Visible Voices 2019

On August 18, 2019, seven poets responded to visual works exhibited in the Greenville County Musuem of art in a practice known as ekphrasis. Below are a few of their poems and the works of art that inspired them.

Photograph courtesy of Amy Randall Photography Poets: Isabella Gardner, Grace Gardner, Claire Bateman, Glenis Redmond, Amber Sherer, Vera Gomez, Elena Castro

Photograph courtesy of Amy Randall Photography
Poets: Isabella Gardner, Grace Gardner, Claire Bateman, Glenis Redmond, Amber Sherer, Vera Gomez, Elena Castro


One Sleep
After Four Poster by Andrew Wyeth
by Claire Bateman

He painted beds without sleepers and sleepers without beds, the recumbent and reclining, his subjects laid out, tipped back, on swings, in boats, in melting snowdrifts, in grass and leaves and soil, the flourishing and dying, the trapped and tranced.  Of his early years, he said, I was sick in bed so much of my life...I'd feel the stretch of the bedclothes over the mattress.  And pillows always seemed like big mountains to me—interiority as landscape, convalescence as connective tissue in the body of time.  Be sure you look at me in death, his father told him, yet he painted the sleeping Helga nude in his father’s coffin, a kind of hypnagogic transposition he hid for over a decade. I think there’s more chance of getting motion by stillness than by a thing that has great speed, he said, and decades later, of his mother-in-law’s passing: I felt the whole bed would drift out that front door and down to the river...

But while this strange half-bed stays rooted, does the room approach or recede?  Here is the house of dream: simultaneous exposure and concealment; scumble of shadows in suspension; spans of glass and chenille rendered reticent, austere; that astringent northern light a form of indirect address—how many veils of transparency does visible silence require? Against washes of distressed plaster, sightlines trouble the eye as everything tilts downward to the right, though we would not want it all fresh, adorned, well-lit.  The sojourner at the threshold needs this stripped-down space, the enigma of missing knobs and latches, the accumulated sleep of the other always opening deeper in. 


A bop: Mediation on Limbo   
After Caught by Luis Cruz Azaceta
By Vera Gómez

Swimming against currents
the indigo blue of murky waters
drowns the indigo blue of night;
the stars guide these human caravans
asylum seekers: mothers, fathers,
children, unaccompanied boys.

Santo Santo el Senor y de universo es Dios

Crossing rivers or stacked-pile into cutout
gas tanks and trafficked to chicken plants,
peach fields and Walmarts, their American dream
ends in hell; kept in detention camps, labelled
“rapists, drug dealing, murdering M-13s” – but just souls
seeking peace from the horror of plata o plomo,
souls fleeing the cocainenomics blood trade
their fear warehoused among this regime’s knives and guns.     

Santo Santo El Senor y de universo es Dios

You and I breathe free, we forget our immigrant fathers,
forget the exodus of Moses, Syrian and Sudanese refuges.  
We struggle to remember to dream; give me these caged,
tired and poor cornered by border walls and ICE raids.
Remind me of humanity, of those who float in limbo
and risk indigo waves and night skies for opportunity.

 Santo Santo El Senor y de universo es Dios

Maybe He Was a Father
After Caught by Luis Cruz Azaceta
by Elena Castro

or someone with a name
you might recognize.
Papa, abuelito, tio; the man 

you used to wait all day to see.
Looking out from the small
window above mama’s bed— 

porthole. Spaces between black
wire, a front yard full of aloe
and him, tiptoeing around it.  

He used to go fishing
late nights in the river
that encircled the pueblo. 

Settled into the cavity
of an old Chevy tire,
floating on the floorboards 

of an old barn, he drifted
in that clear blue, water
so clean you could drink it.

Remember him like this:
casting a line of white hair
cut from the tail of a horse 

grazing along the highway.
The fish gathering around him
like you, your brothers, his voice

rippling. Purple fish, clear blue,
the ease of floating in and off land.
Drifting to shore like a bottle of rum.

 You’d wait for his body to emerge;
head first, then shoulders, and see
fishnet shadows slung across his chest. 

He carried those animals with one hand,
towards your mother in the kitchen
boiling fish broth and coconut marrow.

Think of him always in a motion
towards home. Not above Mexico,
below Texas or Cali, anywhere coyotes 

have found exit wounds. Think of him only
among fish. Still swarming, although black
with white eyes. Or maybe bullet holes.

 He called once, from a burner phone, to whisper
te amo while men shouted in the distance.
You thought of them, swimming across

 open water. Still-bodied, camouflaged
with black sand, unaware of the men raising
silver barrels up to their eyes in aim.

There is so much hiding in those currents.
White skulls, silver teeth, blue machetes
rusting along the bottom and stabbing 

into their feet. Pain that keep them afloat.
The body can only take so much of this
suspension, but he does it for you, your

 brothers. He does it to reach that golden
gate that hangs above his head like air,
against heavy water that keeps his arms

 from reaching it. Remember him, instead,
only like this: his body walking towards home.
Your name in his mouth, echoing.

American Tragedy
After Sowing I by William H. Johnson
By Glenis Redmond

At first glance pastoral bucolic even
every which way I look I see signatures of home home:
the work weary hats emitting like their own planets,
the overalls stiff with a work ethic.
the figures not child-like, but plain folk
who could be Aunt Carrie and Uncle Willie
or any other kin folk. It’s the jut of jaw
and deliberate thrust of seed crop.
tending to the immediacy and urgency.
All these tells makes me say: This US
This WE.

Earthbound constellations captured
telling an impartial history of HOME HOME
the flare of flesh and knuckle
-–the no nonsense self-sufficiency
equipped with Almanac Wisdom in every fiber.
They take up both land and row.
There’s so many legs, arms and feet
that inhabit the land which suggests
work comes from every angle.
They are drawn in to this contract of the land.
with lack luster eyes,
What’s worse? No lips, No teeth. No mouths.
Workhands, but no mouth pieces.

This is our contribution to this country
our American artform the blues
our story (ies) always dipped in blue.––
more fractured than lineage.
This is Home Home too––
A Broken Beautiful people.
given no other way than o see
the crop through and through.
Every line meant to press
us into a place, no answers
just rows upon rows of work.

Genealogy is always at my foreground,
I always take in what’s round:
crescent moon, gourd bag, work weary eyes.
Trying to make some wholeness of it.
This impartial telling of South Carolina history is diseased.
Our Hunger begs for teeth, lip and bite.

Praise the artist who paints our story
No matter how broken it is
at least there’s record.
at least there’s documentation
by a reliable narrator.
The one I trust is the one who stays.
The one I trust is the one who leaves.
I trust perception armed with a healthy distance.
This painting becomes more than recording,
but a rectification of history.
There’s room for how deep the plot truly is.
The land speaks of what is never said.
This void is home home too.
The master painter paints a path out of the frame
full circles seen and unseen.
This where I step daily on a double conscious walk.
adorned in colors that I love orange and yellow,
but the task at hand is how to remain unapologetically black
in a world that insists on taking your story.
Harvest comes in so many forms.
The liberated painter chooses his path first
as both a fleeing and a fixed star
I hang onto what he’s captured,
because I come and go too.
The leaving and the staying are both true.
This our Migration story––
our artist father left the South,
because of his mouth
his straightforward gaze
and his inability to live under
any white person’s foot
is HOME HOME too.
The object is to stay alive.
He left on the first Greyhound Bus
fleeing which is preferable to being strung up a tree.
Leaving is one way to stay
It’s a form of love
It’s how you hold the land
or how you let the land hold you
even if your never return
the burning of the lan never quiets.

Photograph courtesy of Amy Randall Photography

Photograph courtesy of Amy Randall Photography

Flowering Trees
After Sowing I by William H. Johnson
By Amber Sherer

You say flowering trees
I say flowering sanctuary.
Let me heal you through time.
Let me hold you in painted strokes.
Allow me inside your mind’s cathedral
and remind your soul it’s okay to feel again.

I want you to save this painting inside
your brain by attaching emotions.
Come here and wash your stress away––
escape in a land that I named in landscape for a reason.

I wish were a sonnet dripped in beautiful language
contained in 14 well behaved lines,
but alas I am a free write from a free spirit
stuck in a walking meditation visualizing flowering trees
blowing in the wind of imagination.

I feel love pressed in time and joy immersed in brushstrokes.
I feel vowels and consonants pressed together
until cabernet sentences ooze from my lips.
I come to this moment to admire that paint
went where William Henry Johnson told it to go.

Now You tell me what do you see.