Ekphrastic Challenge Responses to Henry Darger
Editor's note: I'm so thankful to everyone who participates in the ekphrastic challenges. It is as much my passion to show people interesting visual art as it is to share your amazing poems and stories with the world. I don't usually write alongside these challenges myself unless there is a guest editor- since I can't submit my poem to myself with any fairness! But I was moved in this case to write a poem about Darger, and I hope it is not inappropriate to share it with you at the end of this selection of intriguing responses.
Saving Doli ("Dolly") Danger
The trees were behind us rigid on light canvas,
and we couldn't stop in the bright forest
to open a picnic basket no parent had packed for us,
invisible sandwiches and an empty thermos....vestiges of hunger
in a post-Edwardian daydream designed with psychological shadows.
And who would find us dressed like children's book illustrations
playing in a meadow with a history of fantasy,
Shakespearean sprites and fiary tale nights, mid-summer,
when we came down from the moon to the Realms of the Unreal;
are now running away in the daylight escaping reality in a world of fiction,
remnants of nightmare left behind by child-characters --
3 on a bike -- Penrod in trouble for pranks with 1 of the Vivians;
and a girl in front, Doli Danger her hair in pigtails
like a girl from the earth cocooned without a forest tree branch,
holding on for dear life, trying to keep her balance
with a poet's woven threads -- the sheer strength of her words --
before the bombs explode obliterating our innocence,
7 of us and 1 butterfly accosted by the anger of violence,
slave children at war with narrow-minded grown-ups; how we cried out
in the voices of childhood enslaved though we tried to run away
with Little Annie Rooney on the the fruit vendor's horse
(3 on a horse) as Darger's fictitious Damna fruit was smashed
on the street, and we had to pay when tricycle wheels rolled over wildflowers
rooted in a make-believe meadow where 1 of the Vivians
saw into the future, and what was in front of us -- O!
how her lips press a circle and O! there are spots red as blood
on her little yellow dress -- and O! -- "the butterfly counts
not months but moments and has time enough"*
time to see Doli Danger clinging to the bicycle's handle bars
in front of Penrod surprised when all the children,
enslaved, notice Vivian's dress -- her little yellow dress --
yellow as sunflowers sprinkled with blood spots --
is made with the borders of fairy-butterfly wings; and
her butterfly's breast is naked with a naked fairy heart
pulsing like a blue sacre-coeur over a church altar
that redeems everything -- all the things
the children have dreamed in the colours of her wings
so like a parachute carrying survivors out of this world,
back to the pages of a book where Outsider Angels
are art we can't see, their wings white as a hallway mural
with nurses in uniform in a hospital corridor outside surgery
where Henry Darger mops the black and white tiles of the floor
imagining collage touched by a watercolour paint brush illustrating the lives
of the Vivians, enslaved, but victorious -- veni vidi vici --
I came I saw One heart -- outside their wounded bodies
with Doli Danger (his secret identity) leading the way
in the shape of a butterfly as fairies and children run away,
out of the meadow before warfare crushes its fragrant flowers.
Laurie Newendorp lives and writes in Houston, Texas. Her recent work in fiction, "Annabel, A Love Story With Butterflies," is influenced by Nabokov, who shared his passion for butterflies with the world by giving multiple specimens, collected when he taught in America, to the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard. A poet, she reads at Archway Gallery, and for Words & Art at various museums and art installations. Her poetry won second place in the Houston Poetry Fest
Ekphrastic Competition, 2018.)
A little girl’s ball falls from her hands,
rolls towards the winged fairy,
bumps the pixie heel.
The Sprite's withering glare
scorches the grass.
All the children gasp,
even the ants hold their breath.
The creature’s face softens,
her foot sweeps back,
brushes past a Bachelor’s button.
A kick sends the ball back
to the relieved, delighted children.
The fairy flits away, shimmers
a peal of laughter.
The cricket near the maple tree
sighs with relief.
Janette Schafer is a writer, photographer, singer, and banker living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is pursuing her Masters Degree in Creative Writing from Chatham University. She is the founder and Artistic Director of the Beautiful Cadaver Project Pittsburgh.
In an Unfiltered Universe
after Paul Otremba
with lines from Henry Darger’s Declaration of Independence
This is your happy moment. There is no other happy moment like it.
You could lose yourself. You’ve been invited to move into The Realms of the Unreal.
The Earth—a moon circling a larger planet. You can see
To bloom, like the Vivian Girls, among fanciful flowers.
To get at the heart of your inner child’s right to play, to be happy,
and to dream.
To balance your feet on tricycle pedals. Your hands
on the handlebars.
In this forest, you see a benevolent, winged Blengin in the guise
of a child. Fearsome, yet gentle.
Notes for a folk tale: Once there were the Vivian Girls, seven sisters,
and a forest for frolicking and a Blengin who landed on the carpet
of flowers—and how the girls loved her wings and her Cheshire-cat tail
and how they all struggled together to save the universe
from terror and cruelty.
Oh, the Blengin’s galaxy of butterfly wings, bright and bold.
Their reds and yellows, blues and stripes, polka dots. So longed for,
so blessed, this protector of children.
She could protect you from the terrifying Glandelinians, that gang
of girls who boycotted you on the playground, laughed behind
their hands. Treated you as though you had leprosy, that sinful
disease in the Bible.
A balm for the bane. The right to normal sleep of the night’s season.
Sandi Stromberg’s poems have appeared in a number of anthologies, among them: TimeSlice, The Weight of Addition, Improbable Worlds, Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston, and Enchantment of the Ordinary (Mutabilis Press); Goodbye, Mexico (Texas Review Press); Crossing Lines (Main Street Rag); Lifting the Sky: Southwestern Haiku and Haiga, Weaving the Terrain: 100-Word Southwestern Poems, Bearing the Mask: Southwestern Persona Poems (Dos Gatos Press).
untitled (Henry Darger)
You call me names
I don’t recognize
I look like someone
a face in a photograph
blurred by wear and time
Your hands hold
flowers, remnants of children
like forlorn shadows
not yet ghosts
their fragrance still imprinted
in the silences of the rooms
you share with yourself
What days are these
They belong to me
and yet I have no place
to keep them safe
to keep them from leaving me
A resident of New York City, Kerfe Roig enjoys transforming words and images into something new. Follow her explorations on her blogs, https://methodtwomadness.wordpress.com/ (which she does with her friend Nina), and https://kblog.blog/, and see more of her work on her website http://kerferoig.com/
Seven Is The Loneliest Number
The moment we had an opportunity,
we scarpered. Fast
as our legs would take us through
the realms of the unreal, leaving
torment and torture
suffering through slavery
brainwashing and coercion
pedophilia and pressure
of laboring for long hours
deep inside dark pages. Gone
from the iniquity with
that uncertainty of not knowing
how our self-proclaimed Protector
the enigmatic recluse
would paper over scars
on vellum forever. Yet
in page after page
over chapter upon chapter
we learned of true beauty
of kinship and kindness
us siblings of great mercy with
hearts in the right place. Never
bitter or revengeful
little sisters of the poor
departing en masse, through
the fragrance of tranquil meadows
on our frolic of freedom. For
seven is the loneliest number
should we each go separate ways
through tomorrows and hedgerows
by the crazy house of redemption.
Brother Penrod awaits.
Born in Scotland of Irish lineage, Alun Robert is a prolific creator of lyrical verse achieving success in poetry competitions in Europe and North America. His poems have featured in international literary magazines, anthologies and on the web. He is particularly inspired by ekphrastic challenges.
Never Never Land
My sister has gone to Never Never Land
It’s where all the lost children go,
those who don’t find their way home
and those who fade away and die
like the wild flowers I pick for the house.
My mother says
they stay children for ever
and can play all day long.
My sister was allowed to take her trike with her
even though it was all smashed up.
My mother says
the magic people there will fix it.
It sounds like fun there
but my mother says
she will never let me go,
not even if I find a magic carpet
to carry me up into the sky.
Perhaps she thinks I’m getting too old to go there.
She says that the children there will grow wings
and become angels,
I think angels are a bit like fairies,
and when my sister gets her wings
she will fly back home
so we can be together again.
My mother says, no, never,
but I don’t know.
Lynn White lives in north Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy and reality. She was shortlisted in the Theatre Cloud 'War Poetry for Today' competition and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Rhysling Award. Her poetry has appeared in many publications including: Apogee, Firewords, Vagabond Press, Light Journal and So It Goes Journal. Find Lynn at: https://lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com and https://www.facebook.com/Lynn-White-Poetry-1603675983213077/
The Practicality of a Tricycle
First, and most importantly,
you are low to the ground.
You see but remain unseen.
Second, you are mobile,
and also well anchored.
Being three pointed keeps your balance,
no matter how hard you are rocked.
Third, you are normal,
looking like any other kid.
Normal is the highest valued of all.
Being like a picture of a picture on your trike.
And this is how you become breath.
Among them you go.
Kate Bowers is a Pittsburgh-based writer previously published in The Ekphrastic Review. By day, she works in a large urban school system as an administrator. In her free time, she can found making pottery, doing improv, and unfortunately reading the back of whatever you're reading while you're reading it. Because she literally can't help herself from looking at words. The only thing that stops her is an e-reader in your hands, so there's that.
The Vivian Girls Codex
I dream of hell---
another childhood that
candy blooms, monsters,
an endless war that
my sisters’ bodies into
small offerings, tracings
fixing our pinafores,
this world where we
Sarah Nichols lives and writes in Connecticut. She is the author of eight chapbooks, including She May Be a Saint (Porkbelly Press, 2019), This is Not a Redemption Story (Dancing Girl Press, 2018), and the Diane Arbus themed chapbook, How Darkness Enters a Body (Porkbelly Press, 2018.) Her essays and poems can also be found in Five:2:One, FreezeRay, and The Fourth River.
Interview with the Vivian Girl
Maybe we are like vampire children,
given eternal life. Some of us
have died terrible deaths
on the field of blood, over and over.
Yet we don’t really die.
We always look pretty.
We girls have boy parts between
our legs — Henry insisted.
We couldn’t say no to him, though
he created us to be brave and fierce.
We should have resisted.
I tried but my sisters said I mustn’t.
Don’t we live in the realms of the unreal?
Isn’t Henry our God?
they asked me, shaking their curls.
As a Vivian Girl, you must not doubt.
If I did we would all disappear.
Tricia Marcella Cimera
Tricia Marcella Cimera is a Midwestern poet with a worldview. Her work appears in many diverse places — from the Buddhist Poetry Review to the Origami Poems Project. Her poem ‘The Stag’ won first place honours in College of DuPage’s 2017 Writers Read: Emerging Voices contest. Tricia lives with her husband and family of animals in Illinois / in a town called St. Charles / by a river named Fox / with a Poetry Box in her front yard.
Seven Sisters Follow a Mysterious Apparition
Vivian’s six sisters encouraged her
first foray on solid, rubber tires.
The sailor-bloused beauty erupted
with screams of delight
not induced by the freedom
of a three-wheeled thrill.
Vivian claimed to see a butterfly-winged babe
hovering atop the forest flora, and followed.
The axis on which tragedy tips is a mountain peak.
Children are the snowballs, growing as they roll down the side.
None could see the capricious creature,
except the sister with the sixth sense.
Beyond vision—they heard a whisper,
felt a fluttering of colourful, multi-layered wings,
saw hypnotic, kaleidoscope sequences
set to seduce emerging, imaginative minds.
Each sister, compelled to care for one another,
followed blue Vivian into the blissfully noxious weeds
like the conflicted rats of Hamelin—
fearful of the path forward,
yet too curious to remain safely behind.
And none, save for a rusty green tricycle, was seen again.
Jordan Trethewey is a writer and editor living in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. Some of his work found a home here, and in other online and print publications such as Burning House Press, Visual Verse, CarpeArte Journal, Califragile, and is forthcoming in The Blue Nib and Fishbowl Press. His poetry has also been translated in Vietnamese and Farsi. Jordan is an editor at https://openartsforum.com. See more: https://jordantretheweywriter.wordpress.com.
A Child’s Rebellion
Six girls, one boy, one winged nymph with tail
all running from what inhabits a forest
between farmhouse and city
where he collects magazines for an epic
story that will not end until the children are safe.
The boy between two girls is either riding a pony
or straddling what we cannot comprehend
looking back to the monster
under the bed or the real one at the end
of the hall in an asylum for orphans.
I started a mystery novel never brought to a close
because I could not decide if the girl sleuth
should solve the puzzle of the man
across the street from the dune where she spied
as her father who’d left
or a crook burying bodies in the backyard sand.
The first was too hard to explain
by so young a detective and the second
was a child’s fantasy turned black. I only knew
nothing good came of long stays in saloons.
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Ride the Pink Horse (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing, 2018), This Town: Poems of Correspondence with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015), and Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014). With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and France. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
A Certain Innocence
We didn’t know how babies were made. Yet.
There were more important things to do,
like studying the finer
points of caterpillars.
There were games to be played
with the seriousness only a child
and there were friends to meet
and newcomers to reject.
After all, we all knew each other,
we were a group,
and shared secrets.
Especially where the hedgehogs
had their numerous family stashed away.
Psst – at the back of the ladder shed.
We had never seen the sea,
even though we read about it
in our brothers’ adventure books.
Would you believe a tale that tall?
We built our world(s) from words
- I am the elfin queen today,
- you be the toad.
- My father owns this meadow,
-your mother cleans for Mrs Velt.
We knew our parents’ place
If there were two.
One parent only lowered
one’s standing. But soon
there would be many
of us without a father.
The war was coming. The grownups
talked in whispers, the radio informed.
We sensed that we were stalked by unseen horrors.
We weren’t sure, but started to look behind
us for the monster we wouldn’t
be able to outrun.
Rose Mary Boehm
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm lives and works in Lima, Peru. Author of Tangents, a full-length poetry collection published in the UK in 2010/2011, her work has been widely published in US poetry journals (online and print). She was three times winner of the now defunct Goodreads monthly competition. There were other prizes. Recent poetry collections: From the Ruhr to Somewhere Near Dresden 1939-1949: A Child’s Journey and Peru Blues or Lady Gaga Won’t Be Back. Her latest full-length poetry MS, The Rain Girl, has been accepted for publication in June 2020 by Blue Nib.
Warriors Against Time
When childhood dreams turn to nightmares and
gilded memories begin to rust, when the reds,
blues, and yellows of youth grey with age, only
then can we see we were not alone. Each of us
a butterfly with broken wings, seeking out
comrades in comfort, warriors against time.
We didn’t know the straight from the gay, the
healthy from the sick, the lost from the loved.
Not then. They chased sunlight among the
flowers. I stood alone, feeling like a weed,
swallowing my tears, wishing I could run,
wanting to belong. We were all lost. If only
I’d known. I wonder now what’s become of those
young warriors. If time robbed them of their pluck.
If gay friends and family gained acceptance, the sick
healed, the lost found. I survived. I pray they did, too.
Shelly Blankman lives in Columbia, Maryland with her husband of 39 years. Their two sons follow their own dreams now in Texas and New York. Shelly's career has followed the paths of journalism and public relations, but her first love has always been poetry. Now that she's retired, she has returned to that love when not enjoying other hobbies, such as scrapbooking, making cards, and, oh yes, refereeing animals.
So brilliant was inquiring mind
of child you never left behind,
that you refused to dispossess,
or have rebuked as if distress,
or hitched to yoke by legal ruse
as youthful labour to abuse.
By subterfuge of mop and broom,
you gave it faith, and tools, and room
to thinly veil, as mythic tale,
the mission that we dare not fail
-- to save, from trap of ill intents
and happenstance of no defense,
the child as art we resurrect
from rubbish heap of disrespect.
Portly Bard: Old man. Ekphrastic fan.
Prefers to craft with sole intent
of verse becoming complement...
...and by such homage being lent...
ideally also compliment.
Imagine painting pastel images of seven little sisters, pre-adolescent girls who appear to have an idyllic life.
Imagine painting them playing in flower-filled gardens, reveling in each other’s company, and savoring their girlhood.
Imagine painting some of them on tricycles, others on horses, and even some with butterfly wings and tails.
Imagine painting many pictures of their frolics and adventures—some double-sided while others are panoramas several feet wide.
Imaging writing vivid stories which use your paintings as illustrations.
Imagine writing these as epic tales influenced by the adventure stories, serials, and comic books of your time.
Imagine painting over three hundred of these watercolor-and-collage illustrations.
Imagine in your stories that the girls are princesses of the Christian land of Abbieannia.
Imagine that they take part in a revolt against the Glandelinians, evil adults who practice child slavery, along with sinister forces and monsters.
Imagine them fighting with all manner of weapons and shooting over railroad tracks at foes in trenches.
Imagine them losing battles, being locked in a storage room, even strangled, tortured, or killed.
Imagine them frequently naked as they play or fight, and with the clearly drawn genitalia of little boys.
Imagine writing these stories by hand and later typing them in condensed, single-spaced lines.
Imagine compiling them into bound, hard-covered volumes nearly six inches thick.
Imagine creating seven of these volumes totaling fifteen-thousand pages.
Imagine adding the title The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.
Imagine also writing a second, semi-autobiographical novel called Crazy House.
Imagine doing all this while living in a single-room apartment in Chicago, from 1919 into the early 1970s.
Now imagine being blind while you did all of this—but, as unbelievable as this narrative may seem, this is the only statement which is not true.
Finally, imagine being the artist and author, self-taught recluse Henry Darger, who lived from 1892-1973 and whose works were not discovered until after his death.
Ken Gosse prefers writing short, rhymed verse with traditional meter. Usually filled with whimsy and humor, this subject forgoes both. First published in FLR–East in November 2016, he is also in The Offbeat, Pure Slush, Parody, Home Planet News Online, and others. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, now retired, he and his wife have lived in Mesa, AZ, over twenty years.
Thank you for taking care of me.
Your butterfly wings singing me to sleep.
Your cat of nine tales waking me in the early-foggy morn.
Your dogwood lighting my way.
Your visions become mine.
We journey together.
I am fearful of your abandonment.
I remind myself that I am you.
Uncertainty binds us together.
Sandy Rochelle is a poet, actress, and filmmaker. She is the recipient of the World Peace Prayer Society Award for Literature, and the Autism Society of America's Literary Achievement Award. http://sandyrochelle.com
The Prince is Not Coming
That's me--the one in the back with the brownish black page boy.
I'm a little more olive, but our expressions are the same--
Get out now!
No waiting for a Prince to come and rescue me
I have my own good sense, strong legs,
My little sister is peddling her tryke
as fast as she can, my friend is behind me
Moe aside Blondie, move aside,
or come with us, don't wait for a Prince.
You there with wings, don't look so surprised--
these things happen!
Don't wait around for something worse to happen!
You've got that flower, Wing Girl,
is it precious?
Take it with you. Tucked into the blue vest
over my skirt and blouse, is my pen and journal.
Twenty minutes to run before the river
washes over us. My sis and I will beat it.
We've packed what's most precious--
my journal, her tryke, I advise all
of you to do the same.
The Prince is not coming for you.
Joan Leotta is a writer and story performer who lives in Calabash, NC and writes poetry, essays and more, some when on the run from hurricanes. She did not evacuate this year from Dorian but had to leave in a hurry when Florence flooded her area last year.
Let Him Be Offbeat
Placed in the canon of outsider art, Darger was a recluse
who created offbeat drawings of little girls, perhaps they
illustrate genderfluidity, perhaps not—they’re fairy tales,
though with a twist. The critical lens may judge,
see peculiarity, though my lens views a colourful world,
one of playfulness and imagination, the innocent musings
of childhood, where rhyme and musicality springs,
and where my poem, "The Tricycle Triplets," emerged . . .
The Tricycle Triplets
The tricycle triplets together – a hoot!
They like to wear yellow
and blue cowboy boots.
Besides cowboy boots,
they like to wear skirts
covered with patterns
and Mom's garden dirt.
Besides patterned skirts,
they like to wear gloves
fashioned with feathers
from swallows and doves.
Besides feathered gloves,
they like to wear vests
with butterfly wings
and hummingbirds’ nests.
Besides winged vests,
they like to wear belts
braided with ribbons,
flowers, and felt.
Besides braided belts,
they like to wear stripes
though dotted with red –
the polka-dot type.
Besides dotted stripes,
they like to wear caps
woven with tinsel
and newspaper scraps.
Besides woven caps,
they like to ride bikes,
parade with their friends
on 3-wheeled trikes.
The tricycle triplets together – a hoot!
They like to be offbeat,
‘cuz offbeat - is cute!
Jeannie E. Roberts
Jeannie E. Roberts has authored six books, including The Wingspan of Things (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), Romp and Ceremony (Finishing Line Press, 2016), Beyond Bulrush (Lit Fest Press, 2015), and Nature of it All (Finishing Line Press, 2013). She is also author and illustrator of Rhyme the Roost! A Collection of Poems and Paintings for Children (Daffydowndilly Press, an imprint of Kelsay Books, 2019) and Let's Make Faces! (author-published, 2009). Her work appears in print and online in North American and international journals and anthologies. She holds a B.S. in secondary education, M.A. in arts and cultural management, and is poetry editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs. When she’s not reading, writing, or editing, you can find her drawing and painting, or outdoors photographing her natural surroundings.
I don’t think I realized my voice was silenced.
Oppressed by a long shadow
that I didn’t, couldn’t, see because
loves light cast no shadows
in the corners where I lived.
I made sure of that.
My house was light and
my love was light and
what did it matter that my pen
I go back to my vodka.
A fog settles, over the hills,
and the tops of buildings. My gaze
lingers on the photograph of a
Monument Valley sunset, clouds
the colour of fire. The black silhouette of
the butte later became a dark
looming shape that blotted out the stars.
that surrounded our sleep.
The stove heats up to pop the popcorn,
the underpart of the forearm,
just above my wrist, burns slightly,
shuffle shuffle back and forth
shift the metal pot across the electric coil.
I find I am singing a lyric of Cat Stevens,
“If I laugh, just a little bit, maybe I can forget
the chance that I didn’t have, to know you. . .”
I picked up a rock to take home
and in my hand, it looked less interesting
than the one I left on the ground
so I reached for that one, and it too,
in the picking up, seem not so special.
Looked at the entire jumble
of shapes and muted colours
with some rocks ringed in soft white
or erosion and looked at them all
not alone one by one.
I look at the collection of events
in my life,
and hold each one individually to a harsh light.
All memories, all experience judged by me as solitary,
are judged one by one as
One, and alone, I lose fullness.
The same as holding only one rock,
my living, one, and alone.
My oneness not flattering best
my patterns, my form, my shapes,
my weathering and particular marks.
I was collected side by side,
with your form, complimenting and
to arrange me artfully.
I miss the days, riding the edge, before
it all changed.
like the loveliness of the
patterns of rocks
side by side,
my life cannot be picked apart
piece by piece to be
beautiful or not.
JL Silverman is an MFA Creative Non-Fiction student at Chatham University. Her work has been published in the Griffith Observer, the medical journals Imaging Economics and CLP, as well as recently chosen for an Ekphrastic Review Writing Challenge.
The Floating Bone
1. Henry was nobody, and he knew it. Maybe it bothered him, maybe it didn't, maybe it was enough to take the pew for mass each morning, and talk to God. Maybe it was enough to mop up the detritus of the rest of the world, year after year, at the hospital, carry that small badge of consistency and purpose in his heart.
2. People always feel sorry for introverts, intuit their isolation as terrible and lonely, which is false at least as often as it isn't. Some reach out, impose their company, then recoil, miffed, when rebuffed. Henry was reticent, taciturn, and remarkable. Not every recluse is to be pitied.
3. If most artists long for recognition, persistently sharing their wares and hoping that somebody sees them, some create for its own sake, or for other reasons. It is natural to seek glory, and exquisite to move another human's soul. But not everyone's reward is the response of another. The nondescript nanny Vivian Maier fiercely guarded her obscurity and her cache of 100 thousand Chicago photographs. Henry Darger never left his room after his janitorial duties: he wrote and painted thirty thousand pages from his epic imagination in perfect solitude.
4. After he kicked that proverbial bucket of mop water, Henry's secret history made the tabloids and the art auction houses. The childhood in the orphanages, the lifelong poverty, the designation of "feeble minded," the harrowing trek in youth from institution into self imposed solitary confinement. After his departure, only his personal effects gave away his inner life: a magnificent cornucopia of collaged catalogues; frantic but meticulously scribed stories of the battles of innocent children with evil. There were pages after pages of eerie accounts of the Vivian Girls against all the devils that have ever existed, and then some.
5. Everyone was desperate for for a Darger diagnosis. In death, he was accused of genius, but also of pedophilia and even murder, suspected due to images saved among his ephemera of children who had disappeared. Was he the only artist blamed posthumously for child molestation and serial killing? No evidence was ever found to support this brief and blasphemous fury. More likely was the likely story- a damaged but beautiful soul found his own way through on his own terms, irrevocably haunted by the torment of other orphans. Henry's art was obsessed with the danger of the world to the vulnerable and innocent. The unimaginative and uninjured were misled by his compulsive, gruesome depictions of prepubescent children tormented by giants and nuns. They had read Dante, but never experienced him firsthand.
6. Darger's elaborate stories were a way out of everything that happened to him, and a way in.
7. We are always looking to turn straw into gold. His private heart, his very room, has been remade for ogling, for oohs and ahs and accolades. I am ashamed, and lucky, to be privy to his secrets and oeuvres. I feel guilty, knowing he didn't ask for me to be a patron, or a mentor, or a friend.
8. That a person's productivity and understanding of the world belongs to the ether, to our amusement or self-improvement, is the justification, the floating bone.
9. If Henry was found, he could have been rescued: this is the tragedy we perceive. He could have been kept company, or recognized for his creativity.
10. I’d rather see the artist as autonomous, despite his "feeble mind." If he had wanted to show us his work, he would have.
11. Still, I pore over his pictures, grateful for the chance. That I suspect I'm participating in some kind of violation doesn't stop my curiosity and awe.
12. I retrieved journals from a friend's mother's basement, a milk carton long forgotten that had been salvaged from a move, 25 years back, when we were roommates. And before my father died, he handed me the attic's worth of my teenage lamentations. Dad was honest to the core and didn't so much as sneak one page of reading without my consent, but after careful consideration of all those years of boxes, I picked up a match and tossed it, watched the possibilities go up in flames.
13. Maybe it's different. But maybe it was the same. I won't feel sorry for Henry, for not getting out more, for not leaving his cocoon. And also, not for how we have dissected what he kept hidden. He made the choice to conceal his beautiful mind; and he made the choice not to burn it.
Lorette C. Luzajic
Lorette C. Luzajic is an artist, writer, and editor of The Ekphrastic Review.
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