A collaboration between Nancy Winship Milliken & Chard deNiord

Artist: Nancy Winship Milliken (Vermont visual artist)
Poet: Chard deNiord (poet laureate of Vermont, Professor at Providence College)

Sculpture title: Ribbon
Poem title: Epitaph for a Barn

How to turn the charred beams of an historic barn into art? This was the question that Vermont Sculpture Nancy Winship Milliken and Vermont poet laureate Chard deNiord posed to each other last summer as they met near the site of a fire that destroyed an hundred year old dairy barn in Shelburne, Vermont. After several minutes of staring at the beams that had been dragged out of the collapsed barn, Milliken and deNiord settled on the idea of creating an evocative epitaph for the barn— something that both memorialized and elegized the destroyed landmark. deNiord suggested that he and Milliken think about the biblical phrase, "Let the dead bury the dead" as a starting point, acknowledging the futility and even irreverence of trying to create something transformative out of incinerated rafters. Milliken and deNiord then went their separate ways for several weeks in their mutual efforts to find respectful expressions that deferred to the barn's remains speaking for themselves as ruined yet iconic objects. Milliken took the first initiative by removing her hand from her memorial by allowing one of the beams, a synecdoche for the entire barn, to speak for itself as a drag mark on a linen shroud laid out on the field near the site of the former barn. deNiord followed by writing a poem that attempted to do justice to the mark it left.

 

Charred remains from Shelburne Farms Dairy Barn in Shelburne, Vermont

Charred remains from Shelburne Farms Dairy Barn in Shelburne, Vermont

EPITAPH FOR A BARN

 

No hand in the balancing act 

of writing this epitaph for the Old 

Dairy Barn at Shelburne Farms—

no words more sacrosanct than a mark 

on a sheet of cloth—a shroud spread out 

on a nearby field between present 

and past, living and dead, ground 

and vast, for a beam now fallen and charred 

to write behind the drag of its psycho-

pomps. 

                A thin obsidian ribbon 

from above, the text shines in the sun

until it’s as white as the whitest cloud 

whose silence sings to the blue and makes 

it bluer: “Did you see the backside of 

forever—that shadow scudding across 

the field in the shape of the hand that’s just 

let go of a fistful of grass?” 

                                            “Tinder,” 

we say as the password for living another 

day because we see how brief 

and ready to burn are the days for every 

earthly thing and letting go 

the irony then in every end.  

Night washes it in darkness 

to purify the blank for the beam 

to print in black its own indelible 

mark behind the force of life;

a line is all whose scratch comes close 

to everything we need to say. 

 

Chard deNiord

A scroll book has been printed of this collaboration. With thanks to Will Kiernan and Keira Meiser pictured above.