Accessory a brooch by Abby Smith

Accessory a brooch by Abby Smith

In my early years as an artist I felt the need to justify…to defend the materials, explain the concepts, vindicate a loaded image. I mean who thinks of jewelry as art right? Especially jewelry made of garbage.
It disturbed me if I didn’t fully understand what I was presenting, and that sometimes I created an object with controversial intent. It’s comical in retrospect. I was a very mannerly artist indeed.
Likewise, I tried to write comprehensible poetry. If I wrote a line I didn’t understand, a word that arrived as a sound, something of questionable ilk, I removed it. How sad, I literally erased the moments of breakthrough out of fear I couldn’t explain myself. Where I got the notion that art should or could be graspable, defendable, I don’t know. I believed in what kills art; but I let that go, long ago. When I stopped explaining, I was more inspired, and more open to synchronicity in my art and life. Accessory is a good example.
I was thrilled when I found the little broken gun on a filthy Cuernavaca curb. I could not help but wonder what goes through the mind of a person who walks up to a sales clerk and hands them money for a toy machine gun. From the size of the gun it appears to be made for a five or six year old hand. I know boys (mostly) love guns, some claim this is genetic. And I’m seldom disturbed by other sorts of toy weaponry, cowboy revolvers for instance. But something about a replica of an AK47, the world’s most popular assault rifle, as Nicolas Cage puts it in God of War, placed in the hand of a six year old as a gift, perhaps even a reward, shocked me, and I’m not easily shocked.
It was obvious the gun would become a brooch, my favorite form. I envisioned it crustily sparkling with beads in Day of the Dead colors before I my walk ended. Then the title came to mind: Accessory…I was delighted by the double entandre: adornment and complicity.
Next, the search for the beads. A few months later, I was in the market in Tepoztlan and there was a vendor with sheets spread out, covered in piles of beads. It was the first time I’d seen beads for sale in a Mexican Market. One sheet was piled high with small bag of seed beads, exactly what I needed, at 3 pesos a bag, just my price range. I chose four bags, one with mixed beads I hoped would have sufficient variety to accent the base colors I’d chosen.
In the mixed bag I found six gold bugle beads: bullets– and one red, one white and one blue bugle bead to make a solid allusion down the barrel of my piece. In the whole bag there were only these nine bugle beads. That is the everyday magic of art.
Fearlessly, unapologetically, open your heart to its intentions and it will provide.

A Burning Corpse

Please consider the title of this post a warning, Gentle Reader.

Chicago Street Shrine

Chicago Street Shrine

Recently, on our way home from Tehuixtla we drove by a burnt corpse. There was a police vehicle on the curb and two officers circling, what I now envision as, a still smoking body. “I think that was a burnt body,” I told Felipe.
“Yea… I thought that when we went by the first time…I was going to mention it but thought I’d wait.”
“Wait for what?”
“Until I was sure.”

We drove on since the police were there. Several minutes later I said, “Well, that was disturbing; I could definably have done without seeing a burning corpse today. Or any day for that matter.”

When we arrived in La Tigra Felipe told the group of people always assembled at his sister’s store, including several small children, what we’d seen. “Don’t talk about that in front of the babies!” I admonished him in English. His sister asked him if I’d yelled at him for talking about it in front of the kids. He nodded.

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said, “Mom was already here and told us all about it. They(Mom had been traveling with a truck full of people including several children) got out to look it. She said he was still wearing his tennis shoes.” I’d noticed that too, one white tennis shoe.

I’ve seen violence. I lived in a Chicago, Latin King ruled neighborhood for a decade. My daily walk to work during those years included passing by scores of street shrines where teenagers had died on the sidewalks.

A burnt body is different.

You may imagine it has an unreal quality. It does not. Not even in passing, through a moving car window. Though I can’t say the actuality of it provoked a reasonable response: perhaps a scream, or some tears. Fear. Fear seems appropriate. But I experienced none of these.

My reaction was almost clinical. I wondered, why trouble to burn a body left so close so close to the road? Obviously, it was meant to be found. I thought of the position: supine, limbs extended at his sides– no struggle, he must have been dead when they burned him. The large charred circle around the body indicated the fire had taken place there. Desecration, I speculated, the body was burned as an insult, and a warning I imagined. I was disturbed by the perpetrator’s impudence: standing ten feet from the road, setting a body alight. Since moving to Mexico I’ve become adept at reading tracks , seeing symbols , and interpreting the inexplicable . Usually they’re not as gruesome as these. Still, my inclination to analyze rather than agonize concerned me.

I considered the truck full of onlookers. Would we have gone to look if the police hadn’t been there? Possibly, to report it. But that wasn’t the observer’s purpose; they wanted to see it. Felipe claimed it was normal behavior. “They’d probably never seen a burnt body.”

“One would hope not, Felipe.” I retorted.

This is when the situation started to feel unreal, and I thought of Joan Didion’s observation , We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line on disparate images. I struggled with my account of people hopping out of the back of a truck, kids in tow, walking up to a burnt body…

My brother- in- found two bodies on the road about a year ago, one alive, one dead. Small business owners in our area are closing their shops to avoid paying the cartel tributes. A few weeks ago a friend of mine was beaten, in our tiny town, because his marijuana hadn’t been purchased from the local cartel approved provider.

I wish I had a wise or moving statement about these occurrences, or could justify writing about it with a plea to legalize drugs…or promote peace, but I can no longer reconcile my naiveté and my cynicism.
To bear witness is the best I can do.

I recite, my poem, Home, Away from Home. My response to violence.

Home, away from home

Home, Away from Home

Heaven is dead
and I am asked
(this shocks me)
Aren’t you afraid, living

where you live

Bodies that before
were people, stuffed
into a suburban
off-road vehicle

the innocents keep their heads

as foreign investors
worry the value
of their foreign investments

on the face of decency

Heaven died today
and commentators
comment ironically
on the irony

of her name

In Morelos
bodies are found
adorned with notes,
he stole from… he raped…

postcards to Peter

But bodies found in the river
have thier sins
washed away,our only consolation
all things flow


to the sea

Heaven Sutton was one of the 275 people who have died in the crossfire of gang warfare in Chicago in the year 2012. She was standing in her own front yard. She was seven years old.

For the next six weeks, vsvevg will be published from the United States of America.