Conversed is an ongoing multimedia project between John Steven Cummins and Aron Fischer, a game played by two men in love: part affirmation, part confession, and part archaeology of a dyad.

We started this project approximately a year and a half ago, as an escape: for John, so he could find some way to keep writing through medical school; for Aron, as a way he could make work outside the schema imposed by his MFA program. Aron would make a piece, and sometimes leave it for John to respond to in writing. No time limit was imposed, no piece was rejected, and no response was deemed too irrelevant nor too direct. The goal was to play, and that’s what we did; we made scherzi, not dirges, despite the darkness that evolved from some of the work we’ve made here.

It’s strange to exhibit these works: the process was built from and further built intimacy between the two of us, and it became clear early on that these were explicitly ours, that the work at least partly spoke our mutual language. Moreover, the work rose to meet each other, with John’s post-confessional fractured narration matched by Aron’s physical exploration of the line between utility and inutility. And that motion fueled us to attempt answering questions that interest us both: If you de-purpose a tool, is it still a tool? And if you devein and debone a story, is it still narrative?  What defines something as broken, valueless, useless – and is that appraisal final, or even plausibly accurate?


All week spent in a cold metal room.

I’ve been learning how to solder

And seal shattered bones. I’m told to

“Answer the question.” I’m told to

“Put it together again.”

Dubious instructions. I take glue and caulk.

I seal your arm up, put it in a clamp.

Leave you there for much of the winter.

"Rebreak" by John Cummins | Sculpture with Writing

But like a slashed trunk it withers, breaks!

You come back.

The arm is flayed and jagged.

The arm looks like a lamprey’s mouth.


We’re all tense. Nobody believes

In knitting bone back together anymore, do they?

I swaddle it and pray quiet waves of prayer.

The praying floods the room. The cast

Doesn’t hold, of course, and

Everyone starts laughing.


You are laughing, too. We are drowning in prayer.

So what else could I do? Your broken arm is a hammer.

I swing it. I break!

Your other limbs until they’re weapons, too.


Ache Pillar "Ache Pillar" by John Cummins and Aron Fischer | 2013, Sculpture, Shims, Metal, Charcoal, 12"W x 36"H x 3", Installed - 60" x 80 x 3"

Back of the throat.

Right front tooth, top

right corner by the

gums. Right tricep.

Tendons in the left

neck. Between

the scapulae. Behind

the right ear. The

triangle of my eyes:

corner, nook, right

front tooth. The scar

line around my neck.

Point on the forehead

north northeast

of my right eye.

My arches. The right

ankle, when I flex

my foot. My tailbone.

The top half of my

abdomen. The fore-

arms. My left fourth

toe. Top of my right

hand. Both wrists.

My thumb with the

splinter, and the other

thumb (in sympathy).

My ear in its popping;

my stomach in its

starkness. My right

hand in its curvature:

all these aches

I place between me

and the local darkness.


Water, seeping

Why shouldn’t I be lukewarm? How dare you spit me out.

You get the best of water when it’s tepid.

Too hot, and it escapes, a ghost story, a final girl.

Leaves the forest to wither, then, and what good’s an empty forest?

A revenge summer left it burnt, sere and no survivors.

"Water, Seeping" by John Cummins and Aron Fischer | 2013, Sculpture, Snap line chalk, Paper, Black Walnut, Masonite, Ceramic, Acrylic, Charcoal, 36" x 12" x 2"

I bet you’d say, “Throw some ice water on it, then.”

But too cold, and it obstructs, a stonewall, a stalemate.

And then, just watch as it shrinks into a singularity. Smooth move.


Out there, water has to fight to stay wet.

Always struggling over temperature. But here?

Here it just slowly invades. Stays in place when it wants;

Leaves to creep skyward, tinting with reckless color.


Follow the trails of this, our unique ocean. Nobody engineered it.

You go this way, I’ll go thataway. I will call you

When I find it.  


Canopic jars



My teeth, our teeth!

Each shattered.

Juts and interrupts.

But eleven pulled between us.

Countless reformed.

They still tear, they can

Pierce meat. We are still




My body, bodied and

Too solid, not nearly seethrough

Like the gauzy gown I wanted. Ruddy

And radiating constant heat. O my body!

O shatterless, ol’ faithless,

Ain’t no gnostic, but I want to separate

My self from my meat.


Our fat. Our thickness. Our girth.

Our heavy. Our padding.

"Conversed" by John Cummins and Aron Fischer | Gallery View

Our armor. Our gravity.

We are gravid

With the future, too fat

For futurism, too fat

For flight risks.



O night. O reassortment.



My nightmares, our

Nightmares! I shake a lot

Nightly and am chased

Oft. I set fires. He’s over there

And when I crouch, tensed and hidden.

You know to not jar me awake.

But you can wake sleepwalkers, ignore

The stories. They’re just

Wandering, not knives-out,

Mouths not full of tart iron.



Our wander

Lust, my wanderlust. Your

Restless legs, your claustro

Phobia, which is the fear

Of being mudbound and being

Swallowed by mud and

Becoming mud. This is

Why you work with clay.

This is admirable.

This is how you step steady

Toward your terror.



O the city, the city!

Until you pried me out

I had never seen a cliff,

"Canopic Jars" by John Cummins and Aron Fischer | 2013, Sculpture, Black Walnut, Wax, Ceramic, Mason Stain, Acrylic, Charcoal, 36"W x 84"H x 6"D, Installed - 120"W x 96"H x 6"D

I had never tasted

All the dust I inhaled, never

Saw an untinged sky.

“The clouds get enough attention!”

I said. They do. I need less,

Drink less and want less, now,

But the apices of my lungs

Still miss soot, my occiput

Misses the nervy tightness, my eyes

Miss casing the joint, my joints

Miss tensing to run.



O, doubt.  I store you here.



O, our home. Our redoubt.

My keep, your oubliette.

My bastion, your county jail.



Our future daughter.

I wish you could build her

Out of bronze and walnut, hard

And riveted. Engineered.

A small wonder.






 John Steven Cummins received a BA in Sociology and Gender and Women’s Studies from Grinnell College, and an MFA in Creative Writing of Poetry from Columbia College Chicago. He has been published in the Indiana Review, Black Clock, Buffalo Carp, and Columbia Poetry Review (among others), and has presented and published research on stigma in mental illness in multiple venues. He is currently a fourth year medical student at the University of Missouri, and begins his residency in Psychiatry this summer.

Aron Fischer received his BFA in Studio Art from the University of Missouri – St. Louis and will complete his MFA from the University of Missouri – Columbia in December 2014.  In between his BFA and MFA, he was a Senior Display Coordinator for Anthropologie. He and his Husband, John Steven Cummins, opened the second run of their project “Conversed” at Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts in St. Louis, Missouri in January, 2014.  Aron has been awarded residencies in Columbia, MO and Deer Isle, ME at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. He has shown in New York State, Boston, Chicago and LA.