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Gnats on the Willow Tree, 2020

Justin Gotzis

Carnegie Mellon University


If you were an animal you would be a bear
A giant hungry bear that eats people
You would not be a rabbit that can slip under my fence
I have to let you in through my gate,
and introduce you to my dog so that he does not bark

If I were an animal I would be your songbird
I would sit on your shoulder and scream in your ear
The forest stirs and you swat me to the ground
My feathers are dirtied and my ribs are broken
You run into the gorge below
A thud echoes and my parents bring you water

I am a katydid on your garage door window
You are the mouse under my foundation
I feed you wine and you throw up on my carpet
You ask if I have ever seen a bug in November
I fly into your eye and you shoot me with the revolver under your father’s pillow
We cry together as the sun trickles in through my car window 


Lost Twin Angel.jpg

These photos and the accompanying text are excerpts from my photo-essay, Gnats on the Willow Tree, which I completed over the course of the last eight months. The majority of this time has been spent in my childhood home, where my thirteen year old sister and my thirteen year old dog simultaneously approach great unknowns. Both cause me to mourn my youth. Much of this work is concerned with the purgatorial, uncertain nature of adolescence, and the need to recover from my own in order to guide my sister through hers.

I processed this work by categorizing those featured into “angel archetypes” based upon their positions relative to the “heaven” of a self-actualized adulthood and the “hell” of an unresolved childhood. The first image is titled “Senior Angel Comforts Angel in Flux” and depicts my mother ambiguously grasping my sister, unsure whether to pull in or push out. I view this photo as a testament to the constant trials of wisening the naive, and re-purifying the jaded. Ultimately, this series speaks to the quiet violence of rescue; giving will always require loss, for better or for worse.

Senior Angel Comforts Fallen Angel.jpg
Mother Daughter Windows.jpg
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