SL 050911 SHALL BE REDEEMED - Romare Bearden

Her transition from a well-paying job and comfortable apartment hadn’t been intentional. Gospel relaxed by walking. Sundays she walked the length of the city, taking in all the little changes of season and construction. But that last Sunday she had awakened with a cramp in her left arm. No particular cause. No underlying tension. Just this cramp that wouldn’t let her sleep. It was snowing an inch or two so she’d borrowed a pair of oversize galoshes someone had forgotten to take with them.

Even going down the stairs Gospel had felt as if something that had been wrong forever had suddenly been put right. The clomp and shuffle of the big boots soothed into a rhythm that coincided with her heartbeat. Her cramp relaxed. Her body slumped into a posture that felt better than her own and so she walked and walked from this life into the neighborhood of losses. She felt as if she were treading water in the step-step-step of her forward motion, here to there and there and there and there again. Lost in the turning corners and underpassings, it was not possible for her to return to what she now only vaguely remembered coming from.

The world had gone or had always been completely flat with only the pretense of thickness created by a few 45 degree angles in the bottom corner of her retina. The buildings were movie sets, empty behind their faces. The inside was also the outside and all around. Bits of the city were missing entirely, voids revealing the underlying paper or naked, unprimed canvas.

After days or years of walking, walking (sleeping where it didn’t matter) Gospel began to catch hints of him out of the corners of her stone eyes. He was always leaving, just stepped out the door, taking only his bottle with him, clump, clump, clump, his big feet on the steps. When she looked to find him whole even the slivers had disappeared. He was just a man going out the door. Clump, clump, clump, her feet fell into step as her father’s feet upon the stairs into the dark and empty waste where only ghosts would think that inhabiting such space was worth the risk of its shallow pits and wells.

And then she found the dying canary. Its heart pulsed a few frantic beats when Gospel picked it off the ground and then went still. Contact was just that terrifying. Gospel sat and smoothed back its bright yellow feathers until the form went stiff. A plastic wrapper and a crumpled paper cup served as a shroud and coffin. A flattened aluminum can allowed her to dig a shallow grave even in the frozen dirt. But when she forced herself to walk away there was less pleasure in the motion. The bright yellow of the bird’s soft under-down stayed stuck to a place in her mind.

That was when Gospel realized that time had stopped for her. And so time began again. She heard her mother and her aunts laughing with their usual tease as they sewed up the bright yellow costume that Gospel was to wear to play a baby chicken in the Easter show. As she walked yellow came, by bits and pieces, back into the world and with it came other colors until Gospel realized that when she had buried that canary she had somehow dug up herself.


Pittsburgh Memories constructed by Romare Bearden in 1984
Carengie Museum of Art, Pittsburg, PA USA