October 24, 2019

Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2019: Artist’s Choice

 

Black and white photo of a tattered suitcase in a burned out building

Image: “Loss for Words” by Asher ReTech. “Artifacts from the Buffalo Trunk Mfg. Co. (Defunct)” was written by by Rachel Welton for Rattle’s Ekphrastic Challenge, September 2019, and selected as the Artist’s Choice.

[download: PDF / JPG]

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Rachel Welton

ARTIFACTS FROM THE BUFFALO TRUNK MFG. CO. (DEFUNCT)

When my grandmother learned
I was sewing for a living,
she took down a suitcase
from the garage rafters and
make me poke my fingers
into its crowded corners
to feel the still-fine stitching.
Her father, she said, sewed linings for luggage
until the dust of a thousand snipped
threads settled in his lungs
and choked him out of the shop.
He gave each child a suitcase and packed
them off to a stranger’s farm
as though sewing was tuberculosis
in the tenement air: catching.

I looked up the company that killed him.
Turns out they did the fabric
linings for caskets, too.

Now, in my dark studio, breathing in lint
as feather-fine as all the Polish words
my grandmother forgot, I see
him weigh his last paycheck’s dollars
and debate: a coffin
just long enough to lie down in
or six small suitcases?
The first a kind of luggage
for the children to bury grief in,
the second, luggage to carry
old grief into new houses.

from Ekphrastic Challenge
September 2019, Artist’s Choice

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Comment from the artist, Asher ReTech: “I think endings are as important as the beginnings. How a thing closes, how an event is finalised, how we say goodbye, is just as critical as how it all began. I like to explore abandoned places because they are full of stories, the last bastion of final notes. The image of carrying grief with you to a new place, for me, was melancholy without being maudlin. If anything this is admitting the truth of what we all do. We carry bits of bad memories attached to things we should have long since discarded. I was struck by how many poems used the suitcase as metaphor for immigration, while poignant and well written, they did not strike the same chord for me as “Artifacts”. They were emotionally strong but my personal bias certainly kept me closer to this one. Very few poems had the actual context of the suitcase, not that I expected them to. But it was interesting to see how others saw this moment versus the actual location and what I found. One poem spoke of a house fire and the collapse of the building, which was eerily accurate. In the end, however, after reading them all several times, I kept coming back to the final lines of ‘Artifacts’ and I loved them. There is a real sense of connection with the past. It’s an honest embrace of the good and bad. I look to the old places and things seeking that connection too. There’s a grace in holding onto your personal context and a dignity in not hiding from sadness that sometimes comes from that.”

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