Captured in Art

Time spent with my childhood family draws me back into that cartoon simplicity, the way my younger brother Walter’s caricatures draw people into their absurd (but all too true) versions. Mama takes the measure of my face, standing in the kitchen of our Tate house, and laughs. “I’m so mad at Walter for a drawing he did of you,” she says, jiving. Now, she says, she My mug home 2013can’t look at me without seeing that face.WWC caricature007

I know the one – I have the original: I posed as a model for the illustration he did for a Journal-Constitution feature story on older executives who get laid off in favor of younger, lower-paid professionals. The illustration had this old man, balding, bow-tied, and butt-folded into a trashcan. Walter is a genius at capturing the surface reality.

Why doesn’t a poem do the same at capturing the inner reality of a person? Like this one I wrote about Walter years ago, “Suspended,” when he was staying in the Tate house over the winter, enjoying the solitude and the bare trees in a kind of seasonal inversion of the leafy, family-full summers of his childhood.


   Your Mad River canoe floats
in mid-air athwart
the carport

Of our parents’ weekend mountain
house, cleated high
by bowlines,

Carabiners, and screwhooks to hold
against the flow of things
to ruin.

The whorls of elevation lines in topo
maps of ridges mark, like

The runs you take when you have time.
Not much time left, city work
a long commute

And only six weeks before foliage closes
the vision, the fine-tuned knowing
of these ragged hills

Lived in at last for yourself — suspended
in magnificent shape like that
unhousebroken hull

Eyeing through windows over bookshelves
how it will run the currents

Me and Walter cropt






About Doug Cumming

Writer, W&L journalism professor emeritus
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