Life and Limb

A Poem In Memoriam: Carol Hepper, renowned artist, 1953–2021

Devil’s Curve by Carol Hepper; 2008, 23" x51" x 11", wood, cardboard, pigment, foam, rope, glue

This year especially
the irony of the first in bloom
on the last day I’d ever see you
Witch Hazel divining spring
before breath turns invisible
those unearthly blossoms in March
gone before its begun

Ragged, spidery, ribbon petals
the color of sulfur and blood
braving bare branches compact
like tiny shocks-of-hair
worn by the hag invoked by its name
only less menacing
that smell

Sharp, spicy, intimate
not like other flowers on trees
like gaudy Cherry, immoderate Japanese
redolent overcompensation
for winter’s embarrassment
— all those months of nakedness

Witch Hazel flowers care less
are strong but weak
too thin to conceal
they are working-class decent
disheveled from doing
their job
conjuring beauty

While others, later
less deserving
are handed bouquets

Known another way dutiful
and divinatory:
Y-shaped Witch Hazel twigs
are used to dowse
for water
and gold

Like you did, from the Dakota plains
transforming cut branches and twigs
into your art your life
and limbs cut short now
and won’t see another spring
or Witch Hazel bloom
gone before finished

Crux of a sad song
but not our cowgirl
buffalo rancher
student of the Sioux
sister, daughter, friend
love of her life

Photo by Laura Ockel on Unsplash
Carol Hepper, 2nd from left. The late playwright Edward Albee and I in center, 1991

Carol Hepper passed away on April 29, 2021 from cancer. We met at the Edward Albee Foundation, my first artist residency, in August of 1991. We became part of each other’s chosen family. So many wonderful memories. She will be sorely missed.

Carol faced death with the same courage she brought to her art, and she passed peacefully. She leaves an incredible legacy, both personally and through her art which has been shown internationally and represented in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Walker Art Center, among many others.

Carol Hepper in her studio at The Edward Albee Foundation in Montauk, NY, August 1991, the place and year we met. Photo by author.

Visual Artist & Nonfiction Writer; New agented memoir: “Growing Up Under Water”—From Southern Gothic New Orleans to the art world of New York.

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