A sculptural poem, “Hollow Haunts” explores questions of historicity: What is the work of time, and how are we at its mercy when we attempt to negotiate our collective histories? Is historical authenticity at odds with the evolution of our collective humanity? In creating a poem in response to Walton Ford’s painting “Scipio and the Bear,” I turned to the text that inspired the painting, a section from Audubon, the Naturalist of the New World that first appeared in Audubon’s 1832 Ornithological Biography. The ornithologist recounts participating in a plantation bear hunt during which a slave, riding horseback, kills the largest of the bears by landing an axe in its skull. The man’s name is Scipio, a popular moniker for slaves displaying bravery, a reference to Scipio Africanus, the Roman general who defeated Hannibal. Though Audubon admires Scipio for his horsemanship and saddle-making skills, he remains an animal in Audubon’s eyes, a centaur at best, half-man and half-beast. Making use of only the first two pages of the passage, the red line of correction cross-stitched on “Hollow Haunts” functions not as an erasure—though it takes the form of an erasure poem—but as a kind of bleeding through. The Scipio I see here was brave for insisting on his humanity, for declaring himself in a time when selfhood did not exist for black people in America. “Hollow Haunts” pits the slow march of time’s progress against the rightfully impatient hunger for personhood, recognition, and respect—the refusal to be captive to time’s constraints in the making of a self.
“Hollow Haunts” is an erasure poem stitched onto a handmade rudimentary saddle. The saddle sculpture itself is mounted on whiskey barrel ties suspended to approximate horse ribs.
Keetje Kuipers has been a Stegner Fellow, the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Resident, a Bread Loaf Fellow, and the Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College. A recipient of the Pushcart Prize, her poems, essays, and fiction have appeared widely, including Best American Poetry. She was the winner of the 2009 A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, and her two collections of poetry have been published by BOA Editions. Previously a tenured Associate Professor at Auburn University, she now lives and writes in Seattle, where she teaches at Hugo House and is an associate editor at Poetry Northwest.