earth. The dissolvable stitches still protrude from the corners of the inside of my mouth, poking and prodding my tongue. Hopefully they will soon wither away and release their wretched grips on my fleshy mouth tissue.
By the passing of the tenth day, post-surgery, I have made a full recovery. I walk amongst the masses, once again a human, with the permanent absence of four useless teeth. The two teeth the surgeon allowed me to keep are stored in a small transparent plastic case. The case sits atop a shelf on my desk on display as a reminder of the experience. Whenever my eyes wander over to it, a chill sails up my spine, echoing flashbacks of what was and always will be the loss of my wisdom teeth.
Crystal Barrick '11
And now, a shrinking river.
O, on the bank of the birthplace
of civilization, we turn around and we
are salt, are surrounded by
mounds of salt, excavated
from waves, from our desires—
piled, hollowed out; we
are tired. But we are unashamed.
Disregarding drought, we muscled
in crops, canals. With hard and heavy
hands we chased away
farmers, fishermen, other allusions
to God: We did this, needing.
We did this, knowing
when our Euphrates runs dry,
so will our burdens—
so was the revelation,
so is the Word.
We look up now
from our work, mouthing
prayers for smoke and trumpet sound,
for locusts like horses,
like women, like lions.
He who has no ear,
let Him hear our Spirit—
Loosen our angels!
We cry as we have tried
to pry them from
the calloused banks ourselves,
Yinglei Zhang is a Chinese artist and teacher. She grew up in China and came to United States in 1985. She teaches Chinese painting and calligraphy both privately and through Saint Michael’s College, Williams College and many other institutes in the area. She studied Chinese painting with Xubai Li ( China) , and Guozi Yu (Hong Kong) and has a BA in Chinese language and literature, an advanced certificate in Chinese classical literature and a Masters in Art Education. Yinglei currently teaches at Bennington College.
Jenny Rae Bailey '12
I piece you here—
steady, freshly strung,
a hum from your
Made to soften
my rigid spine. How
upright against the
wall. Your silence
loud as any blank
page. I listen
for the strum of your
tendril, perhaps a
chord is formed. To
me, a gentle phrase
as your body
exhales: strings rough and
smooth, neck long, frets
Abbey White '13
He came from a place that made you want to beat back the world.
At the wheel his heart-shaped lips pouting about words of war
and ghosts helped carry us down the black river, a brown baby boat
slicing through still air towards a place we wouldn’t call home.
Without sure destination we allowed ourselves to be swept away
by easy refrains, smooth lines that made up for swallowed phrases,
eras we found ourselves singing all loud and shameless. From time
to time my licorice gaze would sweep over the side of his face
that was glowing. And in this certain Arizona light, he possessed
a silhouette that made me long to watch his head fall back.
This type of landscape could make me forget where I’d been.
I found my fingers tangled in ginger curls, a gesture that had him
fumbling over words that typically flowed in proverbial harmony.
Shamelessly did I trace bone structure, lean closer and whisper
expressions reserved solely for lovers. On the radio, Cole Porter
lulled Anything Goes. And I believed him. Nothing was to be
concrete on this melting asphalt. Nothing but what was shoved
furiously in suitcases after we’d felt the allure of second chances.
Was there a moment I could’ve paused to reevaluate? I wouldn’t
know. Desire took over and things moved too quickly to notice.
What a thing to learn: how to create too much friction.
It would be here, in his ’69 Camero, where I’d kiss
lonely freckles, follow their trail with soft sighs to his lips
while fingertips danced over heaving earth-toned skin. Forgetting
blouses and frayed jeans, forgetting our minds and bodies,
forgetting repercussions of the previous—our only intent?
To meet the other’s needs. And oh, what a thing to learn—
the true heaviness of our pitiful limbs—as we struggled and
tussled, back and forth, in and out, picking up where the other left
off. Under the blazing sun there was too much heat between us.
- Based on Dorianne Laux’s “Singing Back The World”
Emmet Penney '11
Summer days stood still. They rippled
up from asphalt parking lots. Edges bent,
the horizon accepted the sun. The earth
shrugged. Cheerleaders wilted at the fifty
yard line and burnouts became lodged
in their parents’ throats. Flags lied limp
at the tops of their poles. We looked out
at night skies sliced by 747s. Satellites
marked the middle-ground between
our bodies and the stars. We learned it from
echoes overheard on contusion colored nights: only
trains leave this town. Not people, not anyone
we knew. Not even us. Everyday felt exactly
the same—like waiting to breathe.