081.1: Leora Fridman:: from The Special for Norman 081

This week we present Leora Fridman’s ekphrastic series based on the paintings of Norman Rockwell. Each poem is tied to a specific painting, and initially we were going to provide links to the images. Ultimately we decided against this because there is something even more ghostly about the brief flashes in the mind’s eye of source material–this is the barbershop, this is the boy and his dog…or is it? Fridman’s work forces us to question. She creates a space that is at once familiar and comforting yet eerie and threatening through her constant subversion of the iconic American painter. The work takes on the quality of David Lynch film, where even the most pedestrian of images becomes unsettling. Through the repetition of his full name, Norman Rockwell, throughout the movements, the figure constantly changes, becoming blank and then whole again. My ears and mind deaden to the repetition then I come back. I wonder if I’m to imagine Rockwell himself or some larger construct of what Rockwell represents in his various forms. He is a trickster, clever and devilish, a kindly old man of homespun wisdom, a threat, and perhaps even a murderer. Rockwell becomes both a complex and fully formed individual and an abstraction–an idea somewhere in the ether–capable of every and anything. Here the painter of the paintings is given a new life and new images to inhabit. Nik De Dominic


Norman Rockwell doesn’t know what it’s like
to have the pants scared off. They didn’t have that expression
in the house. Norman Rockwell didn’t ride this line.

The streets are thick with cat-calling sneakers. The tramp is on
you. I’ll choose what bus stop to wait at if you’ll find
the night sky. These buildings all have

perforations. The kind of holes you see in a misguided
attempt to sprout seeds. The water absorbs but just
stays wet. Norman Rockwell held the color himself.

I have the coins of many strangers. The traffic lights elongate into eyes and
dim with faith. I won’t laugh at your motorcycle if you’ll

agree that it reflects. I prefer my face not be
rounded by an engine, a hub. You can have your space if
I can have my

bag of tricks. Inside I’ll keep those
people you told on. The sounds of your fascinating

decoy. The slasher of bus lines remembers
your voice. Normal Rockwell memorized
your lines.


Norman Rockwell would like us all
to smell like thyme today. The most
intuitive herb-garden doesn’t
grow enough. He took the whole
plant of basil and ate it on
the roof-tops. He got jealous of the
sneaker-ed invalids, the small
girlfriends, the taste-bud-less
ruins. Norman Rockwell likes himself
as a caveman without fire yet. He,
appointed, leads the group in an
exercise of milk-shakes. Splashing
from their individual tins, the sudsy
treats make elegant smears along
counters and shirt-vests. The blended
wreckage leads Norman
Rockwell home.

After the blender, Norman
Rockwell remains confused. Smooth
chunks of dairy product press
up against the glass, banana babies
waving for their mums. A milk-
shake is a kind of flavored
living space, with each spice
binding at the thumb, holding
doors open for their twin-
spoon, swirling backwards
into co-dependent zest.


Two people perched on stools look
longingly around for Norman Rockwell. He’s stood
them up again. They always assume he’ll be
joining them at pit-stops, on ice-floes, at the
town dance. Norman Rockwell always has
some grease with him. He melts tall
teenagers with a notched ruler and a spatter
of lard. Anything Norman
Rockwell can’t fit in the fryer
isn’t meant to be consumed. Anything
the children can’t fork into isn’t meant
to be chewed. Norman Rockwell waits
patiently for you to understand
geometry. Norman Rockwell knows
what it was like to hold the gloves.

The day of the prom is Norman
Rockwell’s favorite relapse. It’s like
a vacation from gratitude, a sort
of large-scale agape. Everyone opens
their faces like a formality has never
happened before. Norman Rockwell likes
the sound of squeaking livers,
of hands pinching into their
palms, baby-vertebrates sneaking up
zippers of dresses previously
thought to be impermeable. The
sound of porous teenagers makes
Norman Rockwell hungry. When
he grins at the couples on
the stools, all that they see is
tongue. He waits like
a father, and springs
like a plea.


Any fear of the future can be
knocked away by a simple chat
with Norman Rockwell. This man
can always recall worse times. Any thing your
mother did to hurt you, Norman
Rockwell’s heard worse. He’s seen more
people die in living rooms. His upturned face
is tan. Norman Rockwell commends you
for your forward motion, but reminds you to keep
still. It’s easy to mess up a hair cut with the
razor that close.

Norman Rockwell would like a favor
from you; the Delilah kind. Slice there at the
enemy’s hair. Shave close and rule
multitudes. The story repeats like
a single-serving tea cup. Norman Rockwell wants
your mama’s holiday blend. That kind, with
the cinnamon outside. Please remove
those hideous cakes from the counter.
Norman Rockwell doesn’t take well
to change.


Norman Rockwell left his judgments
in the door. They’re propping it
open like that, letting in that
recommended breeze. Norman
Rockwell wouldn’t want you
to catch cold. It’s only, your cheeks
are so lovely with those
floating red discs. He expects
you’d make a touching
submarine. He expects
less of travelers. Norman
Rockwell expects you’ll meet
again in some obscure city where
you are writing and he is
diagnosing hearing loss. Norman
Rockwell always wanted a
perceptive career.