After The Heart is Not a Metaphor. 2012; Robert Gober

There were single legs strewn about the barn.Shetland pony,
a raccoon.

It was covered in a filmy substance—not just the legs but the whole barn. The entire space dripping with it.

The boys didn’t notice.

They played in the barn like usual, picked up the splinters of toenail and claw, some chipped bits of bone and then collapsed in the corner, building imaginary cities from sand and animal shit and hay.

The bones were both redundant and irrelevant, not small enough to fit inside the smaller school houses or groceries and not big enough to be reliable building blocks for larger skyscrapers or arenas. The legs made difficult building blocks because they were also different sizes—all single bones, their partners presumably still hobbling along in the world.

Their father’s leg, still shielded in thick Carhartt, was the only one that interested them slightly. It was familiar. And they had witnessed it function so they knew it must be useful.

Richard thought it might make a long, narrow boat, but James said that was ridiculous, it was obviously the steeple for the big church, just bend it. Bend it at the knee.

The boys fought about how to incorporate their father’s leg into the play-scape for another quarter hour or so, and then, apropos of nothing, began a new game that required cards so Richard left James in the barn while he went to fetch a deck.

There was nothing outside the barn.
No matching limbs.
No pants or shoes or nail clippers.

Just a large orange storage container that once every three days, shook off from its foundation, another leg.

beckUntitled (The Spike Buck). 1995; Robert Beck


After Untitled (The Spike Buck). 1995; Robert Beck

A deer’s skull is thick. It takes nearly two hours to carve with a hacksaw. My uncle says it’s an art. I tell him art is a thing you build and then break. I’d like to see him recreate the deer, let the deer head be built again in armature, at least make a thing to kill.

He goes into the woods, finds a doe.

There are so many this time of year. He is careful to wear blue, to avoid the appearance of camouflage. He says their eyes get smaller as they check him. He expected the opposite, for their eyes to grow wide enough to eat their pointed mouths. The one who picks him is smaller than the rest, wild, would never starve in a biting winter. She is the kind of doe who knows what she wants, stands on her own four legs.

Their baby is born in April, and April is also her name. Her skull, soft like a human baby’s at first, her legs full of knee, human mouth glued on fawn bone. My uncle almost can’t bring himself to take the hacksaw out of the garage. I tell him he’s already done it so many times, this is only right—how will April live in the wild? She can’t enroll in kindergarten; How will she be vaccinated? How will her mother ever love her? It is already obvious there are regrets. Long silences in springtime when there should be baptism.

He finds the saw again, but fumbles with the camera.  The camera is crucial. I tell him there is nothing stopping him now, he’d said an art, after all, and art requires not only the building and breaking but the documentation. He claims there is no cord, that my aunt lost the cord to the camera, they didn’t use the thing much, it could be in any of the junk drawers. An obvious lie. It isn’t difficult to locate the cord, right there next to the space where the camera lives. I do the difficult part for him, the steadying and mounting, press the button, on.

April’s skull has hardened by this time, but her fur is a soft combination of human hair and doe, and this is one of the reasons it is so difficult to saw at first. The hair caught in the blood makes the whole thing cumbersome, but he continues. I am proud of him. I tell him there is nothing to think about while the blade spins—just focus on the silver, the ivory bone. I make sure the frame is in focus. You’re an artist, you’re an artist, I whisper as it spins, but I’m the one who handles the hard part of not looking away.