Installations of Sculpture and Poetry

Totems and Poetry


Elliot Smith Contemporary Art, St. Louis, MO

Bones, leather, claws, fur, feathers, hair, grasses, sticks and other detritus found in the landscape are used to construct tribes of small-scale totem like figures. They are accompanied by their interwoven stories in the form of poems. The totems are intentionally small-scale intended to evoke identification from the viewer. With their connotations and relations to the landscape these anthropomorphic figures become fragmented glimpses of my own life, memory and vision.

Writing in the St. Louis Post Dispatch Paul Harris says, “Drawing freely upon the cornucopia of earth’s mythological archetypes, Birdsall-Lander has set out to convey fleeting essences of the spirit world-an elusive world that is permanently bound up in the realm of dreams.”

Of the totems and poetry Lexi Bellos, in the Riverfront Times, comments “…Birdsall- Lander’s poetry is evocative, lyrical and as beautifully crafted as her sculpture.”

In the New Art Examiner Carol Ferring Sheapley states, “Although the pieces are small, the level of feeling they convey is large and powerful. These totemic figures seem to represent a primitive society, with its own mythology, and in touch with the primordial instincts.

River Spirits

A road is the site of many journeys.
The place of a walk is there
before  the walk and after it.
-Richard Long

This is the road walked under a full moon
where I followed the river road along its switch backs,
down into the bottomland.
The moldy tarp of sky folded around me
smothering wren-colored fields,
musky breath of river warm as a mother’s.
I cradled my silence carrying it with me
like shield down into the bottom water.
Watching the moon’s reflection on the river
waver through marsh vapor
like a message passed between friends
I stood my ground alone
waiting for the tribe to gather.

Highway Guardians

Gramp had a mission
Sunday evenings during deer season
when he piled all the kids on Main Street
Into the back of the hearse
And drove south of town to the parking lot
in front of Chili North’s Steak House on US 131.

Without a word he pulled in,
parked the rear of the hearse
as close as he could to the highway
and yanking open the tailgate
ordered us to get out and watch the parade.

Like so many stunned opossums and skunks
we peered through the snakegrass and briars
along the side of the road
and tried to make out what we could.

Drinking and driving bumper to bumper
the drivers laid on their horns, 
whistled and shouted or gave the high sign
as they eye-balled each other’s cars
and the handsome bucks lashed to the hoods

Nest Guardian

Like a female oriole or robin
I don’t remember
exactly how I became a nest guardian
except that it was April
and light fell through the blooming orchard
as through a pale vault of stained glass.

An oriole building a nest somewhere near
flew from the pasture
back and forth about the orchard
carrying cattle hair,  a string or two.

I saw a cupped nest
like a womb suspended in the elements;
the oriole a warrior defending her castle
against the squatter wren and sparrow.

I remember waking
in the black cathedral of night
to hear the cry of a child;
my heart a nest of grass,
my fingers light as feathers
feeling their way
through the dark house.

Border Guard

It is past midnight, and the midwife
is crossing the frozen lake.
Out in the middle she weaves her way
among darkened fishing shacks
where before dawn ice will freeze a membrane
over each chopped hole.  A sky
of northern stars casts its watery shadow
over her dark form stepping ashore,
merging with the hedgerow.  While a mile
beyond the next crossing
someone chops ice, lights a fire,
keeps an eye out for her arrival;
and from deep in unchartered sky a star travels
like a decoy through dark and infinite space,
its pale aquatic eye
brimmed with first light.


A gypsy appeared as a witness under the tent
before an audience of revivalists,
told them she was no one’s sister, mother, wife.
The rest of her life’s story
wrapped in a bundle she carried on her back.

Their faces looked up at her 
like headcheese spoiling under dank glass.
She said after storms birds sang to her 
through broken beaks and along the pavement
animals flattened into stiff hides hummed lullabies.   

She gave them a place in her dreams
and circled their heads with a song.
In the field outside the tent
I stared up at her as if I’d seen a ghost.  
What’s the matter skunk got your tongue?

She crouched before me
like a blind bird after a snow. 
Emptying my pockets
I offered her a turtle shell and a snake shed.
She muttered to herself, the only voice echoing
through the snake grass and osier.

On your way on your way,
girl be on your way.
You who are no one’s child
give voice to a necklace of song,
to the only dream you are.

Kingsnake Totem

It is the warm season,
the bones of her prey lie scattered along her gut,
delicate tombstones of birds and mice.
This morning her eyes grow milky
as she coils on the green-gray rock,
The sun’s radiance
illuminates her last glimpse of light
and burnishes the gray-brown scales
arranged like stones
along her lean frame.

Obediently her body undulates, 
opens itself circle within circle
mimicking the rocky mouth of a cave,
where she slumbered through the cold season,
where he found her swimming toward him
like the meandering current of a stream.
In the cave where they nested, 
where she laid their eggs,
each egg kept its secret,
each egg a universe inside.

By evening her eyes clear;
she uncoils further on her throne
tenderly rubbing her face against
the rock’s rough surface, loosening
the skin’s hold around her mouth and head.
Crawling out of her old skin
she turns it inside out
leaving her vacant eyes staring in on nothing.