Harry Houdini at the Gates of the Underworld

I.    Rosabelle

[Antarctica, 50,000 B.C.E.]

Not long ago, this was all open sea.
    Then, of a sudden, this little to-do, this dust-up on the water.
        Raven sat upon this, and spoke.

Gamburtsev, ruptured and rapturous under

    glass, a groping

    of broken teeth, the Ocean

        its errant tongue. Under

miles of Eastern Antarctic
Ice Sheet the ghostly slopes sleep, dream
of erosion. Ladies and gentlemen, we are

blind. We map the scars
of tectonic disruption on fingertip,
with radar and magnetometers. We stroke

the ice for fissures, trace cracks and sound

out the mountains' roots, and the Ocean


Raven will take you now,
to the dead, to Memory.
You must understand, however,
Raven is a liar, a trickster, a shapeshifter.

And what is the heart?

If you are to understand the heart,

You had better understand the chest,

the muscle, the skin, the ribs and intercostal space;
the aorta, the vena cava, bullet trains through the empty city;
Frank-Starling (the more you fill, the greater your capacity to empty); the sino-atrial node, the Perkinje fibers; a tin can, some string; the heart is a Raven, a liar, a trickster, a shapeshifter,
containing no secrets

    (All secrets are written on the skeletal muscles, in striations, in movement)

The heart will take you now,
to the dead, to Memory.

II.        Rosabelle

Did    you
hear me?

[Knickerbocker Hotel, Hollywood, CA, October 19362]

                Bess watched
for any sign
of Harry
: trumpet

of electromagnetic waves, disturbance
in persistence of vision, variation

in the luminance of the raster, sheeted

tumescence in the pixels, (umbra) in (machinam).

Green ghost of a distant dead star.3

These common coincidental alignments:
Thought and Memory,    black wings        close the circle,
    and looking lunge        into the world        to pick the carrion of
daily news. Father, one-eyed, waits anxious lest Memory not return

Upon his death, she settled, a raven, on his shoulder, like ash

He asked no question.
He answered, I shall perish. Read more. Of
the body. Of the phantom queen, the war
goddess, the raven. Of the tongue, clench
it, as a carrion bird.
Tear the word
like it was meat. It was mute. A gristly
after-dinner shimmy, a bob and a
thrust, she seems to say,

Read the eyes (they say—

still tree-tops against still later
against and under white, they say—

I will try to catalog the ghosts):

III.        Rosabelle

[Jakarta, Malaysia, October 2011]

There was a boy
in Jakarta, a child, pissing awake the revenants of an ancient

mahogany tree, who appeared to him thusly:
    pocong ('poah·chong) n. the heart bound
        and shrouded, seeking

    kunti: (kün·'tē) n. the heart dead at
        birth become woman, opens
        your belly, devours you

After, hundreds
lined up to be
possessed, as they had in Lourdes
or Fatima or Chicago, where
the Virgin appeared as a salt-stain cunt
on the underpass. The town fathers cut
it down, and announced The spirits
                have moved to the other
                tree but we cannot
                cut down all the trees.

And so it was. These kinds of things they

                    say cannot be seen with

                    normal eyes, especially

                    in afternoon. Should we



IV.    Rosabelle,

[Niagara Falls, New York, March 2010]

you left a crowd of voices, indistinct
from the shuttle and shush that weave
the falls, where lovers fail, until
we pin the probabilities like moths,
collapse and resolve them with
our attention
one or many, a shadow,
flesh, a tongue, whispers,

a rose bleeding against the chest
of a baphomet, a violent end
another, in glass, a
    smoke feather. Touching it is
just like touching
    you. I mean,

it goes away from me.

V.     Rosabelle?

[Someone's London, England, sometime ...]

Raven, often accompanied by Wolf, loves

a war as a banquet, or, wings clipped, alone,

locked in the Tower, holds the safety

                    of the kingdom

VI.    Rosabelle. Listen. Here's what happened.

[Lake Texoma, Texas, August 1931]

After the apple tree blight.

After the Children's Hour.

After the map-making. After

the graph, and the swoon. After hand released

throat. After all revisions to the suicide note, after

the Saxon blitz, the Live Nude Girls, the return of Jack and of Sam, all a bungling Sherman's March by rail,
the fires tiring,
aging to ash
in the rear view.


        drought lifts

    the skirt of the lake and

    reveals the exhumed

    burial mound between

    its legs. Three hundred

    husks, hollow eyes

    averted, broken at treacherous

    angles, naked, ashamed.

    Evicted from the earth It was

    devastating. They had

    no choice.5

Go. Go out of you. Live.

VII.        Rosabelle

[Cleveland, Ohio, January 2011]

You were here, but I could not find you.
Could not hear you or see you, just knew
that you were just out
            of reach, infinitely separated. Fog flowed
like spirit bodies, a crowd
of the damned bent upon
itself to fill a channel, runs like a river
            in which we swam, or drowned.

In which you and I swam, or drowned.

In which you, and then I, swam, or drowned.


1 These were the code words the spirit of Harry Houdini was to give to his wife Bess, should a ghostly afterlife and communication with spirits prove real.

2 This was the time and location of the final séance Bess held to try to contact Harry Houdini.

3 Lifted from the title of a post on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog on Discover.com, “The green ghost of a distant dead star,” Nov. 22, 2011. http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/11/22/the-green-ghost-of-a-distant-dead-star/

4 Ripped off from an article in The Jakarta Globe, “Ghost Sightings Spark Scenes of Hysteria in Indonesian Capital,” Dec. 2, 2011.  http://jakartaglobe.beritasatu.com/archive/ghost-sightings-spark-scenes-of-hysteria-in-indonesian-capital/

5 Appropriated from an Associated Press article, “Depleted Texas lakes expose ghost towns, graves,” Nov. 20, 2011. http://news.yahoo.com/depleted-texas-lakes-expose-ghost-towns-graves-182124788.html

Jeffrey Babbitt currently freelances as a writer and researcher from his home in Mattawan, Michigan, and works at his local public library as a marketing assistant. A former psychiatric nurse, Jeffrey is an advocate and fellow traveler of people struggling with mental illness.

© Ira Joel Haber

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