For this Poetry Project, we asked Robin Coste Lewis, the poet laureate of Los Angeles, to invite a group of poets to contribute an original poem written in response to a work of art in MoMA’s collection. In addition to hearing these poems read by their authors and reading about their creation on Magazine, you can listen to them in front of the chosen artwork as a part of our new Poetry Audio Tour of the collection galleries.
Doris Salcedo. Widowed House IV. 1994
There is a little wall
In the world somewhere.
It’s made of wood and bone and air.
Three windows whose only view is you,
A pantry door, two bedposts,
Something light to wear
There’s a bridal watchfulness
In its design. The walls fell down
And now you can shove them in a pickup truck.
A wall without flowers or fungus,
It’s still to the core.
It’s the way a widow would be after a terrible struggle.
It’s the way she would imagine
An altar to someone who disappeared.
Here she could sit
Look one way and pray.
Why did you choose this work of art? What was your approach to writing a poem about it?
I chose the standing sculpture The Widowed House. This one is number four in a set. It was made by Doris Salcedo—the great Colombian artist who has devoted herself to remembering those who have suffered at the hands of others during civil and global wars. I first saw her work at the Harvard Art Museums. That piece was made out of rose petals that are both alive and dead, suspended in time, and attached by waxed thread and alchemical preservatives. The cloth that fills the room is radiant and red and black—like a fairy dress, trampled by history. No petal touches the other, but lies alone in the blood-red cloth.
Salcedo attends to the remains of things, to remnants of war, to the emptiness awarded to objects ripped from their homes. What becomes of the leftovers? Because of the times we live in, I’ve wondered at her revolutionary work. Dedicated to those who experienced the worst in and on their own land—in her country, Colombia, where she lives and everywhere else. The Widowed House continues her anguished meditation about forced destruction, willful and unnecessary violence against the undefended in this world.
Fanny Howe’s most recent publications are Love and I from Graywolf Press and The Wages from Grid Books. She was a finalist for an International Man Book Award and has won many prizes for her fiction and poetry.