My parents and I were at the Carnegie museum. We’d moved to Pittsburgh, from Charolette, less than a year earlier and we were just now beginning to explore the city. There wasn’t much, at ten, that I could enjoy—Pittsburgh has something like twelve bars for every 10,000 people—and the museum was free. Or at least they only asked for a ‘suggested donation’ at the door. Which meant it was free.
There were many fine paintings. My parents were excited about all of the crap related to the steel industry. Landscapes of smoky mills and portraits of black-dusted men staring out of the canvas. All of them realistic and well-made.
My father, Daniel, pointed to a large black and white photograph of a man working on a ship. Daniel read a little card next to the picture. “It’s called Ship Worker.”
I said, “Well duh.”
Daniel looked at me and narrowed his eyes. “It’s from the War, smartass, and it’s from here. That’s the old Christie Park missile factory. That guy’s working on a destroyer, probably.”
I had no idea what any of that meant, but I knew that I didn’t care because I didn’t care about any of that. It didn’t make any sense. I could look at that stuff any time. That was the real world and I hated it. That was going to school; that was scraping my knees, being scared of the dark and the woods—which I knew held a witch—surrounding our new house; that was my father’s drinking and my mother pleading with me not to tell anyone about the things that happened at night because it would ‘rock the boat’, whatever that meant. didn’t want to see any of that. I wanted to see dream-things, to escape what I already knew about.
Those paintings were lies because they made ugly things beautiful for no reason. They weren’t really beautiful, though. They were made to be.
The rest of the day was like that. When we had gone in the museum it was daytime and when we finally left the sun was nearly gone. My mother held my hand and Daniel walked ahead, turning around every few steps and telling us to hurry up because the Steeler game was about to start. As we left the main lobby, a painting caught my eye.
“Wait wait wait,” I shouted.
My mother stopped. “What is it, Fredrick?”
I broke from her and ran toward the wall the painting hung from. It was long and ran along the top of the entire wall. I read the info card for the painting. It was by someone named Christopher Wool. The painting was plain white with blocky black letters.
FUCK EM IF THEY CANT TAKE A JOKE
I looked up at it for a long time. It was ugly and I had no idea why it was in a museum with all of the crap I had been looking at all day. Maybe it was there because it didn’t belong there. Something about that was good.
Daniel watched me staring at the painting and snorted, “I guess they’ll call anything art these days. It’s not even pretty.”
“That’s why I like it,” I smiled.
It was beautiful because it wasn’t beautiful and never tried to be.
Many things made sense just then.
This is the second in a series of posts where we asked tumblr writers to make something based on one photo. Today’s post was done by Eric Boyd; last weeks was by Erica D Price. Look for another guest post next Friday.
The waves you sent to me are rotting my teeth to the core. The post dropped them on my doorstep, ribbons trembling, stamps peeling, and I wanted so badly to stop their endless roaring but they worked their way between my teeth like taffy made of saltwater and sand.
I hate to tell you, but loving your words is tiring. The tension separating your lion heart from my birdcaged lips is breaking; I can hear it flooding down the halls, and baby it is electric. It’s wrapped in cellophane that mirrors the way water casts shadows on the ocean floor
And it’s the kind of beautiful that if you don’t watch it; If you don’t notice the hands behind it’s back; It will take you straight down to the bottom of the line and Dear, the water is so heavy there.
Trace over me like you did when you tried to memorize the wallpaper of your weathered home
Because I am the old under the new but still the warm over the looming and when nostalgia isn’t enough to take the pain away and rather makes you ache for home,
I will remind you of that yellowed wallpaper and how sometimes it’s best to let those kinds of things peel away.