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Three poems by Benjamin Goluboff

On an Unattributed Photograph of Lorado Taft’s Students at Work on Statuary for the Columbian Exposition


There are seven people in the photograph:

a young man and woman in the foreground

stand at the feet of an allegorical group,

twice life-size, The Sleep of the Flowers,

maidens and children whose vertical arrangement

suggests the moments before green shoots

emerge in first spring; in the background

and above the topmost Flower, four women

and two men are distributed across a scaffold

placed against a giant bas relief of Columbia,

or Progress, or Commerce maybe,

helmeted like Minerva and facing

resolutely West, or at least left.


The composition of the photograph

is crowded, unclassical, crisscrossed

by the ladders Taft’s assistants used

to ascend the sculptures.

There are scratches on the plate

and errors in the exposure

and the illusion is created,

if it is an illusion, that in the moment

the shutter clicked, one of the sculptor’s

assistants was being pulled into the stone.




Lorado Taft Suffers a Crisis of Confidence, 1893


From his home in the ideal

Auguste Rodin sent

to the Columbian Exposition

a cast of one of the figures

in his memorial group

The Burghers of Calais:

Eustache de St. Pierre

with the rope around his neck

and anguish written

on his bronze features.


Of course Taft fled

to the Palace of Art

to see St. Pierre

the moment he was

out of the crate.

And when he had taken in

the statue’s lines and finish,

saw the bronze rendering

of bourgeois selflessness,

noted the emotional restraint

with which the Master

treated his subject,

Taft returned home,

took to his bed

and did not rise

for a week.




Lorado’s Taft’s Eternal Silence: A People’s History


In 1909, the year Taft installed

Eternal Silence at Graceland cemetery,

a young man, the son of Chicago’s

professional classes, being then groomed

for the law, took one look at

the ten-foot bronze of shrouded Death

and ran away to sea.


Silence recurred in decades

of night terrors for a woman

who passed it as a child in arms

at Graceland in the spring of 1937

and never knew in later life

where the image came from.


Criminals and addicts over the years

have either been reformed at Silence

or confirmed in their vocations,

spouses, no small number, turned

either toward or away from adultery.

In 1974 two kids smoking weed

in the lee of the statue

founded a new religion.


Eternal Silence stands a short

trot or canter from Graceland’s

two active coyote dens

and is a rallying point

in the breeding and bonding rituals

of those sly creatures,

has witnessed, as nights pass

over the North Side, a suite

of furtive coyote embraces.


For more than a century now

the neighborhood’s crows

have harassed and abused the statue,

stooping on it, fouling it with their filth,

singing to Silence their anthems of derision.





Benjamin Goluboff is the author of Ho Chi MInh: A Speculative Life in Verse and Biking Englewood: An Essay on the White Gaze, both from Urban Farmhouse Press. Goluboff teaches at Lake Forest College. Some of his work can be read at https://www.lakeforest.edu/academics/faculty/goluboff




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