Before he stepped into the shower a moment ago, my youngest son and I briefly continued a discussion that we began last night at the supper table. My idea — inspired by Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, the artwork for that album, and composer Ian Anderson’s stage antics — is to declare myself public art.

In the first phase of the experiment, I would sit on a park bench downtown in the lovely area near the State Capitol, with a little sign that says, simply, “Sitting on a park bench.” That would, in effect, be my title. In the second phase of the experiment, I would play a flute while standing in the gutter — the gutter being symbolic of how low I’ve sunk, as an artist and especially as a human being, the flute being my frantic attempt at appeasing randomly imagined gods (odd, considering I don’t play the flute). My eyes, of course, would be rolled back in my head so that only the whites show, symbolizing the long inward gaze of introspection, Zen, karma, ancient forms of plant life, the birth and death of planets, galaxies, and stars, shame, bad hygiene, etc., etc. The title of this piece would be Thick as a Brick.

Now, it should be mentioned that the police in Salem are a little skeptical of such experiments, as even young people strumming guitars on city sidewalks are viewed with suspicion and often asked to “move along,” as if the tempo of their aspirations were somehow lagging behind that of the rest of the citizenry. My son has experienced this himself, despite the general interest and approval of passersby, mothers and their little children included, some of which have gone so far as to drop quarters, dollar bills, and baked goods in his open guitar case to show their appreciation.

And therein lies the problem. One of the most sacred, straightforward acts — the earning of honest money by working at something someone loves — is not welcome on city streets. Somehow, it is deemed to interfere with the legalized theft that goes on behind the doors of so many venerable businesses and institutions, which are themselves leech-like and rotten to the core.

For instance, let us say that I, sans flute and with all due gravity, were to recite on a busy street corner two of Walt Whitman’s best known, most loved poems about Abraham Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain!” and “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.” And let us say I were to do so in such a profoundly moving way that several people gathered and a few even gave me money. How would this be received by business owners in the immediate area and the police?

In this Whitman phase of the experiment, I would, perhaps, need to be handled with slightly more care — told more politely, in other words, to “move along,” or possibly even asked to do so. And if that happened, it would be a victory for artists everywhere: the day one of our number was asked instead of told, or, as the government really prefers, ignored altogether.

Then again, what if no one realized I was reciting Whitman? A distinct possibility, I’m afraid.

There are, of course, other ways to function as public art. I might slowly walk the streets of the downtown district with a sign that says “Poet,” or “Writer,” or “Human Being.” Or one that bears this thought-provoking message: “Instead of war . . .”

Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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