Along for the ride:

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Season in Conundrum

Season in Conundrum
Art and Poetry by William Noguera
How sweet to lie just once like a painter
Propped at the top of that hill on my elbow
considering the conundrum of breath.
Grasses blow among my limbs
as if wisdom has been withdrawn
for safekeeping into the library of fragments.
I have no purpose except to return back down towards a eucalyptus I love.
Its petals are filled with the terrible weight of careless reversal, grief without consequence.
It burns with such ease
just to stand there below it, dreaming of union,
all trembling and scent and colors of the moment,
is like living inside a flower,
while making a study of winter.
Blue span that leads to a gleaming city,
you cannot be crossed by longing.

The image above is entirely made up of hand-stippled pencil dots, or pointillism. Hundreds of hours of work. The poem, to be found on the back of the picture, is also written in pencil. Inmates of San Quentin's Death Row do not have access to more than one writing implement at a time. They look out at a million dollar view of the City of San Francisco across the Bay, spanned by the Bay Bridge, which cannot be crossed by longing alone. The poem is signed by a fingerprint in the Author/Inmate's own blood. An escape, of sorts?


  1. I read that their view won't last for long because it is projected to sell the land upon which the prison resides for McMansions and move the prisoners elsewhere with a 99¢ view. We all get shuffled off eventually in the name of progress, right?

  2. The fact of its being written by a prisoner, makes the impact even more powerful. I cannot even imagine how dreadful it would be to be cut off from the natural world like that, forced to holding the flower of your freedom only in your imagination. And death row to boot....What a waste of a creative talent.

  3. Jean, part of the conundrum for me is wondering whether or not these talents would have risen to the surface without incarceration. Also, these talents stand alone and yet I included the information about Death Row. Exploitation, shock factor or Art for Art's Sake?

    Ms. Pliers, That is some very desirable real estate! "Shuffled off" in manacles or "Shuffled off the Planet?" No matter the view or the justice involved the prisoners are very aware of their number on the count down to zero list. I'm not judging, either away, but I empathize.

  4. The poem seemed rather odd to me; regret or turmoil, until I read from whence it came. The artwork is beautiful, fantastic play of light on shadow recalled from memory or perhaps seen in a book or magazine? Either way, the execution of the pencil studies is stunning.

  5. Many artists need solitude, or at least some detachment from the outside world, although the force of artistic expression is often too powerful to be impeded by the artist's personal situation. It will 'out', even when the creator is 'in'. Does that make sense?

  6. The quiet humanity of the poem is so striking... it makes the circumstances of its composition all the more piquant and emotionally charged.

  7. English Rider, the context is important, definitely. Even knowing nothing of the poet, this is excellent poetry, and the drawings a fine example of precision and discipline - at the very least. But to re-read this knowing the most significant circumstance of the creator's life - well, it takes on a whole different perspective. How do you know about this man?

  8. Kitty,both poetry and images are full of deeper meanings.

    Martin, Left to his own devices in the outside world, I think William would have expanded on his other talents, like car stealing. The art would not have surfaced.

    Steve, the more times you read it the more nuances you find relevant to his situation.
    "considering the conundrum of breath" is less obvious than "the blue span that cannot be crossed by longing" but so compelling.

  9. Deborah, a journalist who interviewed my Artist Husband, at a time when we owned a Gallery,suggested we might be interested in seeing William's work. We eventually ended up representing him, buying all of his work over a period of several years so that there would be enough to exhibit. We own three dozen pieces, or thereabouts. We visited him in San Quentin and would accept his collect phone calls and chat about his art and hopes for a future beyond appeal.

  10. Wow, that is a change of pace... to an intense vision from behind barred windows. I cannot imagine living in a cage. I think I would react the way many native americans did when imprisoned... wasting away and dying of a broken heart or broken spirit... I wonder how people do manage to survive in such brutish surroundings? Where did you find this ??? Fascinating, both drawings and poetry...

  11. Owen, one day I will write about my visit to Building "D" at San Quentin. I am still very conflicted about how and if to separate The Art, The Man and The Deed.

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