A Humble Curbside Memorial

Nancy Flynn Apostrophe Blog Archive, History Lessons, Musings, Neighborhood

The Apostrophe Blog

Musings on Writing and Life.

I first stumbled on this small portrait of George Floyd in September 2020, after the upheavals of the Portland pandemic summer/protest summer. It sat by its lonesome on a curb in the Woodlawn neighborhood here in Northeast Portland, making a quiet statement (I thought) every time I walked past. It spoke of intention, too. Someone had taken the time to make the piece, frame it, construct a post for it then secure that post into the hell-strip next to the curb. The image—I think it is a photograph but it also might be artistically altered—is covered in a wax that (I believe) is called encaustic. Or maybe that is not what it is. Maybe it was sealed in wax to better protect it from the elements.

I remember thinking at the time I first noticed it just sitting there—no sign, no words, only an image—how it looked hauntingly timeless as if it could be both daguerrotype from the 19th century and an etching from centuries earlier than that. Now, three years later, as you can see from the photograph above, nature abhors a vacuum and has filled in with its greenery even as autumn leaves fall and gather around as well. The frame has aged, looks to be starting to splinter a bit, bleached by sun, rain, the elements, time. The waxy surface seems bit more mottled, too—pitted and streaked. Even the edges of the portrait seem to be closing in. But his face remains very much vivid, his eyes penetrating and present.

All of this is (again) making this small shrine seem to be even older than it appeared three short years ago. Perhaps one day, when I am passing by, I will see a neighbor outside and ask them if they know anything about its provenance. Not that any of us need to know exactly that. I find it moving enough that someone decided that this was what they needed to do in memoriam to this murdered, martyred man. I find it sobering and troubling that, in this rendering, George Floyd stands alone, staring out at the viewer, on his way to becoming an icon—for the too many Black men and women wrongfully murdered in this cruel, white supremacist land.

Nancy Flynn
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