Vision of Francesca (poem)

A young and sensitive woman
Barely come of age
Stands in a doorway
Inside the café
A gentle voice... clear as yesterday
Thirty years later
Come to discover... Francesca
Was a great photographer
Shot herself many times
Then one day
She jumped

People... have wondered why
Was it a moment.... of dark despair
Lonely joyless
Horrid blinding pain

That sent her down
Or was she thrown.... by life itself
How could eye of beauty
Fall.... to cold hard pavement

Smashing the lens
The vision of youth
Traded for the dark
Mystery of death

The shutter trembles
I can picture
Crowd gathers 'round... shattered body
On streets below

Her final visions
Wrapped in envelopes
Unknown... then discovered
Now everybody knows.... who she is
Are we voyeurs to mortal pain

A few short years
Works of haunting aesthetic
Honesty
How many more.... would have come

Why.... was it so hard
To keep on living
Why does the visionary
Turn out the light
Why does beauty
Destroy itself
At the moment of its bloom

Francesa Woodman was a 22 year old photographer who, it is known or believed, committed suicide in New York by jumping from her East Village loft in 1981. In the 1970s, I was in my mid-20s and a frequent diner at Carnival Café, a collectively owned, happy, busy vegetarian restaurant where Francesca worked in Boulder, Colorado. Although my memories of some of the "Carnies" who worked there became vague, I remember Francesca through the reminder of an early photograph. I was acquainted with many of the café people including a close friend of Francesca who posed with her and later spent time with Francesca in Rome. In March of 2006, that acquaintance found me online and told me belatedly of Francesca's death. I then became interested because of my previous familiarity with Francesca and because I had, by now, been doing photography on a prolific scale for decades. I also have a longtime appreciation for the kind of photography that Francesca was doing. After learning of her death, I came to discover Francesca's photographic images on the Internet. One of these images showed the face of Francesca as I remember it and brought to life my vivid memory of her in a doorway inside the café some thirty years ago, with her gentle smile and a distinct recollection of her soft voice as well. Equally visual, long before meeting Francesca and well before Carnival Café existed, I had drempt of that doorway, and the other one just like it, in the early 1970s before anyone had decided to create either of the doorways, when it was a wall before the previous café expanded. I had patronized the first two incarnations of the veggie café, Little Kitchen and Family Table, at the same location since coming to Boulder at age 19 in 1971. And so, when a great photographer dies of suicide at such a young age, it makes an old memory of a café and it's regulars all the more hauntingly meaningful because she was among us at a time when most of us were very young. I recall that she seemed a simple woman and a gentle soul with an unforgettable smile. Subconsciously and consciously, that is probably part of the reason why art patrons have made Francesca into a study relating to her short life's work and the dark hour of her unfortunate suicide.

footnote: Carnival Café was located on Broadway two doors from Walnut Street and near Canyon Boulevard in downtown Boulder. The ramshackle old one story building it occupied on the west side of the street was torn down long ago and replaced by the Randolph Building. In the 1970s, downtown Boulder was much smaller and a lot more rustic in spots. Carnival Café was a bohemian beehive with great veggie food and acoustic music. Any number of famous Beat poets, traveling writers and artists patronized the café. It was a great American nexus of love devoted to vegetarian compassion.

Francesca Links:

(Vision of Francesca poem started 2006Mr25Sa (5:30pm EST) - completed in the rough 2006Mr26Su (2:12am EST)

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