Judy Suite (Six Visual Poems) by Chris Gavaler

Image description: The first image features one sentence, “My mother promised the women who participated in her medical studies that their private information would be safe, so when we emptied her condo after moving her into assisted living, we put every sheet of her research through a shredder,” repeated in vertical strips obscured by a repeating photograph of my mother seated in her home office graphically manipulated as though run through a shredding machine.
Image description: The second image is a red square with rows of illegibly small white letters in the top half and rows of illegibly small black letters in the bottom half, arranged to resemble a sun setting over an ocean.
Image description: The third image consists of six units arranged in a 3×2 grid. Four are blue squares depicting a row boat tied to a dock and then being rowed further out to sea as the viewpoint rises higher and higher until the final square is entirely blue because the boat is too small to be seen. Two of the units consist of blue letters. The one in the top row reads: “There may be trouble understanding images and spatial relationships; confusion with time or place; problems finding the right word; loss of dates, seasons, and the passage of time; trouble” The unit in the bottom row continues: “understanding something if it is not happening immediately; withdrawal from social interaction; forgetting where they are and how they got there; inability to go back over their steps to find things they have lost.”
Image description: The fourth image consists of three photographs repeatedly layered over an abstract arrangement of tiny black letters. The top photo is a framed needlepoint of a flower with the words cut through it to expose the design underneath: “this needlepoint,” The second photo is a page of an open book with the cut-through words: “her dissertation,” The third is an elementary school photo with the word: “me.” The bottom of the image includes the much smaller words: “Things my mother forgot,” followed in the bottom margin: “she made”
Image description: The fifth image is a crooked 6×3 grid of a repeating photograph reproduced smaller and in a greater number of internal rows each time—but the order of units is mixed so there is no clear visual progression. The repeating photograph looks like a tiny white feather on a black background, but at closer inspection is an open space of sky and clouds between rock. Crooked words appear in the crooked gap between the eighteen squares: “Memory isn’t a photograph. You have to bridge it again each time.”
Image description: The sixth and last image is a 3×2 grid of a woman’s face repeated in different combinations of green, black, and white. The words “When I die I want to be” appear above each square, and the sentence continues in tiny repeating sometimes legible words framed and cut-off within the woman’s faces. With some effort descriptions emerge in no order: fondly remembered, buried somewhere beautiful, with my loved ones, in a better place, forgotten, memorialized, infamous.

Artistic statement:

“Judy Suite” is a sequence of graphic requiems recounting my mother’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.


Chris Gavaler is an associate professor of English at W&L University, where he serves as comics editor of Shenandoah. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2020), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), and The Comics Form (Routledge forthcoming 2021). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals. He reviews graphic novels monthly at PopMatters.com and blogs weekly at thepatronsaintofsuperheroes.wordpress.com.