Curious Sends Memo to Dead Artist of Living Work

You pessimistic-fantastical visionary of hopes and fears! Jerome of the forest, you left no letters or diaries: what now?

TO:           Hieronymous Bosch

FROM:           Curious 

CC:           Anyone else who might be wondering

DATE:           Now

SUBJECT:         That Garden You Painted

        also:  The way your work is frequently invoked 

                        as an experiential reference point. 

                        As in, This year is feeling very Hieronymous Bosch.  

                        Your name as an adjective–– as with Kafka, or Dali.

                  How one might want to inquire as to your thoughts.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, oil on oak panels, 205.5 cm × 384.9 cm (81 in × 152 in), Museo del Prado, Madrid

You: pessimistic-fantastical visionary of hopes and fears,
Jerome of the forest, you left no letters or diaries: what now?

We look on, knowing nothing, about what you “probably meant.” And yet:
You likely lived six decades or more in the house your grandfather built.

You watched, at thirteen, the burning fire of four-thousand homes in your town. You didn’t always favor Flemish style; the transparent glaze concealed.

You wanted revelation, went impasto; rough, to point to your hand.
As if to reject the presumption that it was God painting the forms.

You even signed some; most were lost. The God of your garden was youthful.
How big the fruit! What a menagerie, waiting to explode back home.

It welcomes a memory, of taking great care with a painting of marker on white.
I filled the page with detail; this was first grade, we were asked to draw the garden
I could not wait to be seen, for I knew. What a marvel. I could not wait,
            to share in its delight!
Butterflies cocooned in my center of knowing; I would explode out, soon.

I filled the page with detail in first grade; we drew the garden.
Nobody asked me for a unicorn; I knew it was perfect like I knew drawing breath
Butterflies cocooned in the center, like promises, I would reveal myself soon. 
Teacher made the rounds and paused at my desk; I drew in breath, feeling her moved.

Nobody asked me for a unicorn. There were none in the garden, she told me.
Those are pagan, she said. This was confusion. I thought garden was everything good, and unicorns the best of all time.

She was moved to remind me that everything I ever wanted was exactly the reason for the fall. I was a mute, infant Eve, holding my half-eaten fruit. It soured quickly. I did not draw for her again.

Dear Jerome, your work here raises questions about ambiguity.
Others see total alignment with orthodoxies of your time. Still,
isn’t it ironic, at least somewhat, how much heaven in your hell?

Heavens from earth, the third day, enter this paradise lost. Come in, now!
Rabbits dance behind Eve, suggestive of mating; cautionary tale?
Or just good loving? And what about the dragon tree: eternal life?

Here giraffe, here elephant, here a lion eating prey. Pray, what’s that?!
The cat has the lizard! And who is that cloaked figure reading, right there?
Is that a duck, behind a fish? Without shame? Only curious now.

Hey teens, don’t eat cherries with great lords; they’ll throw the pits in your face. Truth! Women carry fruit on heads; acrobats ride camels and unicorns.
Ladies strut with peacock pluck. Dance, dance, dance! Who waits for their entrance, here?

See winged fish, strawberry! Come inside this shell, land on constant youth!
No child or aged person in sight; they fly in tandem on eagle lions. 

They fly trees of life. See bird of death perched on branches. The gallant knight
wears a dolphin tail, scratching the back of his head; as above, so below.

Then comes damnation, or does it? The dark and cold are over the top, 
Waters frozen, fire waits: a bestiary for feasting on bodies.

City’s burning, river’s blood; crucified on instruments, the choir sings. 
Rotting trunks for tree-man’s arms, his body a broken shell; his gut pierced.

Beasts have at it; wolves eat the last knight; the dragon has run out again.
But Jerome, does it get annoying; everyone speculating about what you

meant; does it get old, everyone asking about the rules of the game,
and all the fine print, forgetting that the point was to play?

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I am here to wonder out loud. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

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