I am working on a chapbook about human-animal transformations in art. In this excerpt, I observe Dog with Human Mask, 200 BC-AD 500, Colima, Mexico, a ceramic sculpture painted with red slip. This sculpture is part of the permanent collection at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). Please check back periodically: I hope to have this illustrated chapbook available for purchase by the end of spring.
The dog is stuffed full of his own form like a stocking filled with sand. Bouncy musical forelegs, back legs round-boled. His tail is wide and high, a red spout from which you can pour whatever’s in him. He is wearing a mask of a man’s face.
He is ceramic painted with red slip. Across his glossy burnished body, a black patina, black on red like green is on copper. On the swell of his belly, the black is a long polish, as if deliberately spread by the nose of a cloth.
He is fat. Trimly fat, like a duck on water. Thick-necked, the flesh of the neck roundly distinct from body and jaw; a loop of flesh. Deep-eared. And the mask is pleasant, vague.
This dog has put its head in this mask as into a bag of chips. Now it is stuck. It lifts its head and everybody laughs. It is also a child who wants to make the family laugh. It is at the center of the living room. See the family from the child’s vantage, adults’ hands on brown leather chairs: one hand, turned over a thigh, like a pair of socks laid out for tomorrow. Adults looking down at you, with the through-smoke expression of certain people in middle age. These are your relations. They are laughing and it looks a little meager though it’s earnest, black mouth a rectangle between rows of teeth.
The mask has a moon-brow, a wide generous forehead in a soft shelf. It would be almost impossible to climb down that shelf. I see you hanging and dropping from the ridge. The brow extends totally to the ear, decreasing in depth; beyond the corner of the mask’s eye-bone, it is only a raised line that makes a shadow.
I see you on the walk-off of this brow, from a distance going down. I see you on the chair above me. I am coming to meet a person who is entirely a human being, from a very long distance off, a black form who has difficulty descending. I am a child on the floor. I am a dog surrounded by the smell of Lay’s Potato Chips—this smell is a prism of sensation on whose behalf time becomes a pair of scissor-limbs; time is pantographic in the context of this bounty of information.