Considering some mythical beasts over time.

In honor of the occasion, tonight’s post is inspired by, (and using phrases borrowed from) Charles Gould’s 1886 Text, Mythical Monsters, available on The Public Domain Review, which is a treasure trove of brilliant curation thatI have been visiting with interest in recent months. 

Consider the mythical animals, refracted through the mists of time. Follow for a certain distance, the homes and origins of their stories, the unwritten Natural History of terrible creatures once co-existing with humans. Let’s examine.

The dragon came from wonder at lightning, flashing through the caverns. It devastated, on occasion, herds and shepherds. Consider the unicorn, the sea serpent. Suppose the palsy of time warps the tales, now unrecognizable: the Nemean lion, Lernaean hydra, the minotaur.

The first reports of the bird-eating spider were maligned as heresy, only to be confirmed, centuries later. Consider Pliny’s messenger pigeon’s Swift’s Lilliputians, the paleontologist’s pterodactyl, archaeopteryx. Consider, of the beasts that seem fanciful, whether their traits are so different from known types. 

For the dragon, while sacred, has within himself something of the divine nature of which it is better to remain in ignorance. It would show itself sometime, only partially from the mouth of a cave, its gleaming eyes precisely the size of an enemy’s shield. 

Moon Life, Revisited

Inspired by the visions of the naturalist-artists from centuries past.

October is a great month for moons and all manner of star gazing––and perhaps, in this vein, also for attempting to throw the mind back to the imagined lives of those ancestors who knew nothing of video footage of astronauts stomping in lunar dust, nothing of the desolate-looking gray surface against black sky, whose thoughts of visiting the orb were in the same category as musings on Atlantis, the afterlife, and other wonderlands. With imagination as the chief informant, one gets documentation like that of Bishop John Wilkins, the distinguished natural philosopher who penned the mid-seventeenth century text, The Discovery of a World in the Moone, Or, a Discourse Tending to prove that ‘Tis Probable there May be Another Habitable World on the Planet. I came across images of the text this morning, in reference to the work that inspired Italian engraver Filippo Morghen’s 1776 Suite of the Most Notable Things, a series of fantastical etchings of moon life, no doubt inspired by discourses by Wilkins and other scientist-dreamers.

In this version of the moon, there are obvious parallels to New World mythology, complete with (predictably, perhaps) savages who ride winged serpents while battling a beast with porcupine spikes. The beasts are so large that the savage lunarians need to fashion a sort of guillotine-device, of a blade as tall as a circus-tent pole suspended by ropes from a tall tree, in order to cleave the bodies “from head to tail,” a process that is presumably a favorite pastime, second only to riding in carriages drawn by sails catching lunar winds, and fishing in vessels of hollowed-out pumpkins with sails attached. One may live in the pumpkins also, which provide excellent protection from any beasts that have managed to escape the giant knives. If a pumpkin sailboat is not to your liking, there are other models, wherein a standard canoe may be fitted with a pair of enormous wings. After a day on the water, one may dock at the pumpkin house, to summon the geese that will pull the carriages to the next planet, with the beat of an enormous drum. 


Inspired by this article in The Public Domain Review: “Filippo Morghen’s Fantastical Visions of Lunar Life (1776)”

First Lessons in Life Management

Wisdom from the old wives.

Never do your knitting outside. You’ll lengthen the cold months. Avoid sleeping with your head to the North. Or West. Shoes off the table; those mean death. Never, ever say happy birthday before it’s time. Think facing mirrors look good, with those infinite reflections? Think again: you’re inviting el diablo.

Speaking of which, you must avoid going directly home after a funeral or wake, else you may bring a spirit with you. That’s why you have to go to a restaurant or someplace with friends. Remember, never poke chopsticks straight down into your food, and protect your parents by tucking your thumbs near a cemetery. Think it’s fun to whistle inside? Okay, but have fun living with demons. Same goes for singing at the dinner table. And don’t even think of using water for a toast, unless the point you mean to make is a death wish for your companions.

Hands itchy? The right one means money is coming. The left means you’ll lose it. Avoid haircuts on Tuesdays, and yellow flowers. Never gift anything with a blade. If someone does this to you, give them a coin.

Never enter with your left foot, don’t trim your nails at night, and keep an acorn in your pocket.

And ––

Listen: that sudden pause when we’re here together and the conversation lulls? That means an angel passing over.

Like a Caul

Thoughts on perception.

Continuous stream in perpetual motion,

no levees until we build. The mind wants

a fixed pattern, some mollusk shell against

the swell. So, we make and remake ourselves,

these others, our tools these numbers,

tests, images, sounds, scents, records

like Remember this. Color me a Milky Way

in turquoise, violet, rust, crimson tides of

possibility, a membrane across

these newborn eyes.

Indri Song

Anthems in an ancient garden

Like a balloon, they say, when they hear us, as if to be deliberate in dismissal

of the possibility that what is being loosed here is an admonition. They consider

it a mandate to avoid any reference to a common soul, especially the possibility

of some familiar lamentation, they can’t say we are naming ourselves,

renaming ourselves in our own image. They can’t speak

of our ambitions, our undisclosed wishes, our furtive wonder or clandestine

grief. They can no sooner detect these than they can remember

what it was like in the age of the flowering plants when forests

stretched pole to pole and everywhere the shallow seas when we

splashed together, laughing, before the lines of our bodies separated at

the forked branch in the palm of our last common mother, as if to

prophesy some glorious calamity that would make one of us forget

our common womb. What did you think, we call, 

when you noticed we would not live for you in captivity?

One, listening, observes: We are here. Here,



Inspired by a recent New York Times article about singing lemurs in Madagascar.


Imagine we gather, here.

It has been a long time since we have gone home.

Let’s gather.

We will meet in the nest.

I have hidden the meal, over that hill. See, in the distance.

In the forked branch of the second tree?

We will feast on what we find. Bring what you find.

Or bring nothing. We will share. 

There is a round table in the nest, and six chairs.

Around the table, we will feast inside our nest.



Inspired by the art of Charlie Baker, as described in this article

and by birds everywhere.

In Insect News

Reports from the bug world.

Non-holiday Mondays tend to call to mind various matters that I’d prefer to avoid, so perhaps this is why this morning’s thoughts turn to bugs. Realizing that not since the stories about murder hornets and the coming of the cicadas, have I paid any attention to much in the way of insect news (except for the stories on Monarch butterflies and  other lepidoptera, which hardly qualify, given that both are widely revered for their beauty), here comes a brief attempt to catch up.

In my case, news about insects encompasses many of the stories of the last ten years. Aside from these, I was aware of few beyond mass extinction, a fact perhaps indicative of certain tendencies to accelerate it, if only by ignorance––which is a great way, when you think of it, to accelerate many ills.

I am heartened to learn that those killer bees that recently terrorized Puerto Rico and the United States have relaxed their aggression. Apparently, a decade or so of evolution renders them similar to honeybees, at least on a scale of aggression towards humans. 

Wasps, on the other hand, long considered “degenerate bees”(Plutarch), are in the midst of a makeover intended to highlight their capacities as essential workers, vital for pollination, pest control, and various promising cancer treatments.

In other news, a record-breaking stick bug measures two feet long, and the Dobson fly of China, large enough to cover the face of the average adult, is now considered to be the world’s largest aquatic insect. 

Meanwhile, public officials have issued stomp-to-kill orders on the lantern fly, widely considered a menace to vineyards, fruit trees, and hardwoods across the northeastern and middle states. They feed on sap, and their current tally of destruction across several states is measured in the billions of dollars. 

According to witnesses, an Australian beetle has been walking upside down in a pool of water, on the underside of the surface. “This is new,” one researcher announced with authority, regarding the method of travel.

Arts and culture: in May of this year, Jonathan Balcombe released Superfly: The Unexpected Lives of the World’s Most Successful Insects, in which he reveals the idiosyncrasies, social lives and sensitivities of some common pests, which as Burdensome reads them, have within their short lives more parallels to our own behavior than most of us would care to acknowledge. 

In case you are wondering, as I was, eradication of murder hornet nests is ongoing, and no research has yet delivered emerged with any book of deep sympathy to the particular sensitivities of this species. The stinger is apparently long enough to puncture a beekeeper’s suit–– to agonizing effect, it is reported. I had not realized, until now, that the primary threat of this species has much less to do with the ick and danger of such stings, and more to do with their capacity to wipe out honeybee nests. I can’t help but think that my ignorance here is at least somewhat indicative of yet another problem with the machine that makes Mondays so difficult. Once you are in it, almost every viable perspective is viable precisely because it misses most of what is actually going on. 


Inspired by:


The Escape Artist to the Magician

Harry Houdini confronts predecessors, past illusions, and posers of the moment.

On this day in 1926, Harry Houdini gave his final performance, at The Garrick Theatre in Detroit. To mark the occasion, I spent some time exploring what I could of several books he left behind. I was interested to learn that Houdini had suffered a period of deep disillusionment when he discovered that much of the appeal of the artist who inspired him, Robert Houdin, was artifice assembled from the work of countless unnamed others. Houdini set out to name these in The Unmasking of Robert Houdin. Later, he devoted much of his non-performance time to debunking the claims of many of the leading mentalists of his time, a process he describes in A Magician Among the Spirits. This is an imagined monologue in which the escape artist considers the toll of his lost belief, even as he remains steadfast in revealing the truth. It includes borrowed phrases from both texts.

Do you think I imagined nothing of soaring heights? My first act was the trapeze. I was nine, and my father had lost his job, and all we knew then was how to live on the edge. It should go without saying that not all edges are the same. Some you walk by necessity; others are brandished by the charmer, those swords and weapons not for protection or battle, but merely to catch the light, wow an audience, earn applause.

With some people, greater intimacy only yields greater discoveries, the rewards like that of earth itself: the closer you look, the more there is. With others, these sword-bearing magician illusionists, the effect is the opposite. The more you look, the less there is to see. Looking long enough, the familiar patterns and tired tricks reveal themselves. Finally, broken hearted, the once and future believer has no choice but to accept. The emperor wears no clothes.

I have been interested! I held seances, surprised clients. It was a lark! My ambition, my love was gratified. Moving forward, some hallowed reverence advanced with age, and I was chagrined.  I became more plastic, interested to discover if it was possible to return from beyond the veil.

What lengths I have gone to, by now. How many compacts I have made with the living: when you go, will you reach me? They agreed. I have waited, watched. No one can accuse me of being unwilling to receive a sign.

To be clear, I am a sceptic, not a scoffer. My heart softens still to remember the believer I once was, the unsuspecting heart of inexperience. I sometimes wish I could return. It is not so unusual, after all, for the senses to mislead. A little sign, appealing to the waiting imagination, the endless promises and guarantees of charlatans claiming special insight, heightened vision––becomes a menace to health and sanity.

No doubt some are sincere. Even my trained mind can be deceived, how much more susceptible the ordinary observer. Magician, you are lost to me since I have seen you. I thought knowing, as with all good things, would only enhance appreciation. I could blame you for pretending to be what you are not, but now who is the fool? I was told I had no finesse for illusion, not enough sleight in my hand. I lacked the guile that came naturally to you; it was your daily bread.  

I’d prefer not to look, but there are others at risk. My purpose is to warn them. After all, I was never the magician, only the escape artist. I have escaped the nailed box, the sealed coffin, the underwater milk jug, the chains, and now I fly from the illusion that you were ever anything like the promise you pretended to be. It hurts my sore wings, long cramped. I’d rather not do it, but there is an audience, after all, and their attendant faith. If my loyalty runs parallel to the seed of this faith, then my exodus is the sacrament at hand. Blame the moon for peeling back the veil; blame the intensity of my childhood will, to believe. Blame the failure of the blinders that you counted on, to hold. Blame the persistent posture of looking; I learned this as a matter of devotion early on. Try as I might, even in the early days of watching you perform, I could not unlearn it, not completely, until now. 

Name it Anyway

A Sampling of Longinus’ First Century text, “On Sublimity.”

When it comes to explanatory text, practical help ought to be a writer’s principal object. The point is to explain what it is and how can we achieve it. Regarding sublimity, I will do my best.


How to explain? The source of distinction of the greatest poets? Grandeur. It produces ecstasy, not persuasion. Persuasion we cannot control, but sublimity tears like wind. 

Nothing is truly great that is great to despise: wealth, reputation, absolute power. The wise disdain these. What of literature depends on nature can only be learned through art. Some marks: it is impossible to resist and it endures, leaving a long impression. 

Inspired emotion, a kind of madness and divine spirit, can help. Another way is to make the mind ever-pregnant with noble thoughts. Selection and organization are not to be underestimated. See Sappho here, how she layers. Consider imagery, Phantasia: the point being, to astonish.  In this vein, consider hyperbation: the arrangement of words and thoughts outside the normal sequence.

Also, remember metaphors. Consider the bodily tabernacle, the head as citadel; the heart a knot of veins; spleen, a napkin for the insides; blood, the fodder of flesh; death, a loosing of the cables binding the soul’s ship.


Inspired by the first-century manuscript “On Sublimity,” widely (though not uncontroversially) attributed to Cassius Loginus, as translated by D.A. Russell. Finding it in my Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, I was heartened by the slightly bombastic and utterly romantic confidence of this writer, moved with urgency to explain the sublime.

Desert Walk

A desert walk, and considerations of the pilgrim in borrowed space.

Forever with your help, reads the desert park slogan. Regarding longevity, consider Pliocene beds of oyster shells and the ancient remains of a coral reef.

Remember the saber-toothed cats, camels, giant turtles, and the condor-sized vultures. Remember the vertical faults, pushing up ridges with each quake. Remember when the river shifted course, filling the basin with two-thousand square miles of now-ancient lake, fringed with tule, arrow weed, willow, mesquite, palm.

Keep walking, keep looking, the names alone like an invocation of what was once understood: creosote, burrow weed, agave, mesquite, cat’s claw, jumping cholla, indigo bush, smoke tree, desert willow, ironwood. 

Watch for scorpions, watch for snakes, watch for ghost lights and the ghost rider, lantern in his chest; watch for bones, holding the wind.

Watch for it: every creature out here arranging itself in creative response to thirst. Watch for hidden water but beware the interior gorge. The ancients knew this as the home of the dead. Of course, it is also the most likely to be wet so there are those that take their chances, hiking down and further until every sound revolves into an echo of its origin, and the only place left to move is back up, or farther along the path you’ve been warned to avoid.