Janet Reed

The Electric Pencil Artist: Drawings From Inside State Hospital No. 3

                      Replicas of Art James Edward Deeds (1908-1987)

                      I wanted to stand in the presence of the real thing and feel it— it’s never
                       the aboutness of anything but the wailing underneath it. Frank X. Gaspar

I stare at his pictures the way a Peeping Tom
peers through a stranger’s lace curtains
sure that the secrets of his difference

will spill through the symmetry of gloved hands
and a vase of flowers on a sturdy bedside table
the way a closet light behind a half-shut door

at four a.m. highlights my mud and wrinkles.
I want to know how a father whose fists
failed to force compliance could sign away

his son with the stroke of a pen, then never visit
or send a birthday card, if years of Thorazine
and electroshock helped or made things worse.

I imagine him, locked away, a boy becoming a man
sketching on napkins, a ward nurse noticing --
a psychiatrist perhaps finding a box of invoices

dusted with disuse in a supply closet giving him
pages of promises to pay, art therapy drawn
over the doubled lines of debits and credits,

the green of his Ozark hills, faces of patient friends
framed inside columns lined for services rendered,
tongue depressors rolled like fat cigars

and Why, Doctor? penciled under the bolded
State Hospital #3. You know where this is going:
wild things traipsing through the night

of a tortured mind, the blood and bruises crusted
with childhood memories of abandonment
concealed in the hand-bound book that was lost

then found, salvaged from a dumpster by a boy
who sold it on eBay to a New York collector
who made a replica I bought on amazon.

It’s not the aboutness of anything, the poet Gaspar
writes, but the wailing underneath that keeps me
looking for vestiges of the boy safe in his fiery furnace,

but I can’t see it, his path through bad luck, bad genes,
born on the wrong side of history, but I know
I need to say I’m sorry for all of it from all of us,

what we did not know, did not do, knew to do but did
not do, for all the lies we’ve told about never doing
these kinds of things again, but still do. I want

the simple beauty in these pictures to set me free,
to move me through the darkness of my own regrets,
to make restitution for sins that stain us all.