Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Mural

Thanksgiving morning was warm and windy in a way that makes you think that maybe summer might never end. I decided to walk down to the train station to preemptively burn off calories in preparation for the feast that lay ahead of me. As I approached the station, I came across a small park sandwiched in between an Italian deli and a grimy bagel place. One whole side of the deli wall was painted with the hard glaring colors of oil paint. There were images that went all the way down one side of the deli, across a fence covered in plywood, then back up the other wall of the bagel place. Broken into panels, it read like some ancient triptych telling a story when viewed in a certain way. At the center of the park was a craggy old Elm tree with splotchy gray-green bark that flecked off like crumbs onto the hardpan dirt ground below. Encircling the tree was a solid red brick bench suitable for someone to come and rest and enjoy the artwork.

The mural seemed to be honoring a local artist, a writer of some kind. On the very first wall was a drawing of the head of a man, surrounded by puffy clouds and flowers. The man wore glasses with his pensive looks and in what seemed to me to be inspiring Catholic-school-girl-loopy kind of font, these words appeared below the picture:

There is so much more to me
Than what you see.
All I ask is this:
Just one spot in you
Saved for that one part of me
You have yet to discover.

Michael C. Biegner
Born: June 11, 1956 – Died: November 25, 2005
Beloved Friend, Vegetarian and History Channel Addict

As hard as it seems to believe, I was faced with the fact that I had died. I was unaware of my passing of course and as such was not able to take in the situation with the gravity it deserved. When I rose this morning, I felt fine, and it seemed like a regular morning save for it being a bit warmer than usual for Thanksgiving morning. What a stroke of irony that I should die on this day of national gluttony also known as a day millions of turkeys everywhere end up as the main course – all so we may give one giant, collective, murderous “thank you”. Still, I was in no pain and I did have this nice park built in my honor. I started to walk around the park, beginning with the first panel.

PANEL 1: In the center of this frame was an earth colored African woman, dressed in traditional dress and scarf, bending down, threshing wheat with her baby clinging to her front. The artist emphasized the sharp angles of her bones by using heavy lines of thick, chord-like black paint. Her large droopy breasts seem to sway in the rhythmic motion of the threshing action. The bright, hot sun was overhead and the contentment of the woman’s eyes was reflected in the cherubic smile of the baby. At the center of the woman’s chest was a bright circle that glowed the way a windshield throws a noon sun reflection off it. There was a warmth there, this could not be denied, and I felt it deep inside my chest. Then I noticed that the woman’s face was my face. I was this woman! I felt the heat on the back of my neck, the pulling in my thighs as I leaned down to shake the wheat. I felt the sweat beads rolling off of me, and I knew the joys and sorrows of tribal life; life with no doctors or medicines or modern conveniences of any kind.

PANEL 2: This panel depicted a tropical location, lush and lots of shades of green. Off to the side was a young American soldier in olive green fatigues. The face looked like that of a baby’s. He was aiming a gun with pinkish awkwardly drawn hands at what I surmised were Vietnamese women and children. Their traditional cone shaped bamboo hats were flying off in varying directions as they seemed in a panic to escape what would happen next in this frozen panel. Their arms flailed, their eyes were wide with fear, looking up, hiding behind fingers they knew could not stop the bullets. In this frozen moment. The heaviness of the cadmium red paint spread like peanut butter on the mural illustrated the force of the blood as it spurted out of some of their bodies. Again, at the center of this young soldier was the same bright glow, right where his heart was. I could feel him squeeze the trigger. I could feel him shaking inside in a mix of rage and fear. I felt what it was like to kill another human being. His face became mine as well.

PANEL 3: Against the back wall the artist had painted the faces of many famous people. I stood facing the wall trying to recognize all the faces: Jesus, Dr. King, Bobby Kennedy, the Buddha, Malcom X, Rosa Parks, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare, Francisco Goya, Mother Theresa, Whitman, Tolstoy and Dostoevksy, Picasso, Beethoven, Mozart and Bach, Dali, Mark Twain, Pablo Neruda and Cervantes, Van Gogh, the Beatles, and Stephen Biko and Nelson Mandela, Dali and Bosch. Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Sanger. Gorbochov and John Paul II. Dylan and Stravinsky. Einstein, Newton, Copernicus and Darwin. Homer and Freud. It seemed the collective wisdom and abilities of the collective human consciousness were represented here. Each face was drawn in a manner reflecting the aspect of truth this person represented. Each face showed the compassion, intellect, doggedness and determination that made them choose the path they did. Fearlessness in the face of great fear: this is what the artist conveyed in each face.

Again, there was that bright glow at the center of each chest on the mural wall and once again, my chest began to glow as well.

PANEL 4: White. The last panel was just white. It was expansive and pulled me outwards, reaching outwards toward everything. The more I stared at the never ending whiteness, the more I felt what it must have been like at the First Big Bang – the first of many big bangs – at the origin of the many universes. It kept spreading me out ever further. I was startled when a woman came up from behind me and broke my sense of reverie slash reverence as I stared at this panel. I was stunned at what she did next. The woman pulled out a small disposable camera and snapped a picture of the whiteness, the fourth and last panel. “Git!” I thought. How does she expect to capture this on film? I could just as easily expose all her film, or better yet, hand her a single sheet of Xerox paper and she’d have the same thing. What is it about those people who think these moments can be held captive and repeated upon reviewing the snapshot, never having to invest the presence or time – never realizing that when they do this they kill what it is that drew them into the piece in the first place? I didn’t get it.

I walked back to the first panel – the one with the words and my artist rendered head – I read the words again but this time out loud:
All I ask is this:
Just one spot in you
Saved for that one part of me
You have yet to discover
I sat on the cold hard brick bench beneath the elm tree that frantically waved its arms in the wind. I closed my eyes and let the warm thanksgiving air surround me. The ocean was nearby and the wind had traveled a long way. We both had traveled a long way. We were both tired.

I put my head down and fell asleep, vanishing into my dreams the way a mouse vanishes into his hole.

M C Biegner


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