Ekphrastic work from Mark Blickley

Remains (bones and some fur) of a small rodent lying on dirt. Some pine needles are on the ground.

The dumbwaiter broke for the ninth time that month.  This meant that Arnie would have to run the family’s trash down five flights of stairs, depositing it on top of a row of garbage cans to the left of his building.  Arnie hated the chore but his sisters were too young for such a responsibility.  He flung his jacket with the New York Knicks insignia over his shoulder and grabbed the bag from his mother.

            “Goddamn dumbwaiter,” hissed her mother, “we don’t have enough around here with sickness, we need filth, too!”

            Arnie looked up at her and shivered.  It had been a long time since he could remember her smiling or when her voice wasn’t sharp, angry at him.  He wondered why her behavior was normal only when she communicated with the tall skeleton lying on the living room couch.

            She hates me, thought Arnie, just because I hate this stinkin’ garbage.  When Daddy gets better things’ll be good again.  He’ll help out with the garbage and everything will be fine.

            The garbage cans overflowed, spotted with vermin.  Arnie threw the bag onto the pile and watched with a smile as three days of his life spilled onto the sidewalk.  The crashing of baby food jars as they rolled from the sidewalk and into the street made Arnie cry, and he quickly covered his face with his jacket.  He did not want any reminders of his mother spoon-feeding his father from those jars.

            Ever since the hospital released his father following his third stomach operation, life had become crazy.  Daddy was like a six-foot three-inch child, and Arnie a four-foot seven-inch adult.  “Like a stupid midget,” sighed Arnie.  His mother depended on him to do everything and he was rewarded by her snapping at him like the turtles he caught up at the lake when his father was healthy.

            Five weeks had passed since the hospital dumped his father into the four-room apartment with the broken dumbwaiter.  Sometimes his speech could be understood, but his existence was mostly incoherent phrases and the sucking of air between gnawed teeth, swallowing pain.

            Arnie was sitting in the chair opposite the couch, reading, when he heard his father mumble.  He looked up from his illustrated Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

            “What Daddy?”

            His father slowly turned his head until he could peripherally see his son.  “Soup,” he whispered.

            Arnie begrudgingly closed his book and stood up as mother scuffed into the living room and smiled down at his father.  She tugged at the back of Arnie’s hair, propelling him into the kitchen. 

            “You do what your father wants and fast, understand me?” she whispered angrily.  “Are you such a stupid little fool that you don’t know he’s going to heaven soon?”

            Arnie slipped out of his mother’s grip and hurried out of the apartment.  He raced down five flights of stairs trying to outdistance his thoughts, but failed.  The past months were not spent waiting for his father to get better, to go back to work, or go back to the hospital.    Going to heaven?  Heaven is for skeletons?  Hell is full of skeletons, not heaven.

            Arnie bought the soup with his own coins.  He was walking up the tenement stoop when a movement by the garbage cans caught his attention.  The nine rusty cans for five floors of families were completely buried by torn, greasy bags.  It smelled the same way Arnie felt.  He walked closer to the noise, careful of rats.

            Suddenly, a large head covered with red blotches, chewing on the remains of a day-old TV dinner, popped up out of the garbage.  Arnie jumped back and froze.

            “What’s the matter, pal?  Never seen anyone enjoyin’ their lunch before?  Want some?”

            Arnie pulled the can of soup out of his pocket and cocked his arm defensively.

            “Soup.  Well, you are a good lunch companion.  Oh dear, it’s mushroom.  Doctor says I can’t eat mushrooms.  I have a tendency to hallucinate, but I do appreciate the gesture,” he smiled, rising up from the rubbish heap and stretching to his full height, a head taller than Arnie.

            Arnie giggled and pocketed the can.  “What’s your name?”

            The man blew a fly off his nose and scratched under his eye with a long, jagged fingernail.  “People call me Decay Dan.”  He extended his hand as Arnie withdrew a step.  The man laughed.

            “You look good in garbage,” giggled Arnie, pleased at being able to retort with an adult.

            Dan nodded in agreement, walked over to the curb and squatted.  “Garbage has been good to me, too.”

            “Why are you called Decay Dan?  Sounds like a toothpaste commercial.”

            “Because I give hope to people,” replied Dan.

            “You’re crazy,” said Arnie.

            “Naturally.  But to get back to your question, I’m called Decay Dan because I offer the promise of life after death.”

            “Say what!” exclaimed Arnie, his fingers tightening around the can in his pocket.  “You tryin’ to tell me that you’re God or something?  I look stupid, huh?”

            Decay Dan shifted on his haunch and squinted at the boy.  Arnie noticed that Dan’s ankles were swollen; his shoes housed sockless feet.  “What I’m saying is that garbage is important because everyone makes it.  When people see garbage they’re disgusted because it makes them think of their own slowly rotting bodies and the death that awaits them.  Understand?”

            “I think so,” said Arnie, “but why do people get hope from you?”

            “Just a second,” answered Decay Dan.  He walked over to the garbage, rummaged through some bags and returned to the curb with a soggy, half-smoked cigarette.  After a frantic search through his tattered shirt and pants pockets, he found a book of matches and tried to light the cigarette.  It was too wet. Decay Dan grumbled and ran the flame under the cigarette, slowly rotating it at the filter.  Thirty seconds later he tried to light it again.  A brown stained smile recorded his success as he filled his lungs with smoke.

            “What’s your name, boy?”


            “Arnie, the way I have it pegged is that when folks see me scrambling around the garbage they get comforted ‘cause the only life usually found in garbage are maggots.  A human being rising out of the decay makes them think of the resurrection of the flesh.  Understand?  Decay is not the end.  It’s the supper.  And as you can see by my gut, not the last supper, either.”

            Arnie stared at Decay Dan and shrugged.  Although he wasn’t sure what the man was talking about, he felt a certain comfort from his tone of voice, an old familiar comfort, like when his parents used to explain the reasons why it was important for him to excel in school.

            “My mother told me that my father’s going to heaven soon.”

            “Is he now?  Well, I suppose it’s a damn sight better than living in garbage.”

            The two sat in a prolonged silence.

            “My mother is upset and angry at me all the time for nothing.  I haven’t done nothing.”

            “Your old man’s pretty sick, huh?”

            Arnie nodded.  “Cancer.”

            Decay Dan was about to put his arm around Arnie’s shoulder but retracted the motion.  “It’s the decay, boy.  Don’t worry.  It’s not you, it’s the garbage of disease.  She’ scared, that’s all.”

            Arnie glanced down at Decay Dan’s swollen ankles and then looked into his eyes.  “You don’t sound all that crazy.  Why are you in garbage?”

            “Because there’s so much of it and nobody fights me for it.  Now mind you, I’m only talking about American garbage with its bright sanitary packages and Grade A meats.”

            “I’d like to do something for you, Decay Dan,” said Arnie.

            Decay Dan smiled and spit.  “You can, Arnie.  Next time your mom forces you to eat something you don’t want and she tells you about all those starvin’ people all over the world, just smile and agree with her.  When she leaves think about old Decay Dan and scrape your plate into the garbage, okay?”

            “Deal,” grinned Arnie and the two shook hands.

            A scream pierced through their new friendship and they both looked up at the fifth-floor window where Arnie’s mother’s face was pressed against the window grill.

            “Arnie!  Arnie!  Stop talking to yourself and waving your arms around like an idiot!  Get the hell up here, now!  Your father’s been waiting for that soup!  Hurry up!  Run!  Now the neighbors will know I got mental sickness to put up with, too!  Get off that curb!  Now!”  She slammed the window shut.

            Decay Dan winked at Arnie and scampered away.

Arnie climbed slowly up the stairs.  He paused at each flight to run his hand over the banister and think.  His mother had not seen Decay Dan even though Dan was right next to him when she shouted down at him.  There’s going to be trouble, big trouble, thought Arnie.

            He stopped in front of the muddied welcome mat outside his door, drew a breath, and clicked the key in the keyhole.          

Mark Blickley hails from the Bronx and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center. His latest book is the text-based art collaboration with fine arts photographer Amy Bassin, Dream Streams. (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, NY). His art videos, Speaking in Bootongue and Widow’s Peek: The Kiss of Death represented the United States in the 2020 year-long international world tour of Time Is Love: Universal Feelings: Myths & Conjunctions, organized by esteemed African curator, Kisito Assangni.

Ekphrastic satirical writing from Mark Blickley, after Belgian photographer Inge Dumoulin’s photo ‘No Head, No Pain’

‘No Head, No Pain’ from Inge Dumoulin



“fine arts forever”

Tyrone Hemholtz is proud to be the first arts institution to sponsor an IORGO VALVA Memorial Retrospective, NO HEAD, NO PAIN.

An intensely private, reclusive artist who refused to attend exhibitions, grant interviews and was so obsessive about not exposing his face in public that he daily wore facial masks decades before the Covid Pandemic. The board of directors at Tyrone Hemholtz offers its gratitude to the Iorgo Valva family for allowing the publication of the only known photograph of this multi-disciplined artistic genius. 

The paintings of Iorgo Valva (1953-2021) reinforces the premise that everything transitory is merely a smile. Everything we see is a proposal, a possibility, an expedient. The real truth, to begin with, remains invisible beneath the surface. The colors that captivate us are not lighting, but light. The graphic universe consists of light and shadow. The diffused clarity of slightly overcast weather is richer in phenomena than a sunny day. It is difficult to capture and represent this, because the moment is so fleeting. Mr. Valva has infiltrated our soul with the formal fuse of THOUGH I’M SCAT I STILL LOVE LITTER BOXES, using organic materials embedded into canvass.

Simple motion strikes us as banal. Valva’s work eliminates the time element. Yesterday and tomorrow are simultaneous. His FRISBEE AS CHOCOLATE CHIP and UP THE SCHOZZIN NOZZIN overcomes the time element by a retrograde motion that would penetrate consciousness, reassuring us that a renaissance might still be thinkable.

Early works indicate his demonical visions melt with the celestial. This dualism shall not be treated as such, but in its complementary oneness. This conviction is always present. The demonic is already peeking through here and there and can’t be kept down. For truth asks that all elements be presented at once, as is exemplified by the artist’s ORGASM SEEPS FROM DAMAGED BOOT and damned near didactic with the completion of his last major painting, the encaustic NEW ENGLAND NEUTERS, as well as conveyed through the lesser sculptures commemorating his recent period of Qanon fanaticism.

IORGO VALVA was born in the Bronx, New York, in 1953. His first contact with the art world came at an early age. In 1954, at the height of the bohemian “BEAT” tradition, Mrs. Chloe Valva was changing the future painter’s diapers in the Women’s Room at Crotona Park when Allen Ginsberg and Jackson Pollock, both in drag, each asked the artist’s mother for a dime and admired the streak-stained diaper Iorgo had created.

After a period of twenty-two years during which time Iorgo did not create art because of his paralyzing fear that ferrets would seek him out and defecate on his paint brushes, Mr. Valva went into a frenzied period of work that lasted until his death at age sixty-eight, when he was bitten by a rabid woodchuck while collecting organic materials for an anti-environmental collage.

Not only was Mr. Valva a prolific painter and sculptor, he also published many articles and essays of art history and criticism, as well as an acclaimed autobiography,
I’m Not Paranoid Because My Fears Are Real, and a novella, Stories I Stole From My Father.

This novella led to a thirty-year court battle with his sister, Katya, when she discovered that the book was pirated from the uncopyrighted Estonian fiction of their father. The case was still in litigation at the time of the artist’s death and was said to be a major reason for renewed interest in Iorgo among art critics, who cited the novella title as the ultimate statement in truth, thus earning Mr. Valva a new and deeper examination of his oeuvre.

Inge Dumoulin is a Belgian photographer and Iorgo Valva family friend who is perhaps even more mysterious than the artist himself. Very little is known about her. Was she Iorgo’s mistress?

Mark Blickley is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild and PEN American Center. His latest book is the text-based art collaboration with fine arts photographer Amy Bassin, Dream Streams.

Ekphrastic Collaboration from Katya Shubova and Mark Blickley

photography by Katya Shubova

“The Biology of Courage”

My name is Jull Soares and I am a bastard. This is not a particular opinion that I, or anyone else that I’m aware of, has placed on me. It is objective truth. My mother was an unlicensed sex worker and neither she or I have any inkling of who fathered me, although a couple of gringos are among the suspects.

There is nothing more painful than longing for things that never were. Many of my friends grew up with fathers and when I was young, I was very jealous. However, based on what I’ve witnessed in films and in real life, it doesn’t seem that I missed out on much. If you are loved—it doesn’t matter by whom or how many—you’ll be fine as long as you feel worthy of being loved.

I am old now, but I do not think that I fear death. Sometimes I get upset that while I am rotting in the dirt others will be drinking beer and dancing, or laying on a beach with closed eyes, caressed by the sun. My love of history has been an enormous help in smothering my panic of not being alive.

Ever since I was a child, I’ve adored hearing city elders tell stories about Cartagena. How my ancestors fought and killed the Spanish invader Juan de la Cosa when he tried to steal a 132 pound golden porcupine from our Sinú temple. And how we citizens repelled an attack of the English armada that included George Washington’s half brother Lawrence. Or when the great North American female matador, Patricia McCormick, one of the finest bullfighters of her time, slew a bull at the beloved Circo Teatro. Streaked in blood, she knelt by the animal she just killed and stroked its head while screaming out, “I love this brave bull!”

I can accept and enjoy that all these events took place without my being alive to witness them, so why should I regret events I will be unable to experience after I die? I have come to believe that when we die, we return to wherever we were the year before our birth. As I was born in 1959, I will simply return to whatever I was doing in 1958 and that’s where I will be for eternity. There seems to be very few second chances in life and I suspect the same will be true in death.

I like lying on this ledge, becoming part of this glorious mural. I feel as if I’m a horizontal recruiter enlisting pedestrians to take some time outs during the day and not to fear exposing themself in public. Often kids, mostly teenagers, come over and tease me that I look dead when they shake or kick me into awakening. I can appreciate their concern or forgive their mockery, but I don’t like it when they pee in a wine bottle and try to force me to drink. Or pour it over me while I sleep.

Sleeping in public can give you interesting insights into human nature. It’s been my experience that the good are pretty evenly matched with the bad, although it does tip a bit more in favor of the positive. Many people think I’m just a homeless misfit and don’t realize I’m actually giving them a chance to join me in creating a temporary public family. Compassion and cruelty is what I frequently dream about while I sleep on this beautiful ledge, and is what I often wake up to.

Since I was a child, I’ve always hated shoes. Most men like to appear tough. If a person really wants to be tough it must start with their feet. Our ancestors probably went tens of thousands of years travelling in their bare feet—tough, grizzled, calloused—but not indifferent. Growing up without family except for my mother, I don’t think of being shoeless as a sign of poverty. I am walking in the footsteps of my ancestors where each step I take is headed in the direction of a family reunion. The soles of my naked feet scrape along the same paths where the souls of my forebears once walked. Please forgive my clumsy attempt at poetic wordplay, but it is a holy trail.

A human head should always be cradled. That is why I always carry a pillow in my pouch. A good pillow allows you to dream in color. My pillow is very old and even when I wash it has a distinctly peculiar smell to it. That’s because of the many beautiful dreams and disturbing nightmares burrowed inside it. My sweat and tears puddle into the stains of my life. A kind European visitor once told me I should consider my pillow as a work of textile art. I’m not sure what that means, but I like how it sounds.

It is a pillow almost as old as me. My mother made it for me when I was still “shitting yellow” as she used to like to say in her colorful way of labeling me a baby. Each day I ensconce myself into this bright yellow mural, beneath a stunning young woman with legs spread, as if birthing me onto this ledge.

Freedom is isolation. Slavery is the obliteration of isolation. I abhor flophouses, government housing and charitable hostels. Once you lose your ability to desire isolation, you become a slave. Creativity can only flourish in silence and solitude. If I was in some kind of forced shelter do you think I would be writing in this notebook and accompanying these words with images torn from magazines, newspapers and catalogues? The European woman who told me my pillow was textile art also said that I have a collagist mentality when I showed her a few of my notebooks.

Do not pity me as homeless. Celebrate me as one who possesses the special gift of being able to live alone. Sometimes I am forced to enter the dark doors of slavery, but I maintain the wherewithal to escape back into freedom and return to this colorful ledge.

And so here I lay, precariously balanced between moments of exaltation and the fear of being disturbed. In between those two points lies the secret to a healthy and productive life. Boredom is not having nothing to do, but feeling like nothing is worth doing. No one volunteers to experience life. We don’t have a choice. That is why anyone who completes this journey without taking short cuts is heroic.

Can you spare a few pesos in support of a pilgrim’s progress?

Thank you.

May you be spared a life of inertia in motion.

Previously published here.

Katya Shubova is a photographer and former competitive gymnast who grew up in Ukrainian Odesa. She stars in the upcoming short film Hunger Pains, directed by Iorgo Papoutsas for Wabi Sabi Productions, as well as dancing Tango internationally. 

Mark Blickley is a proud member of the Dramatist Guild and PEN American Center. His most recent book is the text-based art collaboration with fine arts photographer Amy Bassin, ‘Dream Streams’ (Clare Songbird Publishing House).