Silent Witnesses (at the Noah Purifoy Foundation)

April 9, 2021. In Piper’s garden. Joshua Tree.  Yesterday a visitation from a woodpecker in the palo Verde. Doves cooing. Ebullition of Lady Banksia roses, tiny yellows cascading over a white wall. Fat black bees dipping into the fragrant drooping wisteria. Orange koi darting in the green brine under magenta lily pads, a paddle of cactus, seeking shade from the desert sun. I’m dancing in the garden to Michele Shocked, “Quality of Mercy,” from the film, Deadman Walking. Where is mercy? Where is its quality not strained?

I’ve been watching the Chauvin trial in “homeopathic” doses, as one friend calls it. Chauvin’s lawyer parsing whether Floyd died of asphyxia or if his heart condition or fentanyl contributed to his death, when we already know, we can see , the experts have confirmed: this man was murdered. Anyone would be dead after being shoved face down for 9 and a half minutes,  chest compressed, knee on the back of the neck. That Floyd struggled to raise himself with his knuckles, with his chin. Did they really dare insinuate that a man saying, “I can’t breathe” is a sign of resisting arrest?  did they really have the audacity to claim that? Yes they did. Indeed they did.

Yesterday morning, we drove over rutted dirt roads to get to the Noah Purifoy Foundation, on the other side of the highway. We parked the Prius by the stucco house with the plaster horse heads, walked past the backwards WELCOME sign painted on old tires entered into the ten acres of artist Noah Purifoy’s imaginative universe, a village of wonders and horrors built out of of the detritus of the built and ruined world (“Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” the late poet Adam Zagajewski wrote), beauty accruing to a pile of old TV sets and washing machines (remember when they were given to lucky housewives on Queen for a Day?; a circus railroad of vacuum cleaners; a lyrical roller coaster of metal cafeteria trays. Where to go first.

My feet make a beeline to the same tableau that has summoned me each time I make a pilgrimage here, never more so than this April morning, during the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. This morning a pulmonologist. Yesterday a paramedic who testified, “Mr. Floyd continued to be dead.” Never let go of the outrage. “I can’t breathe” does NOT mean someone is resisting arrest it means they want to LIVE.

Purifoy titled this piece, “From the Point of View of the Little People.” Ten men tied together with wire. They stand some eight feet off the ground, positioned side by side on their cast-off plank, their scaffold. The wind ruffles their ragged cuffs, their pants sag in deep creases, their feet lifeless. They sag. They’ve been standing there a long time. They are men only from waist-down, severed at the torso, no arms no shoulders no necks no heads. Their legs are sun-bleached, always exposed, About to be shot. About to be hung. Already dead. Money, Mississippi. Screbenica.  A pit at Babi Yar. San Juan Cotzal. Line them up. Drop the trap. Yank the rope. Aim the rifle. There they are. Always watching.  Purifoy made the sculpture five years into his self-exile in the desert. He created it out of cast-offs; spare planks; pants from Goodwill or the dump; sneakers missing shoelaces, bedroom slippers with holes. He said he didn’t care if these figures—or any of the works in his outdoor museum— stood the test of time. He wanted the wind, the sand, the insects, the sun to be partners in the work: fabric bleaching; wood rotting; old magazines disintegrating.

Do ten half-men = five full men?  They are still standing on their plank, watching without eyes, witnesses to the United States of America where a police office is on trial for squeezing the life out of George Floyd in front of Cup Foods in Minneapolis. They won’t let us forget. We must not forget. We must continue to be outraged.

#noahpurifoyfoundation #blacklivesmatter #justiceforgeorgefloyd

11 Responses to “Silent Witnesses (at the Noah Purifoy Foundation)”

  1. Maggie Wellman Says:

    Beautifully heartfelt. Thank you Louise.


  2. Thank you for all you wrote and for the link to the Noah Purifoy Foundation.


  3. Louise
    Just to connect at 5 am as I lay in the guest room reading .. just to connect with such a soul as you .. opens my heart


  4. Synchronicity. Some time ago I found your blog while searching for a poem about Lew Welch and put you on my blog list at that time Last night after reading your recent post and commenting, I was re-reading a Parabola Magazine from Winter 2003 and saw the words “… truth’s a crooked mirror …” in the context of a story called “Moses and the Green Man.” Now I’m wondering where the title for your blog came from.

    Here’s the context of how I found your blog:


    • The title comes from a quote from the Polish priest, Jozef Tichner… which lent the title of my book, The Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish-Jewish Reconciliation. “When we look through a crooked mirror, the face of our neighbor is strange, distorted…” ( i may have a few words off… but that’s it…) thanks for reading. LS


  5. Laura Mendley Says:

    Thank you. Scary stuff. . .


  6. Penny Phillips Says:

    Louise, Thank You. Your words brought the beauty of the desert back to me. I’ve read and re-read and read them again. I feel like I was there with you. And thank you for introducing me to Noah Purifoy’s work. His “From the Point of View of the Little People” sadly poignant and bearing witness to continuous injustice and cruelty. I also watched the Chauvin trial in small doses. It was a relief to hear the Chief of Police testify against Chauvin. Then again, how could he not? Yes it was murder, we will not forget! Thank you for sharing your work with me. Love & Best, Penny

    On Sat, Apr 10, 2021 at 3:19 PM The Crooked Mirror, Louise Steinman’s Blog wrote:

    > Louise Steinman posted: ” April 9, 2021. In Piper’s garden. Joshua Tree. > Yesterday a visitation from a woodpecker in the palo Verde. Doves cooing. > Ebullition of Lady Banksia roses, tiny yellows cascading over a white wall. > Fat black bees dipping into the fragrant droopi” >


  7. Have just finished reading The Crooked Mirror and want to thank you so much in a simple way for a profoundly healing experience touching the past, the present, and the future.

    Liked by 1 person

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