Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Art of Death by Mar (Mistryel) Walker

The Art of Death

The ice sheets returned in 2113
in relentless methodical advance
ceaseless snows layering without a thaw
northern towns devoured in the frozen maw
planed smooth under a grinding crush of fluff

And the sea's edge receded as the freezing swept
down over Canada, New England
the north pacific and the upper middle west
and forgiving winds of warmth that brought the southern rain
forgot to churn and so the once lush Southland
dried and slowly burned
and there a sterile, chilly desert spread
desiccated freely, depressed the thirsty living,
mummified the dead

There was no escape - the ice came on,
Hartford and New Haven bowed, plowed flat,
Farmington and Glastonbury gone
starving millions overran New Jersey and New York
where in the howling streets snow buried
all the first and second floors
and those still moving found their entry
at the fire-escape's third landing door

Deep inside the city's steel and concrete,
under its failing brackish lights
journalists, historians, meteorological theory-posers
painters, poets, playwrights, choreographers, composers
found renewed delight and labored ardently and long
to document the dying world's new winter song.

As third-floor studios in old Tribeca hummed
the Chiller Gallery
opened up a shocking show that stunned
a splash designed to make the Ice Age think
and maybe drum up end-time business
for Millenium Cryogenics Inc
corporate sponsor of this
centennial retrospective - "100 Heads on Ice."

The exhibition featured human heads
in a frost-encrusted temperature-controlled displays
thoughtfully chosen from among thousands
frozen in each year of the companies successful marketing forays
Each bust began with one swift surgical stroke
scientifically suspended amid a steam of cryogenic smoke
- hoary heads guillotined alive from willing fools,
frozen in a flash
and for the privilege each of these 100 sculptures
coughed up enormous wads of cash
to pay the freight for time travel by refrigerator resurrection
- immortality by this un-natural selection.
Art critics gushed,
the pundits gnashed their teeth.
The display's descendents banned together
their attorneys blew up blizzards of class action briefs.

But more swiftly than court dockets, glaciers grew
plowing up the brittle weight of man's debris
jumbled, jammed high, like jagged mountains or volcanic spew
a soaring continental dump
pushed before the ice sheets coast to coast,
drawing dump pickers and scavengers,
like sullen dentists pulling teeth from winter's mouth,
while sensible millions
loaded up their goods and sought salvation in the south.

As snow filled, refilled each major road
many sat bumper to bumper,
far too many to be towed
And hundreds standing by the roadside,
thumbs extended, froze in place,
the horror of resignation, a still life,
painted in each blackened, frost-edged face
each remaining visible for hours
just above the growing drifts
100 heads and more,
in death, crystallizing
life, crystallizing
art, crystallizing crystallizing

Subway tunnels beneath the city became home
to nomads huddling for a little warmth
and there they drew pictures
of central park in bloom
to brighten up the endless subterranean gloom
and history digging up the evidence
once again ponders mysterious pictures
on cavern walls.

© 1998 Mar (Mistryel) Walker
previously published in Inverse Origami: The Art of Unfolding... by Mar (Mistryel) Walker
and in the premiere issue of The Underwood Review.

1) What first sparked this poem?

I attended a poetry event in 1996 during the Ct. Poetry Festival where Leo Connellan, the state’s poet laureate was reading at the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown Connecticut. At the time, there was an exhibit of “art” books at the Buttonwood, and each book was in a Plexiglas box to prevent viewers from touching , moving, breathing or spilling coffee on the books which were one-of-a-kind. The event was crowded and I was standing pretty far back. From where I stood I could just see Leo Connellan’s head through one of the Plexiglas boxes, and it looked for all the world like his head was inside the box.

2) Tell us about this poem's life.

I imagined an art show of similar works in Plexiglas boxes, and I had just read an article about cryogenics featuring people who paid a lot of money to be frozen. Some wanted only their heads frozen which struck me as fairly bizarre. I started thinking about what conditions in society might allow cryogenics company to put on a art display of its frozen heads, and what such a show would be reflecting about society. An oncoming ice age seemed fairly appropriate. This idea of art reflecting life or life reflecting art became the theme of the poem.

3) How long did it take to go from inspiration to published?

I included this poem in my first chapbook “Inverse Origami, the art of unfolding” Later, when Faith Vicinanza was preparing the premiere issue of the Underwood review, she said she didn’t mind previously published works or longer works. I sent it to her and it was included in the first issue.

4) Are you satisfied with this poem?

Oddly I am disturbed by it, considering that subsequently, there have been movies about a oncoming ice age, and several art shows of cadavers.

5) What, in particular, do you, the poet, like about this poem and why?

One has to maintain a suspension of disbelief to enjoy this poem since it seems unlikely a glacier could advance with such crushing speed. This poem is also really of the horror genre and I have not re-entered this territory. What was satisfying during the writing was imaging the details of New York filling up with snow and how people would get in and out, of the detritus of civilization that a glacier might plow up, and the lawsuits that would arise from such an art show even with the end of civilization rapidly approaching. And then how to end it... I have read this only about four times in public, and have not considered how I might re-edit it. hmmm

Mar (Mistryel) Walker, is an innocuous but opinionated eccentric, a poet and visual artist, a job-hopper, an odd-jobber, an escaped journalist turned blogger, web-tweaker, mezzo-soprano, songwriter, human being. She is founder and editor of Bent Pin, a lit e-zine at, and webmistress for the Wednesday Night Poetry Series. Her other websites include,, and


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  2. apparently the new research says an ice age could come upon us far more rapidly than previously though - instead of a decade - it might be a few months to a year..... wow.