"He was sitting there waiting for the sun to come up," Frost said.
Frost talked to the man, who was a veteran, then went back to his hotel and wrote down the poem that came to him, incorporating the man's words with impressions Frost received as he walked through downtown Memphis. Back in his Art Colony studio in Eureka Springs, Frost created a performance piece, "you must know something," which he is going to enter in the Mono No Aware international exhibition of works that incorporate film as part of a live performance or installation.
Frost has also made a CD of the piece, which will debut at the Veterans Day Art Show Sunday, with sale of copies going to local vets.
The performance piece is set up in his studio, which viewers enter through a black-out curtain. Inside, three walls are covered with camouflage tarps serving as screens, on which Frost has painted grids, each intersection marked with a white x. An Army uniform hangs on one screen, the lines of the poem projected over it. On the opposite wall are projected photographs with a recording of the poem played with music. On another wall a clothes line hangs over a sleeping form huddled on the ground, face to the wall. Frost said he didn't know if the man on the riverbank was homeless and had slept out all night, just that he was sitting there at the end of Beale Street, his legs crossed like Buddha.
"He could have been there forever. He could have just turned up," Frost said.
Frost said that while he was writing the poem, he realized that he had to come down off his perch as observer and use the man's voice to tell who he is. That required a change of perception of the veteran from a body on a sleeping bag to someone with a sense of power and inner strength, Frost said.
"It gives it back to the vet," he said of the poem.
Frost, who has lived in Eureka Springs for three years, is originally from Cornwall. He studied art in London at St. Martin's, served in the Norwegian Merchant Navy, and taught art at schools and universities in England. He has lived Australia and New Zealand, and after coming to the states in 1982, taught at the University of California/Davis.
"I've always done performance art and came out of a performance and interactive art background," he said.
He's also worked with students at Clear Springs School, which his son, Siddhi, attends. Siddhi, 15, did the original sound dubbing for "you must know something." Tamara Jonason, a local dancer, is the woman in the photographs, Her father, Marvin Jonason, is the director. Frost plays the veteran sleeping on the ground.
"It's like a coming of age to realize the we're all in this together, and these folks are real, very real," Frost said, "and to realize, to recognize, that you can't be separate."
What he realized when he writing the poem: that everyone is a veteran of life --we're all sitting by the river, waiting for the sun to come up.
Frost is selling copies of the CD, "you must know something" for $10 at the Veterans Day Art Show, with the money going to American Legion Post No. 9, Eureka Springs. The show and reception is Sunday, Nov. 11, from 1 to 3 p.m. at Caribe Restaurant, 309 W. Van Buren. Free admission; refreshments served.