by May Huang

last edited on Fri. May 13 2016

Before he went on to paint bodies
that were toned, muscly and grey,
these were the people he pictured:
ribbed drained and
dismembered creatures,
warped and flayed,
helpless prey
to a hungry landscape
of fire and embers.

I see their
howling mouths,
hollow eyes,
and realize that I am
looking for humans
in a canvas of carcasses
not knowing
whether I am looking at
monsters or men
whose faces I cannot recognize
whose limbs I cannot count,
whose suffering I cannot fathom -

I can only imagine
a population of monsters
in a country of war,
trying to find a beating heart
in some part of its core,
Searching for the words to
Describe a world
too magnificent
and terrifying to define.

How do we embody souls
in the disembodied or
lift a life from the rift between
birth and death?
We go from not knowing where to start
to somehow ending up in art.

This piece
is untitled,
but brushstrokes and lines
capture better what I try to paint
with words and rhyme.
This piece
is untitled
and its subjects are
just as nameless.
This piece
is untitled,
but what could
we name it?

This original poem by University of Chicago student May Huang was inspired by Fred Berger’s Untitled (1958) on display in the Smart Museum of Art’s special exhibition Monster Roster: Existentialist Art in Postwar Chicago (February 11–June 12, 2016).

Produced in collaboration with Memento, the performance ensemble of the UChicago literary magazine Memoryhouse. Filmed and edited by Erik L. Peterson.

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