The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

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DEC 19-JAN 20 Issue



Organizers may
organize closets or
workers. One
stacks the canvas
boxes of the rich.
The other
canvases people.

Gardeners blow leaves they just
blew, plum trees
they’ve already
pruned. The elders
pick the fields’ acrid
berries. Their sons
arrive out of season,
sleep in the street, in a dog-
house, in someone’s
car. Oxnard strawberries
are plucked by hand.
No union. T Visas,
U visas. La Migra.
On the same road as
the Joads.

I eat fruit crudités
with an actor’s son too
happy to get on the set
of his sicko father’s
biopic. The doctor over
there is dubbed “a medical
gigolo.” Not sure what
they call the selfie guy
or the California Closets
couple or the Golden Age
L.A. lawyer and his expensive
ghost. Have they accrued,
depleted, bankrupted,
hoarded? Never touching
the principal, drawing
from their trusts, split
into private educations,
creating standing?
Zero gravity:
the name of the pedicure.

Money: the phantom
limb. Have they kept
our interest?


After the Peter Hujar show “The Speed of Life” at the Morgan Library, May 2018.

Granite waves, geese,
half-rotten meals, half-rotten
boys. Between death and life.
(True of every-
one.) In 1983
the mask and its slippage
were one: grave
silken prints, silver
gelatin. He mastered
harder minds and men,
kept feline profligates
in line.

The Hujar show at the Morgan:
a Leica is an anti-
amnesiac tool.
Pale, etched young
men—dancers, trade—
made to the  measure
of others’ desire.
Sitters’ NYC
pidgin names:
Ethyl, Lavinia Co-op.

"Christopher Street Pier #2 (Crossed Legs)" by Peter Hujar. © The Peter Hujar Archive LLC; Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Sexy horses, languorous
freaks, warmly lurid
bedsheets show us how
we might have lived.
Avedon and Arbus are
chintzy voyeurs compared
to his unfolded intensity,
his sitters’ value neither
reduced nor enlarged.
He—and they—
suspended between
presence and disappearance,
the real undead.
Sarah Jenkins, nude, in a head
brace worn like a demented
halo. Creatures
of Downtown: near my
1970s of the mind,
of freedom, where transgod-
mothers loomed. Later,
some turned to ash
or maybe afterlife
or worse, reality
shows on Bravo.
Hujar’s places dissolve
also. World Trade Center
West Street piers
The Village Voice.
Arising from these scenes
he is now sealed into them as
a grey cold seam of lament
runs down each picture.
Tainted saint of the abused
he looked into the sitters’
eyes then out of them,
all at once.


Alissa Quart

Alissa Quart is the author of two poetry books Monetized (Miami University Press, 2015) and Thoughts and Prayers (OR Books, 2019) and her poetry has appeared in Granta, The Nation, the London Review of Books, Teen Vogue, NPR and LitHub, among many other publications. Her four non-fiction books include Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2018) and Branded. She is executive director of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.


The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 19-JAN 20

All Issues