Sunday, November 30, 2008

My daughter, face-down on the face of a dead man

This picture, which I found while sorting out my basement archive tonight, would stop me cold under any circumstances: that's my daughter, when a toddler, face-down on the face of a dead man.

It was taken late in the summer of 2005. The dead man was Hunter Brumfield III. He killed himself that summer, on the same day our family moved into a new house in St. Louis County. The image of Hunter, and my slumbering daughter, are both flopped down on the kitchen table of that new house, where I sit as I remember these things, in a house no longer new to us.

The image particularly startled me, tonight, because of the events of the past week. I have actually been thinking my daughter has been interacting with Hunter's spirit!

As I have described in a long post, a friend working in my house on Monday disturbed a shrine I built for Hunter around the drumkit he left behind him. (This friend, Hunter, and myself were all in the band Three Fried Men at the time of Hunter's suicide.) This act of desecration seemed to loose Hunter's spirit on the world, or at least on my basement.

I wouldn't say I was possessed, but something happened that had something to do with Hunter. I got out my guitar (the same one Hunter and I had both played in Three Fried Men), which I had neglected for many months. For the first time in my life, I tuned the guitar by ear and heard the weird math in the songs I write - gifts Hunter had that I lack.

Then I started pulling apart the Hunter shrine, and some other crazy things in my basement, and building and reassembling them into sculptures, which involved other skills I lack that Hunter possessed - the eye of an artist and hands that can make shapes in three dimensions.

The sculptures are where Leyla got into the action. One is about her and the other is about Hunter, which added a weird zing to finding the picture of her sleeping on his face.

The one about Leyla, which we managed to finish while Hunter's spirit was still around, started with a broken tricycle that my wife has been bugging me to throw out. After the desecration of the Hunter shrine, I went out to the garage and got the tricycle, brought it down into the basement museum, and began to turn it into a portrait of my daughter.

"I'm a bicycle!" Leyla cried, in effect naming the piece, before she went to work on it, adding an old parka she outgrew to the sculpture's torso.

She also named the piece that is about Hunter. This one really gave me the creeps, but in good way.

The Hunter sculpture started with a gorgeous old NYC Garment District mannequin, which had been standing apart from the Hunter shrine, before the desecration. It was given to me by my friend Chuck Reinhardt as a form to display a string tie with a hipster country rocker clasp, which Hunter had given to him.

After the shrine was broken, I pulled out this mannequin, situated it more centrally, and began to adorn it with elements from Hunter's shrine and other shrines, without really knowing what I saw doing.

A tambourine Hunter had played was stuck on top for a face, clenching in its cymbals (=teeth) a corn cob pipe Pops Farrar once gave me. On top of the tambourine I placed "Madness put on a porkpie hat," a hat with a name made by Robert Van Dillen in response to the poem Blind Cat Black. From the string tie I hung the Blue Bead Against the Evil Eye that Jason Wallace Triefenbach made for a scene he played in the movie we made to Blind Cat Black.

Then Leyla came to me, holding up a pompous tie from an old tuxedo rental that never got returned.

"Daddy," she said, "can this go on The Clown?"

I snapped around. "On what?" She pointed at the Hunter sculpture.

I had not given this object a name. I had not talked about it in any way. I wasn't even thinking about what I was doing, I was just doing things. And my daughter called it "The Clown".

I have always thought about Hunter as a Trickster, a Coyote - a Clown, albeit a sacred one. My daughter, with her child's eyes, saw the childish variant of this eternal principle that Hunter had embodied, and that he brought back into our lives, this week - somehow - through his disembodied spirit.

Or, something.

Whatever it was, it's mostly gone, again.

I really did have some of Hunter's gifts for art and music, for awhile, though it has passed already. I once again can't hear notes well enough to tune my guitar by ear or hear rhythms well enough to notice the needless complexity in my song structures and fix them.

Nor do I know what to do with The Clown, which stands there in my basment, half-completed. That's just like Hunter - never to finish the job! Like his life, which none of us were finished with, least of all him.


Zed Naught said...

Speaking of pipes and Hunter...I ran across this the other day:
Click on the Ziggy Stardust link.

Confluence City said...

Thanks, I'll report that. I was there that day - some Golfbag moonshine I brought was fueling him, might even have been sothabe!