Southeast Morrison Street has always been one of the more characteristic drags of Portland, Oregon. Along it, you will find the city’s favorite strip club, a field that used to be managed by working goats, and a large pink house in the middle of an empty lot across from a gay bar. The street is changing, however, and its evolution is emblematic of a bigger transformation of my city. When the housing market began on an upward trend in 2014, change was inevitable. The tech industry took up a burgeoning presence, coveted dives were demolished left and right, and even our beloved goats were relocated, a moment in which our community reacted with a level of mourning reserved for local celebrities. I now drive east and I can’t remember what the goats looked like, or how many of them there were. The metaphor here writes itself: the once idyllic is now industrialized and the cherished monuments of the city are not as immortal as we thought.
My appendix ruptured three hundred fifty miles from home. That was not the plan. The plan was to spend two nights with my dear friend Shelly. Catch up. Reminisce. Write her obituary. On the cusp of her fifty-ninth birthday, Shell was receiving in-home hospice care for a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.
A baby sparrow gently held in one curled hand, a black-bulbed glass eyedropper in the other. My Mom sat at the kitchen table, a homemade circular plywood affair she had tiled in concentric rings of tiny squares of white and blue and blue and blue on curving rummage sale chromed steel legs. On the table sat a rainbow glaze-splattered ceramic boomerang ashtray – also the work of her capable hands. A cigarette perched in one of four identical divots and unfurled an endless curling smoke tendril, rising to lose itself against the brown-stained white acoustic ceiling tiles above. Between the ashtray and the ever-present cup of black coffee sat a little bowl of milk with bits of floating white bread. The eyedropper inhaled another load of milk and bread and took careful aim at the gaping baby bird beak. “Hold still, dammit.” The bulging newborn swollen-closed eyes bulged a little more as the eyedropper was rammed deep down the tiny throat to disgorge its contents into the belly of the little bird.
“Penelope Caldwell knows the feminine. Her decades of midwifery experience and working with women endow her with unique perspective as she blends social commentary with visceral art. A popular piece of hers, “Mail Order Bride Comes With Baggage”, depicts a young woman, naked–prepubescent almost–simultaneously controlling and seeking refuge behind the beasts that accompany her. Most of her other work, however, irreverently focuses on the raw aspects of the human body in solitude: aging faces, tanlines, breasts dripping. The artist does not shy away from oppressed subjects and she does not ask for your approval. She does, however, ask for your thought, for your skepticism. Caldwell’s woman is neither concealed, nor is it liberated; the feminine is represented by the medium itself–often obscured, sometimes messy, and never fully understood.”
A Dystopia both Topical and Firmly Rooted in History
Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower begins in a suburb of LA in the year 2024 with the United States on the brink of collapse. California’s economy has crumbled in the face of endless drought and soaring water prices. A new drug called pyromania is ripping through the US, its addicts setting everything from people to neighborhoods alight, creating wildfires that decimate cities. Public institutions such as police and firefighters have been privatized, and extortion and police brutality have eroded any trust the public once had in those institutions. Unemployment is the new norm regardless of education level and class divides are larger than ever. The wealthy live in gated and protected mansions, the upper-middle class either sequestered within heavily fortified suburbs or privatized communities: factory towns that turn denizens into indentured slaves. The majority of citizens live on the street—constantly under threat of assault, rape, and cannabalism.