May 06, 2015
Art selection and comment by Lil Copan
Joe Light was a towering, often disturbing figure in his Memphis community. He aligned himself with the prophets and considered himself a kind of Moses. Before he became an artist, he was incarcerated. In prison in 1960, he heard a preacher explore the Old Testament, and he returned to his cell with the sound of a voice in his head. Commenting on the experience later, he said that he thought he was losing his mind. He tested the voice: “‘If you are God, prove it.’ ‘Step up to the cell door,’ the voice answered, ‘and I’m going to let a bird land on that window sill . . . Tell it what to do, and it will do it.’ And sure enough the bird landed on it . . . That bird on that man’s head is like the spirit of God. I felt the presence of God following me regularly.” While various versions of the birdman exist, this image remains Light’s signature piece. Light was a bit of a loose cannon, said Kevin Gordon, owner of Gordon Gallery in Nashville, “but he was also a man whose personal beliefs were strong, and who wasn’t the least bit afraid to share them with anyone, no matter the consequences.”
Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird was the book of my youth. I didn’t grow up poor in Depression-era Alabama, but I identified with Scout as I read it several times in my teens. My childhood was a middle-class family in the integrated Bronx, but Scout and I shared a house full of books and a lawyer-father blessed with a firm, centering integrity. Later, studying journalism at NYU in the 1980s, I heard that if you wanted to learn what good writing was, read Mockingbird every year.
Meg went to the Tower, somehow passed the halberds of the Yeomen of the Guard to embrace once more the father whose hair shirt she washed, whose “wholesome counsel and virtuous example” she received, whose mind and person she loved.
Not Holbein’s Chancellor but an El Greco saint, he was led out carrying his red cross, emaciated and ready. He reminded the axe man his neck was short, asked him not to miss. Then put that noble neck in the arc of the block, and the great, wedge axe lopped off his blessed head. Faithless Henry had it put on a pike on London Bridge, a horrible deterrent to heroic silence.
At what cost and courage Margaret rescued it, carried it home to Canterbury, buried it by St. Dunstan’s Church. How often did she gaze from home across to the church yard, longing for the King whose name is love, Whom she, and we, still await?
Katrina Spade, founder of the Urban Death Project, plans to compost human remains with wood chips inside a three-story concrete core. She argues that this approach is even more ecologically sound than cremation, which creates greenhouse gases. Bob Fells, executive director of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, thinks treating human remains as a waste product is disrespectful. Spade is hoping to break ground for the composting facility in Seattle by 2022 (Slate, July 15).