Conversations With The Dead

Elegy for Carolyn

She said:
Every star is a grain of sand in the hourglass of destiny.

And I said:
The stars are dead people looking down on us with one eye.

She was a stranger to herself and someone else was paying a visit to her life.

Then she said:
Each new life or idea is an incandescent spark in the darkness.

And I said:
Blame it on fire, and scatter the ashes.

I watched her make snow angels from a balcony
On a cold January night 
Laughing, above the banks of the Loire River.

She held Sylvia Plath in high esteem
And like Sylvia,
Took her own life before she turned 21.
(Be careful who you choose to be your mentor.)

I said:
Nothing is pending in the world, 
Nothing is finished, yet nothing is unresolved.

She said:
Sleep is just a temporary death and death will stop the future.
She was already putting a noose around her shadow.

I said:
I will keep no time but the color of the leaves and the shape of the moon.

She said:
If you shoot a mime, do you need a silencer?

She was solemn, and her snowy angel face
Was a quiet pool that would keep anything
Safe and secret in its depths.

I said:
Anyone can make you happy. Some do it by arriving and some do it by leaving.
She made me sad for much of a lifetime by mysteriously leaving much too soon.

I said:
We are all just whispering into tin cans on strings, 
Trying to be heard or remembered. 

She said:
Trust in God, but never dance in a small boat.
We must always look at things from the point of view of eternity.

Picasso and Einstein

Albert, my mother’s math tutor

Pablo Pondering

The earliest known still lifes in art are Egyptian frescoes of figs: food for the afterlife.

Picasso and Einstein sat together on the wharf in Spanish Morrocco,
Eating tapas and drinking vino tinto.

We had all just crossed the waters together and as we walked to the border we were told:
You must cut your hair and your beards if you want to enter the real Morocco.

We had already come thouands of miles and none of us were Sampson,
So as our hair fell to the floor,
I thought of the many hair raising adventures we had already had on the Sea Coasts:
The Ivory, Gold, Slave, Skeleton, Dalmatian, Barbar and Mosquito Coasts,
Most of them in  Africa, our new home,
Where we were shipwrecked once again with our legions of specters and ghosts.

The barber cut my hair like he was harvesting hay.
My mother had asked Einstein for help with her math homework,
When she was a child living on the Princeton campus in the 1930’s.
She remembered that his hair was wild and uncombed and that his socks did not match,
But he was kind.

The same was true for Picasso, though his hair was long gone by then,
And he was barefoot.
He was not remembered for kindness by any of his many lovers.

As we drank Mojitos and Kalimotxots, 
The sun set behind the Rock of Gibralter.
Barbary monkeys stood proud and shillouted in heroic poses
On top of the rock and saluted Picasso as he drew them into his flea circus.
Picasso lied and said to Einstein:
I cannot read, but I can talk to God.

Einstein was a very terse man. 
He spoke only in equations, unanswerable questions, and short wave.
He needed dental work.
He said: Our teeth are our reefs. Our bones are our stones. 
We are part mineral, and part stardust. That is the rocky geology of our bodies.

Picasso responded:
Sometimes in the darkness, we can see more clearly. 
He winked at me and said:
The eye which I use to see God, is the same eye that God uses to see me.

As Picasso laughed,
The harlequin smile of a pale crescent moon 
Arose on the twilit indigo horizon above the monkeys.

Eisttein mumbled:
The past is depression. The future is anxiety.

Picasso shouted:
The great man belongs to history, but the great artist belongs to eternity.

Leonardo da Vinci and Captain Cook

Captain Cook


Leonardo da Vinci and Captain Cook set sail, 
Blown westward on the katabatic winds of gravity,
Searching for the silence at the center of all things. 

Their mothers had taught them how to manage the world.
They hoped to plunder wonder and carry the gifts that they had discovered, 
Back out into the world to give them away freely.  

Captain Cook felt so completely alive
That he thought he might burst into flames.
The sound of water coursing and splashing against the hull of the 
Endeavour reminded him that God was not mute,
As they sailed away,
Searching for the source of every river.

He looked into Leonardo’s Vitruvian eyes and said:
Nature has a short attention span and will not remember our names.
The wind that fills our sails is a chorus sung by a choir of the dead,
And will wail a hymn of sorrow for the transience of our lives on this voyage.

James Cook had just forced his crew to eat walrus meat.
He said:
A wave is not the water.
A curse can be a kiss.
As Judas said to Jesus, with a cross nailed to his lips.

The captain then said: We have entered into this chaotic fever of the winds as hungry animals. 
I will strike a chromium chord in my heart that 
Will fill these empty skies with warm sweet zephyrs.

Leonardo hoped that he had not offended God in the practice of his arts, and said:
I have looked inside the magician’s sleeves and found them empty, 
But filled with an enchanted darkness that is:
As quiet as dust
As hushed as a scrapbook
As silent as a shadow
And as speechless as the corpse of a deaf mute mime.

James Cook looked up and saw a soaring wandering albatross that had already flown
One million miles without once touching land. 
When Leonardo was a child, a kite had
Swooped over his cradle and had opened his mouth and mind with its fluttering cloth tail of rags.
Leonardo mounted the albatross and flew west,
Whispering as he disappeared:
Fluidity of memory and a grand capacity to forget are 
Our most endearing and haunting traits.

Captain Cook was writing in his logbook with a goose quill pen,
Trying to remember what had just happened, when
He spilled his inkwell and shouted at the King of the Hawaiians 
As his men tried to kidnap the king for stealing a small boat:

His last and final entry, inscribed in his fine looping cursive was:
An autobiography is a small, lonely and leaky vessel. 

Leonardo Da Vinci • Vitruvian Man

The Man who Leads the Orchestra Must Turn his Back on the Audience 

Winston Churchill

Winston’s Heroic smoking brand

Winston Churchill and I were walking through the smoking rubble of the ruins of Coventry Cathedral,
Bombed by the monster Hitler, the previous night.

Winston told me, as he lit a Player’s Medium Navy Cut cigarette and 
Drank another Gin and Tonic (To ward off malaria):
There is a tragic difference between a balm and a bomb.
Winston had been relying too much on the superiority of the British Navy,
When Satan Adolph was dropping Blitzkrieg Hellfire onto London from the midnight skies.

He said:
British naval tradition consists of nothing but rum, sodomy, and the lash of the cat of nine tails,
But the English Channel is suddenly too small, after all of those Norman Conquest pirate seafaring centuries. 

He was a cautiously redemptive romantic, and said:
I intend to live forever – So far so good,
But what about my people?

We had traveled to where the beasts of Linneaus, 
Met the beasts of the imagination, where we made our own monsters.

Winston told me:
The man who leads the orchestra must turn his back on the audience.

He picked up a raven and tossed it into the air as Noah had done after the flood.
The raven never returned.

Hitler is still at large in the blinding darkness inside of the hearts of men. 

Winston reminded me,
As he lit another cigarette:
If we fight evil, and tell the truth and there will be less to remember. 
Goals are deceptive: 
The unaimed arrow seldom misses.

His rising smoke ring of cautious redemption was history’s next target.  


Me and Charlie Darwin

Darwin’s ship, the Beagle


Charles Darwin and I took a walk in the Galapagos, a hundred and fifty years ago.
The bark of a Beagle boat was our liquid launch that sailed us to those strange and distant shores,
Adrift on the bright edges of the ever evolving future.

He asked me:
What came before the Big Bang?

I said:
Clearly, it was symmetry in entropy. 
What do you think Charlie?

He said:
There is a quiet at the center of all things. 
This wild chaos, this swirling infusion of unison is our nucleus,
But I will throw light on the origins of man and our shared history,
As we continually transform.

From so simple a beginning, endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful
Have been, and are being, evolved. 
We are stardust, clear diamonds, invisible on top of ice,
At the still point of this turning world.

As birds of different beaks and feathers:
We will fly together,
We will untie and unite everything that we thought that we ever knew.

I said: Gravity has had a long and dangerous history.
We are rocked in the cradle of gravity’s rainbow. 
We are not yet birds, but we are no longer worms. 
Our feet are of the Earth, 
Our hearts are in the ethers. 
Our bodies and spirits are pulled both ways.

He said: Hello, didn’t we do that yesterday? 
We held in our hands these Props and their Gods: 
The Trident of Neptune,The Hammer of Thor,The Anvil of Vulcan, The Bow of Artemis,
The Scales of Justice,The Pipes of Pan,The Harp of Aeoleus, The Heel of Achilles. The Wings of Mercury.

Charlie said:
We now exist in a bizarre combination of stone age emotions, medieval beliefs, and God like technologies.
What should we do now with these confused and conflicted tangents of evolution?

I said:
Spoken words fly away, written words remain. Learning is shoplifting.
Write me an original book of origins Charlie, before it is too late.
Evolution is like opera: there will be high notes, and low notes, 
But unlike those earth operas, there will be no unhappy culmination.
It will never end. 
Your epilogue will feature an aria which will fracture the bedrock of our certainties and eternities.

Charlie said:
To understand just one bird, you will have to swallow the whole world.

The Evolution of Charles Darwin 1

The Evolution of Charles Darwin 2

The Evolution of Charles Darwin 3

The Evolution of Charles Darwin 4

Galapagos Black Cocks • Studied by Darwin

Shakespeare and Cleopatra


Billy S.

William Shakespeare and Cleopatra where floating down the Nile,
On a funerary boat, on their way to the afterlife.
Cleopatra did not believe in the Laws of the Sea,
Which had always clearly stated:
Civilization ends at the waterline, 
Which she had believed during her reign,
But not during her exile or her afterlife,

Below the waterline.
She said to Billy:
When you are dead, you don’t even know that you are dead. 
It’s only difficult for the others who are not dead yet. 

Billy said:
We worshiped an invisible patriarch who lived in the sky, 
And judged everything that we did:
How joyous I am now that I finally understand, 
That happiness does not exist.

Cleo said:
To be in nature is to be surrounded by mysteries.
At this late point,
Let’s not pursue our visions: 
Let’s just avoid our nightmares,
And float down this river of dreams.

Cleo was run out of town, 
After that questionable business with
Julius Squeezer and Mark Antony,
So she got in front of the crowd to make it look she was leading a heiroglyphics parade.

She thought that being cremated was her last chance for a smoking hot body,
But then they made a mummy out of her instead:
With a pyramid powered, multi-millennium guarantee.
She was guarded at the end by Bastet,
The fierce cat faced, lioness warrior Goddess.

As the venomous Cobra charmed the cat and bit her,
Ensuring her tragic end,
She told Billy:
Even snakes are afraid of snakes.

She said, with a final flourish:
Leave a door open long enough,  
And a cat will come in.
Or a snake will come slithering in, a moment later.

Egyptian funerary boat

Egyptian tomb fresco

Marco Polo, Kublai Khan and Me

Kublai Khan

Marco Polo

As Marco Polo and I sailed away from Venice, in 1271,
Bound for unknown worlds, dark mysteries and untold treasures,
He told me:
The map is not the territory.
Just because it isn’t real, doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.

We may burn in water,
Or drown in flames on this voyage,
But if you listen closely you will hear the tears of your 
Ancestors, as they hit the shimmering marble floor of this palace.
Do not let them be cried in vain!

Trying to give me courage for the expedition, 
He said: 
Half of the people that you know are already 
Below average.

I asked him: 
What happens if we are scared half to death twice,
As we sail over the edges of this world? 
Are we just getting better at illuminating our own diminution?

He said:
We are loaned this life, and suddenly one day it will be overdue, 
And will have to be returned.
Sail on sailor!

Finally he said:
It is now the end of the beginning, 
Not the beginning of the end,
And away we sailed.

We invented our own monsters: 
Yetis, Trolls, Dragons, Giants who climbed beanstalks up into the clouds, 
The Loch Ness Monster, the Christian Devil: 
Fossils and enigmas tossed high by the wine dark seas
As we glided off the edges of the world –
Where our maps stated: Here there be monsters.

We were trying to keep the future safe from the present. 
God cycloned the Sea Devil away with a Kansas tornado:
His beard smelled like a thrift store wig.
He was part fossil and part enigma and he whispered to us while singing:
Sound is my soft touch at a distance.
As the typhoon whirled him away,

He left us with something that he wished he had invented himself,
But forgot on that last day of creation:
He said it with profound humility for the very first time:
Love is Humanity’s greatest invention.

China • The map is not the territory