even magicians find dust bunnies in their hats

even magicians find dust bunnies in their hats

There is too much stuff in my magic show.

beloved historiesThis became abundantly clear to me while sitting in my hallway this morning among the pocket watches, tiny carved boxes, ship’s gauges, hundred-year-old microscope slides, turn-of-the-century medicinal bottles, raven feathers, antique buttons, candelabras, photographs of people and animals long passed on to other adventures… and books.

Over 500 books.

I have a svelte magic show, by a common magician’s standards: it all fits in one hallway, one bedroom, and two closets. It is tidy and organized. There is no dirt, no piles of things, no boxes of forgotten junk. There is no muffin top here, no spare rabbit, no cage full of doves- only feathers and broken time pieces. Only beloved forgotten spells cast by strangers into the world that somehow ended up in my pockets, and I’ve carried them for years, listening to their wonders, and wondering about their secrets.  At night, when the noise of traffic keeps me awake, I try to tune my ear to a deeper place, to the restless, unending whispering of these objects. Each has a pulse, a story that goes on.

This might be sounding a bit creepy at this point, so let me clarify: I suffer from no terrible Gollum-like lust for what was. Neither am I guarding horcruxes while my actual soul withers and splits. I am just a poet. And a poet is a magician of words… an intermediary, a translator, an amplifier, a caretaker of stories. Look at all the stories!

souls transcribed and somewhat immortal

But every few years the same thing happens, no matter how small a space I live in, not matter how much I maintain my resolve to not accumulate… I end up losing my equilibrium. I’m the raccoon that is caught in a nail trap because I won’t let go of the shiny object in my fist. I am, as George Carlin once joked, enslaved to my boxes. I work so I can pay for a box to put my boxes in, which are full of more boxes. And books are like the tesseract of boxes… they are boxes that contain hundreds of very thin, double-sided boxes, with ink printed in box shapes, and should you be able understand the spells written in these boxes, suddenly each produces an entire heretofore unknown reality… right into your brain… as if you experienced it yourself. And in a sense, you did, because you add your own images, your own particular interpretation of what you find there, and it stays with you, and over time you might pass it on by giving the book away, or telling the story to someone else, or dropping a clever reference about Voldemort or Tolkein into your blog post… a wink wink, nudge nudge to others who have been in the box and know the status of the cat.

Books are the deepest sorcery that exists. Do I need to mention the old/new testaments?  torah?  qur’an? confucian analects? bhagavad gita?  book of mormon?  Okay, just checking.

So here is the question: what does a magician keep? What does a poet let go of?  As the world continues its shift to convert so much of what was physical into encoded (smaller) versions of the physical, we may be reducing the visible cache, but we are increasing the volume to an ear-splitting level. And what is the value of thingness?

I don’t keep these objects because of their monetary value. Most of them are monetarily valueless. I took 30 music Cd’s to Amoeba yesterday and was offered $16 cash or $32 in trade. If I sell off even 1/5th of these books at Green Apple, I might get $50 if I’m lucky. These are not financial investments, they are the currency of dreams, and the record of a silent, collective experience that our living memories simply don’t have room for. We press the “clear cache” on these events more and more quickly as the decades gain thrust… because we have to.

LIFE magazine from 1980. TIME magazine from 2005But physical reminders are necessary. This 1980 LIFE magazine contains a hopeful report on thousands of people surviving cancer. As of 2007, the number was 11.7 million…  in the United States alone. This TIME magazine shows a woman holding her mother in floodwaters after hurricane Katrina. This information is all over the web, but the context in time has been lost. What these events meant when they happened is a subtler understanding that comes from reading what’s around the articles in these magazines…  advertisements for the boxy 1980 Dodge Aries K with the tag line “America’s not going to be pushed around anymore,” is laughable and sad when you consider the Hummers and Suburbans and Ford F150 fiberglass leviathans that cars ballooned into by the 2000’s. In 2005, photographs of bodies floating in Louisiana’s floodwaters are surrounded by mostly pharmaceutical ads promising restful sleep, pain-free diabetes monitoring, effort-free weight loss, and cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The physicality of objects is a tangible memory of what people were in a place and time. What they felt, and what was important to them, is not so much in the information, but in how they put it together, and what they included and excluded, and even more so, what they considered a “given”. In a pocketwatch, you see precious metals, intricate gears, jewels and flywheels and springs that must be cared for in order to work together as a precise mechanism. If you owned a pocketwatch, you owned not only an object of necessity and utility, but one of moveable wealth, and you quite literally, kept time in your pocket. Nothing about this can really be understood by the idea of a pocketwatch. You have to carry it around, remember to wind it, attach is safely to your button with a fob, have it accessible at any moment. Without it, you don’t know what time it is. The world will move on without you.

But even a magician doesn’t have room in her hat for everything. Sometimes, it’s time to reach in there and sort the bunnies from the dust. Sometimes the urge to purge becomes overwhelming and indiscriminate. I fantasized this morning about carrying down every object I owned by armfuls and leaving it all out on the street, and watching people carry it all off to new life and purpose. But screw that, I’m not a neo-hippie. If I want to go to extremes I’ll dye my hair again.

What I do in this situation is ask myself… what kind of magician am I… and what do I really need to accomplish that? I think a little bit of hunger is in order. I don’t want to live inside a curiosity cabinet, I am a curiosity cabinet, and the feeling of being beloved is much more like light than like money.  If I pass on some of these books, I pass on the stories that live inside them, but like the sunlight that bounces off the moon, someone else can experience the illumination, without any diminishing of mine.

battery-powered 1970s owl clock

All that said, there are certain objects that no sane person would have produced in the first place, let alone used, and cherished and hauled around from place to place.

That is why I am so not getting rid of this clock.

Shadowed: Unheard Voices is now available for purchase!

Shadowed: Unheard Voices is now available for purchase!

Shadowed: Unheard Voices now available for purchase!

Shadowed: Unheard Voices from Now & Then & Again on Vimeo.

Shadowed is an extraordinary book of 148 prose poems written in response to photographs spanning the first half of the twentieth century—each photo accompanied by the imaginative speculations of a gathering of contemporary women poets.

To order Shadowed, and for more info, click on ABOUT and POETS & PROCESS. Hear the voices, see the images, experience a taste of the poetry.

I don’t believe in skepticism, but I believe in Bigfoot

I don’t believe in skepticism, but I believe in Bigfoot

Bigfoot. Boggy Creek. Sasquatch. Skunk Ape. Yeti. The Fouke Monster. The Jersey Devil.

You cryptozoologists out there, you know who I’m talking about.

Yet at a recent birthday party, I found myself defending the idea that Boggy/Skunk Ape/Jersey Devil, a large, terrestrial, reputedly larger-than-man-size mammal might, in 2013, be roaming the North American wilderness somewhere in Siberia, Mongolia, Alaska… even New Jersey.

Let me repeat that, not that it does exist, but that it might.

aka: the Fouke Monster I was raised in the 70s. This was the time of the Iran hostage crisis, polyester three-piece suits, and dramatic re-enactments in documentaries. In the summer, my parents liked to get rid of me for a few weeks by sending me to run wild in the Ozarks of Arkansas, where my grandmother lived. Days consisted of riding the neighbor’s tick-infested pinto ponies with just a halter and no saddle, running barefoot around areas where hookworm infestations were only a recent memory, and hunting Boggy Creek (the Arkansas version of Bigfoot) with my slightly older cousin Sean, armed with a bb gun.

The special shoulder-blade creep of fear when I thought about Boggy Creek can only be described as addictive. I think of it that way now, but I am sure my parents would tell you a different story– that I could not sleep at night, for fear of a giant, hairy arm smashing through the window and feeling around for me on my bunk bed with its massive fingers. One night I woke up and stared out through the trees, watching a UFO circle and circle behind our maple tree. I screamed for my Dad, who came in and stared at it with me for several seconds until he realized it was a street lamp behind the branches… an optical illusion produced by a soft breeze and a very vivid imagination.

I did spend a lot of time in the library that year after school looking up reports of planes and ships gone missing in the Bermuda Triangle, plotting the last spot where the Titanic (not yet found at that time) might have gone down, and researching corroborative sightings of strange creatures… mothman, chupacabra (the goat-sucker), the Loch Ness monster. (This was pre-internet, people!) I considered how dragons might have been leftover dinosaurs. I pondered the mystery of ships like the Mary Celeste, found sailing unmanned with the breakfast table still set, and of Area 51. As I’ve gotten older, the fringe has not lost it’s power of attraction for me: I read Konstantine Raudive’s book about electronic voice phenomena. I’ve wandered through abandoned houses with my mother asking the air if there are presences there that are unseen, and listening for answers. I’ve had an experience or two I can’t explain.

Bigfoot sketch by Peter Travers

And believe me… I want to understand. I want to know. Which may be why I couldn’t stop going to school. I got a bachelor’s degree in Biology, and at the same time, a bachelor’s degree in Literature. Then a master’s degree in English, and later, if that were not useless enough in money-making terms, a master of fine arts degree in poetry. Because Bigfoot, if nothing else, is the most poetic of creatures. He is the poster-child of possibility. He is the target in the shooting gallery of skeptics, and he reminds me what all of this was all about… from the moment I was 8 years old and saw my first episode of In Search Of….

A true skeptic is not a naysayer, but a listener, an observer, one who discerns from a neutral place of gathered information. Put another way, a skeptic is an undecided jury… and if that jury does not have evidence that truly confirms a decision one way or another… well then the jury stays out. At least, this is what I thought skepticism was… until the drunken conversation I had last Saturday night. It went something like this:

What do you think about Bigfoot?

Whad’ya mean, what do I think about Bigfoot?

Do you think he/she/it could exist?


Of course!

Of course not.

… Why?

Because I don’t believe that spongebob squarepants is real. Or that spiderman is real. It’s just not possible.The fact that there could be a living mammal of that size still undiscovered? In North America? Where the hell would it hide?

You mean it’s not probable, but you can’t say it’s not possible.

No, I’m saying it’s not possible. There is just no way.

Because you know for a fact that there is no Bigfoot.


Even though we just found some people in the South American jungle who had never had contact with other humans or modern civilization. And when helicopters fly over their village they try to shoot it down with arrows.

Well that’s different.. we are talking about North America… there’s just not enough uninhabited space. An animal that size would need huge amounts of territory.

It’s a huge country. What about the Alaskan wilderness? What about the pine barrens in New Jersey?

Okay yeah, I’ll give you Alaska… that’s huge and there’s a lot of space… but no, it’s just not possible. Someone would have seen something. I mean something definite, not just plaster casts and hairballs, and strange yodeling off in the woods…

No, I get that. But people have reported seeing things, for years and years. Just because no one has shot one and dragged in the carcass doesn’t mean you can say it is absolutely positively impossible. I mean I agree, it’s highly improbable… but there is still a mystery there. A nano-mystery perhaps, but a mystery.

Aww… come on. Now you’ll be telling me that ghosts are real, and jackalopes.

Is it just because you don’t like the idea, or think it is stupid, or trivial, or too hairy, or too 70’s?

No, it’s that I am rational. I’m a skeptic. There is no possibility that bigfoot is real.

I thought that a skeptic is someone who has a reasonable doubt, not someone who flatly doesn’t believe. If you don’t believe in something, you’re not longer a skeptic, you’re just a different kind of believer. A non-believer. And that totally makes sense if it’s true. But if you dismiss it just because it’s probably not true, well then you’re taking that on faith, aren’t you?

I don’t believe in Bigfoot, because Bigfoot does not exist.

Okay, then what about Yeti?

Excuse me, I need another drink.

I really wasn’t trying to be a pain in the ass here… but I was trying to understand the idea of why a person would walk through the world putting big X marks through possibilities. I was taught that science is the discipline of attempting to let go of what wants and believes, to try to see what is and what isn’t. It is a highly difficult act. Some might say highly improbable to succeed at… even impossible. But we try to do it every day in order to have a relationship with the possibility of discovery, and of change, and of revising our concepts of what is possible. In short… how we keep evolving. Not to mention that a world without discovery of new things would really really suck.

I think my childhood self, which I discovered last Saturday night is alive and well and firmly occupying my adult self… loves and believes in the possibility of Bigfoot, because the essence of Bigfoot is hearsay, it is grainy 8mm video, it is the threat of hoax, it is the shivery feeling of being watched, and it is the desire to keep looking, and uncovering, and doubting and thinking and wondering.

If skepticism has truly become an “ism”- that is, as system of knee-jerk reaction to certain taboo ideas, interests that smack of eccentricity, or a hubris taken from the dismissal of ideas outright because they are unwieldy, difficult to pin down, hard to replicate, distasteful, or simply too against one’s paradigm to entertain, then I don’t believe in skepticism. I choose rather, the highly improbable crunch of twigs. The glimpse of possibility commonly known as Bigfoot.


Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 9- remembering)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 9- remembering)

Part 9: remembering.  [Playlist: Tool, Lateralus]


as in all transitions from light to dark
at first there seems nothing but dark
this is the moment when most turn back

and so the dark remains
a threshold
beyond which
every fear fattens on shadows

                                                            mind your step

he says, opening a hatch in the deck
taking my hand as we descend
down and left
down and down again and always left
until I am dizzy with twist
and my head folds into a dive
toward my left shoulder

nothing in any direction
but heavy air and each
solid step rising to meet
the foot reaching

faster               his voice distant            dim
down and left                rough fingers
drag an arm that must be mine

though it seems distinctly

down and

                                                            of me
this floating head
or headless knowing

sense not pulled down to an object but
everywhere at once             trying to condense

amid a rising scent of sun heating
blacktop after  heavy rain

down and

of strings of days plucked
before              and too soon left yet                 never reaching

chords             when stings of yellow    pink and pinker
deeping down               grow long and lax

and redshift left
of light through eyelids to
a dive                           down and left toward

a blinding line of bright
the strip of light beneath a door

whoa. steady. 

he steps into a sideways room
pressing my head gently to his chest

the walls continue to distort and twist
though easing with each of his heart’s pulses
the cyclic heeling
wallows slowly back to true

though my body
seems not yet to have returned to feeling

and the sunlight makes no sense
we should be deep below decks

look there
he says

his finger points into                                                      
the gently swaying surface
of a mirror

where a plucked and battered raven gazes
from the folds of a coat             and his hand reaches down
and left to extract me


read part 10

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