Bodies in Oblivion

Bodies in Oblivion


Lethe stands behind a wire fence, staring at me with piercing hazel eyes. He is bald with skin so red and wrinkled his head resembles a healing wound. Still, we creep closer to one another until we crouch on either side of the fence, almost touching.

Hello, I say. Lethe says nothing audible, but presses the side of his body against the wires, all the while keeping his gaze fixed on mine. A whiff of rot puffs into my nostrils. It is a hot day- 90 degrees or more- and we are bathed in one another’s scents- dirt and feathers, shampoo and rubber sneakers, dandruff and coffee, dead mice and sweat.

On the side of his cage, a white sheet in a plastic sleeve tells this story:

Lethe hatched in 2000 and was raised at a wildlife rehabilitation center in California. Despite precautions to keep him from imprinting on humans, he became highly socialized and upon release at a state park, kept coming down to people (particularly women) to play with their shoelaces! Even after a return to captivity and several months in isolation from people in a large flight cage with other vultures, he preferred human companionship.

Lethe: a river in the underworld. To drink its waters brings oblivion, but the kind that erases pain. Why else would the waters of forgetfulness be offered up in the land of the dead, but as a comfort and a means of escape? The subject of Death, given an opening, wells up through my carefully built internal levees. I lost my mother three years ago now: suddenly, preventably. Before my mother died, she always spoke of how she wouldn’t. She insisted, on my fears of oblivion, that she would always find me again. In her journals, I found fragments of her dreams: a constant flow of communications from the dead; an alcoholic aunt who passed away jaundiced and wasted, appears to her young and untroubled, glad to report she has shucked off that broken-down husk; a distant cousin rolls by to flash an enigmatic thumbs up; even total strangers leave messages with my mother to pass on to the living. But so far, for me, only one dream: my mother is drowning and I try to shout a warning that will not penetrate the molasses-like membrane that separates this world from the next.

Lethe grabs the fence wire with his beak and blinks at me. I stare back, seeing not something but someone behind that barrier of wire designed, we are told, to protect us both. The owls and hawks I have approached in surrounding enclosures merely tolerate observation. They angle their bodies carefully, deliberately away from the human gaze, turning their heads on an oblique angle, keeping my curiosity at wing’s length, but carefully surveilled. Lethe, now pressed so hard against the wire that his feathers poke through, welcomes this mutual intrusion.

I don’t want to break the rules, which somehow I know would mean reaching out to touch him. So I look into his eyes and breathe him in. There is a fleck of gristle on his face. He stinks of those molecules released by decomposition. I wonder how many deaths have sustained him these seventeen years: all of the bodies in oblivion, the traces of which now pass through the air and into my nostrils, my lungs, dissolving in my blood.

It takes only about two years for any one breath to have spread itself around the world. The molecules of breath last thousands of years. Given the arithmetic, roughly one particle of the last air that was breathed out by anyone who ever existed will appear in my next breath. I realize, with a jolt, that by now my mother’s breath, circling the world, has made it everywhere. She is likely here, in my breath, in Lethe’s, being passed between us, in a kind of river that flows not through the underworld, but through the living, a river of constant remembering.

Lethe reaches down to his right ankle and tugs on his fetter- a leather strap that he drags in the mud and dust. He eyes me and tugs the strap again, then presses himself back against the fence, getting as close as he can, gripping the bars with his beak. I know, I say, but those are the rules.

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 7- the dangling yarn)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 7- the dangling yarn)

Part 7: the dangling yarn. Playlist: [Playlist: Glitch Mob, A Dream Within a Dream]

tell the day we’re nowhere bound
by way of what was lost between
cross-threaded time like some machine
that eats its end to grow its tale;

with one last day to chase that sound
to gaze behind the weary night
to feel my wings like phantom sight
to fly to die to flash to sail;

tell the night we’re winding down
on one last shore a wreck to find;
tell the wind we’re lost behind
the warp the woof  the weft the veil

and breathed it in          and screamed it out
and burst apart             and still you cling
and so you rise             and now you sky
and sea                         and light

and turn and flap
and flick and fly
and cry and bite

and gasp

and twist and thrash with claws and beak
what prize is this, what drowning gift
I’ve hooked upon our sounding line
and rescued from the nick of death

or has it baited  us      to call us back
to arid dreams             themselves a sea
this bird as birdlike as our sailless hulk
was once upon a breeze          a ship

a young-old man with blazing hair
cradles the snarl of rope and flesh
fixes     in his fog-smoke eye
the two dark answers blinking back

a nearly drowned and naked bird
with ragged holes where wings should be?
what sorry work was made of thee
what crude and grim interpretation
of subtler songs as shift and slip

just as gruff voice                      and grizzled beard
mismatch his freckled young man’s face
itself at odds with the scar that winds
a white territory-border that divides
a blinded eye from one that sees

and stares and glares
and squints      and swears
and hears the poet’s
murdering gears!         authoress!

he barks

t’was you who nearly killed the bird
that made the breeze to blow
who stripped our sails and stopped the wind
who chewed off  wings and swallowed word
and snuffed the growing of the world

his words carry, bell-like           bending
round the mast

and aether-dragging
downward through the knotholed decks

a cry dopplering to groan          and all that’s massy

with his dropping pitch
yields up its phase

gone see-through          while
the things of sound and air
exchange their ghostly lightness

for a standing wave

which slaps and rolls into the lungs and hearts
of all the dreamers within reach

and rattles guts and tuning forks their bones

and draws us up                       up                                                                    to answer

by scruff, or snout, or belly
whether live or dead
dreamt or dreamer

both and neither

including me

dragged full-bodied
from the cubbyhole of never never mind
to feel the hot-nosed press against my legs
hooves and toes            callus-padded claws
trampling my feet

awash in the crowded waft
of badger mean

and mousy meek and
mutty cringe and
mantis strange               and all of equal brute and wit

until the woodwork sags beneath
a brindled crew of dark and light

all staring up into my face

all half-starved for
naught but an age of
phantom cat’s paws batting at
our stays          while we drift unmoored

the deep end of dream
that’s where I am

she thinks

she thinks
wait     wait

yes       the point of view has changed
the lines no longer yours
to weave and splice                                           .

no no   I’ve seen the spiders
spinning meaning as they go
I just report
I just   

read from left to right or up to down
cast  spells        borrow others’ works
steal the sun and claim to have invented light?

no  no
follow the dream
follow the birds that showed me the gate                   

                                                                                    birds. birds? there were two

one was blind and made of song

                                                                                    a black flame

            the other
she followed the lure

no        girl       no

called thought and memory from their fog
then let them fly apart

we would not be speaking now
if you hadn’t stolen through the wall

told time a new dream
unanchored death from his wreck

stripped thought of flight
and put the flame of memory out

hang no albatross around my neck!
how can I kill immortal birds?

these are merely words            and
I tell waking time by

looking where she points her hands
like any other mortal who keeps watch

                                    but in dream

                                    we are merely open sails
that catch        and      ride                                                     
and so reveal
her movement

                        which neither starts nor ends
but is with storm         with cloud                  

                                                with force                               


of salve or speed                                                                     in breeze or gale
in draft or squall                                                                     lingers or appears
punishes by tempest                or                                                         devastates

with endless calm                                 

or mutters dry leaves              in not-quite-words
then shrieks  in the eaves       

                                                                                                and you               eavesdrop

stories insist
as does sleep               hell, I’m dreaming now!

your voice is just another tale  demanding
listen!              translate!

botched. garbled

only partly heard         through shifting walls!

those muffled gifts
in astral language
so crystalline in the grasp of dream
common into mud in the grip of word

and what makes it back into the wake
must still survive a silent roar
electric thoughts connected
fingertip to fingertip               mind to mind
voices pass

                        through tables             walls               my bones
a pseudonoise that circumscribes

a maelstrom of sameness
one shrieking pitch      that equalizes
decapitation         hunger             sex       lost babies
I cannot find my bearings
in a wind that blows all pitches at once
from all directions                 

            my sail is ink
where I invent nothing  and sail nowhere
when anyone can tap
a glowing word on a screen
and transport to another world
awake              without a dream

dream is nothing
symbols in a book          at worst
a simple cipher for the little darknesses we fear
a puppet stage on which we practice dying
or at best

fly        escape             forget               become unreal
so tell me

how can I steal anything of value
from a lie

girl, girl when will you learn
there is no practice        only life

and dream is not escape or lie

have you ever tried to stay awake?
until delirium removes the sense

and dream invades                                                                  it is true            death is real

you will die

the only thing immortal is the tale
and tale is wind

you are             the sail              the bird
and word is all       the wind is

cast the nets!

he shouts
stumbling aft toward the hatch
to the watching crew he says 

find her!

and presses flat against the helm
as nose and tooth        dive madly in a ball of fur
through scupperholes into the bilge

or labor sloth-by-sloth into the yards
while one dog, overwhelmed
goes dervishing around the deck

the ship goes quiet      as all the rest
answer and depart to crawl and trawl
and home                    and scent and sense  and search

all but a hawk that lights upon the starboard rail
and a soft gray toad emerging from the binnacle

will you also help?

he asks
but the hawk has already plunged
into the greening waves

and the toad climbs skyward into secret crevices
that vein the air in silver fire

cradling the weightless bird
he locks his damaged eye on mine

you, poet…
come below

read part 8

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