In the following poem, Robert Gibbons not only looks at David Driskell’s painting, he also thinks about it, draws on a deeper knowledge of the artist’s work and thought, and his own experience of confronting the challenge of American history and distortion.

Robert Gibbons and David Driskell had an ongoing correspondence over several years. Robert comments that Driskell responded, “on the very day I wrote the piece, July 4, 2018.” Among more personal details, in his note Driskell says, “What a treat to read your beautiful and insightful poem after you viewed OF THEE I WEEP . . . No one has ever looked at my work with the discerning eye you show and I am honored to have you see me worthy of your pursuit.”

Robert Gibbons is the author of 11 books of poetry. He first met David Driskell at Colby College after the artist’s conversation with then Museum Director, Sharon Corwin. Their extensive three-year correspondence is close to 500 pages in length. Gibbons read the poem included here at Greenhut Galleries in Portland during Driskell’s exhibit in 2018.

Betsy Sholl, Maine Arts Journal Poetry Editor


On David C. Driskell’s, Of Thee I Weep

On the eve American Independence Day am I

seeking Freedom more

than any other

day in life

since those early ones in the blue bedroom

wondering if I’d ever

find a way to be so?


So I make a pilgrimage down the road

from our fourth abode

in less than three years in order

to revisit a work of art that may better help me

understand the depths

of its meaning: David C. Driskell’s,

Of Thee I Weep.


Just last year the artist was in Paris giving

his vision of the importance of color,

not only as it transports content

of the work before the viewer’s eye

but again, as he has done so often, reiterates

it as demarcation,



The color line, that separation

of races over the course of American history

accounts for the instigation of uniqueness

in the black aesthetic,

& yet, rising out of the cruelty,

as he calls it, that mean spirited otherness

imposed by powers that be,


he sees Art as that entity

that risestranscendent voiceabove the color line.

There in Paris,

in addition to the essential scholarly trace

to Frederick Douglas, W.E.B. DuBois,

& the First Pan African Conference

in London in 1900,


David is not afraid

to put forth his own version

of what Peter Weiss terms, The Aesthetics of Resistance,

by citing such works of art

as Norman Lewis’, What Kind are You;

Elizabeth Catlett’s, Target Practice;

or Faith Ringgold’s, The Flag is Bleeding.


It’s Lewis, who in 1968,

the same year as Driskell’s, For Thee I Weep,

proclaimed, …violence is as homogeneous as apple pie to America.

Catlett’s sculpture could well be mistaken there

at Quai Branly for a Benin bronze head,

but for metallic crosshairs mimicking riflescope aimed at it.

Ringgold’s Flag is far from Jasper Johns’.


That better explains it for me, when I turn the corner

in the museum to view David’s anti-war, anti-oppression, anti-

status quo, pro-Liberty (in mourning) collage,

as something analogous to a bull’s-eye: My Country Tis of Thee,

first performed on July 4th, 1831

at a celebration of children’s Independence Day

at Park Street Church in Boston.


Image at top: David Clyde Driskell, Of Thee I Weep, acrylic and collage on fiberboard, 12 x 11 3/4 in., 1968, Colby College Museum of Art purchase from the Jere Abbott Acquisitions Fund.