The last time my wife Kiya and I saw the pig figures was Valentine’s Day, months ago. There are three of them, made of plastic I suppose, and they are displayed in the front yard of a neighbor a couple of blocks over.
A red, egg-shaped cage with an open front holds a shiny yellow bench. It looks like it might have come from a carnival ride or a ski lift in a cartoon town. You can see the black handle on the top of the egg by which it must have been attached to some machinery. The cage and bench are big enough for a person to sit in, but we’ve only ever seen the three pigs there.
Last summer they sat in a row in striped 1920s bathing suits, with goggles on and snorkels sticking jauntily up past their little ears. One wore blue, one yellow, and the third, pink. They looked pleased with themselves, insouciant. It made us smile every time we drove past. One time we stopped in front of the house, feeling a little self-conscious, and took a picture.
When the seasons change, the pigs disappear for a week or two, and we drive past, anticipating their next appearance.
Last Christmas the pigs were not on their bench. Dressed in sumptuous robes, crowned in splendor, they walked in a rapt row on top of their red egg-shaped ski lift, carrying gold, frankincense, and myrrh, focused on the enormous tin foil star which was held far ahead of them at the end of a fishing pole. The display was lit beautifully. We rejoiced.
We tried to imagine what the artist was like. We never saw anyone in the yard or the driveway. The house is a small ranch, ordinary in most ways except for its front door, which looks like beaten copper with a soft verdigris finish. We felt the artist’s joy, though, through the three pigs.
On Valentine’s Day, the pigs worried us. Two of them lay on the floor of the egg. Each eye was a big black X. They were splashed with blood red paint. One had an arrow protruding from its chest. The third pig was standing on the back of the bench wearing white wings, holding a bow, gazing at the two dead ones.
Since that display came down, the yellow bench has been bare for months. We’ve stopped driving past with anticipation or delight. Now we drive past and look at each other sadly. Something is wrong. Something took the artist’s joy. It looks to have been Cupid. It feels like a broken heart.
Three weeks ago I saw a man in the driveway. He was moving some things, a tarp, a few metal poles. I hit the brakes and backed up the street, rolling down the car window. Austin has a deep tolerance for eccentricity, so his face was welcoming when I said hello. “I just wanted to tell you how much we enjoy the pigs,” I said. “I don’t know if you knew that people wait for what you’re going to do next.” He smiled.
“I guess I need to get going on them, then,” he said.
“I wanted you to know that you’re making a difference for us in the neighborhood.”
He was grinning and shaking his head as I waved goodbye. I heard him say, “That’s great,” in a happy voice.
It’s been three weeks since then, though, and still no pigs. Two coffee travel mugs sit on the bench now. Bland and sad.
Can strangers plead with an artist for his art? Can strangers give an artist back his joy? We talk about inviting him over, but that feels too forward. We talk about blowing up the picture we took of the pigs in their happy bathing suits and taping it onto the bench. We fear that would be putting too much pressure on him. We can’t stand in his yard with candles, singing a pig song. That’s just over the top.
William Blake wrote:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.
I guess we’ve been trying to bind to ourselves the joy of the pigs. Maybe we should just let them go. Some people would say, “Just make your own art, express your own joy.” Well, yeah, we both do that. It’s not the same as being surprised by someone else’s artistic expression, delighted by someone else being brave enough to just throw it out there.
Art isn’t even controllable when it’s your own, much less when it’s someone else’s. I’ll just kiss the joy as it flies. Kiss those pig memories as they fly by. Live in eternity’s sunrise.
Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll drive by there tomorrow to see if they’re there. I’ll kiss the joy as it flies, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to drive around looking for it to fly by again.