30 November 2012

Unsolved Mysteries

I love mystery. Be it the wonder of how a magician created the illusion or the unexplained murders that Robert Stack menacingly intoned on NBC, then CBS. I am in.

The internet is a boon and an ill-advised hole for people like me. The research-minded. I love reading about events, pouring over details, deciphering meaning. I love to know all the things about a topic. I remember little of it, but the point is in the looking.

The internet is full of the unsolved.

Take the story of Benjamin Kyle in Florida. He was discovered on August 31, 2004 naked in the trash area of a Burger King in Richmond Hill, Georgia. He had no identification, no memory of who he was or how he got there. There was evidence of several blows to the head and he was covered in blood.

He is believed to be in his 60s, from Indiana and he possibly went to college in Boulder, Colorado. He has oddly detailed memories of movie theaters in those two states as well as kitchen equipment.

He was given the name BK for Burger King ans later took the name Benjamin Kyle. Recently a documentary has been made about him and Senator Mike Weinstein was able to get him a Florida ID card so he could start to build an 'official' identity. He has no social security number and thus does not exist. A White House petition exists to help get him one. Without a SSN he cannot legally stay at homeless shelters or get a better job.

Recently I moved back to New Mexico so I'm feeling a little hyper-connected to my history. The concept of a blank slate may sound great, in theory, but it terrifies me. Watching this man attempt to go about his life without a history amazes me. I couldn't imagine it.

A different type of blank slate is the mysterious dead man.

The Taman Shud case is so odd. So very very very odd. That I really want to write a book about it. And will someday.

On December 1, 1948 a body was found on a beach in Australia. He was well-dressed, in good shape, and there was no obvious cause of death. The labels had been removed from all of his clothing. On Jan 14 a suitcase was found with clothing labeled 'T. Keane'. They connected the case to the body through a ball of orange thread that matched some used to fix a hole in the dead man's pants.

A sailor named Tom Keane was missing but his friends and family said that the clothes were not his and the body did not match.

Sewn in the man's pants was a slip of paper that read 'Taman Shud'. The phrase translates from Persian to mean 'finished'. It is the last line in a book by Omar Khayyam. They found the book. It had been left in a man's unlocked car three days before the unknown man died. In a different town.

The image above is what was found in the back of the book. A cypher that has never been decoded. Also in the book was the unlisted phone number for a woman. She claimed she had no knowledge of the man, though she nearly fainted when seeing the photos of the body. Coincidental, (or not) she had given a copy of the book to a different man 3 years earlier. A man who still had the copy. That man would only give half answers and innuendo when asked questions.

The woman's son shared rare genetic disorders with the dead man. The likelihood of this being a coincidence is estimated at 1 in 10,000,000.

And there's more! A man was found unconscious next to a bag containing his dead 3-year-old son's body in June of 1949 after being missing for 4 days. The man's wife claimed her husband thought he knew the dead man in the Taman Shud case. The wife had been terrorized by masked men for the days prior to the discovery of the husband and son. The man was committed to an institution after he recovered.

In 1945, three years before the Taman Shud case, another man was found dead with a copy of Khayyam's book open on his chest. A woman who testified at the inquest into the death was later found face down, wrists slit in a bathtub.

It's the perfect knot. Everyone involved is dead. Everyone involved refused to be helpful. What is most amazing is that despite all the information I just dumped on you, none of it leads anywhere conclusive. It is blank.

And that mystery is what I love. The inability to know. The desire to know. To fill in the blanks. Who was the Taman Shud man? Who is Benjamin Kyle? What led them to where they ended up? How does anyone get where they end up? That's the real point of the mystery. That ?

28 November 2012

Do Over

I am back in New Mexico after 7 years away. Walking the streets of Santa Fe looking for work has been both a reconnection and a bit demoralizing.

This place is where I went to college. Where I 'grew up'.

Today I applied at the cafe I worked at in 2001 when I was awoken at 5am by a phone call telling me to be careful when I went out to my car that morning. That the person on the other end was 'watching' me. Was aware of the time I left my dorm room, alone, in the dark.

Obviously I called and told them I didn't feel safe. That I would come in after the sun was up.

When I got home the word 'faggot' had been written on my door in sharpie. I painted over it in a blue that was clearly lighter. I hung a dry erase board over the spot.

The College of Santa Fe has since gone out of business and been renamed the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

Fogelson Library, College of Santa Fe

This is the city where I got my only ticket. After watching the final Lord of the Rings movie at a midnight showing I was driving home at 3am. I was stopped at a light at Cerillos and St. Francis. The light would not change. It stared red at me for 10 minutes. I was making a left. I went when it was safe to. Immediately a cop showed up. He had been watching me from the vacant lot across the street.

He didn't ticket me for the turn. But for a burned out headlight that I didn't know about.

That vacant lot is now a Starbucks drive through. They don't have an inside seating area, just some chairs under an awning. There are heaters so people can sit and use their laptops. Outside. So far there have been people there every day.

These two anecdotes are not meant to moan the change. Nor is it a 'I'm getting old' pastiche. It is merely noting the change. The history.

In returning I am revisiting. I am redoing. I am also moving on. From the New York thing to whatever this will be.

And that is exciting. But it also has me worried. What will my writing be like now? Who am I here, in this place, now? I am in my 30s. What does that mean?

So far I've decided to rewrite the first third of the novel that was supposedly finished. The one agents are looking at. Or, were looking at. Since none have said more than 'thank you'. So I am rewriting. And that seems to make sense. The part of the novel that I've decided to do over is the part set in Santa Fe.

It is the beginning of the story.

And also the end.

26 November 2012

Dust Jacket : Louise Glück Poems 1962-2012

Louise Glück Poems 1962-2012
Designed by: Gretchen Achilles
Mezzotint by: Vija Celmins

When I first saw Gretchen Achilles' cover for Louise Glück's new collection I thought to myself how perfect the cover was. How it was mysterious. We are coming into orbit of a strange new world. With all the possibilities that that entails.

Simplicity hinting at the complex just out of our reach. This is like Glück's work. Layers are peeled away and things come into focus. Things we thought we knew. That we never could.

Achilles is the owner of Wavetrap Design. She is a freelance designer and has worked for all the major publishers.

Her choice for cover image shows her talent. This is a 1985 mezzotint by Vija Celmins. Celmins was born in Latvia but has lived in the US since she was 10. She works primarily in graphite and is known for her hyper-realistic work.

Darwin 2008-10, oil on canvas

Her space drawings are particularly interesting to me:

Star Field III 1982-83, graphite on acrylic ground on paper

They remind me of work from other artists. Chuck Close comes to mind with his highly detailed paintings and drawings. And Lory Pollina's graphite work:

Noosphere No. 3 2010, graphite on paper

In all these works it feels like something is being revealed while also being kept hidden. It feels like something we have seen before, but is totally alien. Again, this is like Glück's work.

The book covers 50 years of work. It resembles old sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s. It calls to mind great half-true representations of space.

Those half true representations are large in my mind. In the larger culture's mind as well. Below is a photo Cassini took of Saturn in 2006.

It is hard not to picture a space ship moving towards that. Sending a probe out to investigate. Finding an evil creature bent on our destruction.

It's very hard to see in the picture. On the upper left edge of the inner rings is a small blue dot...


Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.

16 November 2012


Packing up six-years-worth of New York in the last few weeks I have found things:

1) The strange laminated obituaries that they hand out at funerals for three family members. Their faces frozen under the heat-sealed plastic. Forever staring out; their accomplishments listed in fine newspaper typefaces. All three were in shades of pink. From fluffy bubblegum to pale lavender. They make a spectrum of mourning. Is mourning pink?

2) Photos from high school. From college. From trips to England in 2004. Back when I took pictures with cameras and then printed them at one hour photos. We don't do things in an hour anymore. In New York, you wait an hour to get a table at a restaurant. And then sit in a moodily lit space and eat your meal. It is like a perfectly curated set for a photo shoot, a movie, a life.

3) 300 fliers for a New Year's Eve 2001 rave. In Santa Fe.

I have not found dead spiders or roaches. This isn't like when I left Santa Fe 7 years ago and kept finding dead preying mantis in the back of my car. Their little green bodies curled and cross-legged on the back seat of my car. Or in the trunk. Or on the floor.

I take that as a sign.

Of what.

12 November 2012

Sacred Emily

I would like to talk about my writing in terms that make sense to non-writers. I'd settle for terms that make sense.

The first thing my mother always asks me when she reads a poem of mine is 'What does it mean?' or she will single out an element and ask what it means. What so-and-so stands for.

I never know how to answer her. She's asking a basic question. She wants to see into the metaphor and imagery that I'm using. To see with the same eyes. But most of the time a cigar is a cigar and there isn't much to add. In fact, I would argue that while we can discuss 'deeper' meanings all we want, at the end of the day most things mean exactly what they appear to.

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

I come into this problem head long when I attempt to pull together a manuscript for competitions. Here my problem is one of overview. The long count. The career statement.

And I get hung up on it a bit. The what thing follows what question.

My current manuscript is a conglomerate of three. Which were themselves successors to other, older attempts. The first was called A Map of Longing. It was an examination of childhood told through poems about loss and death of elder family members. It was sad.

The second was an abandoned project on the life of Nikola Tesla that was called He'll Be A Child Of The Storm, No Of Light. It is something I am still interested in and will someday go back to, but it will be much longer. More involved, and probably use some prose.

The final manuscript was my 'hits' package. It was called Museum of Natural History and combined my word-a-day poems with poems about trees, science, and some of the death stuff from Longing. There were also poems about a fictional break-up that were told through the history of locations they go to. This manuscript also featured all of my poems that have been published.

None of them felt whole. So I've smooshed them together. Cutting some poems, adding others. I've left in the published work, but one of them may go.

But that's a perfect example of my problem. I don't know if it should. I have stared at this thing for days. Thought about it. I don't know if the poems should alternate in trios or if I should section the whole thing off.

Part 1: Childhood/End of innocence

Part 2: SCIENCE!
Part 3: Break-up/History/Tesla

Or not.

I have gone back to my college method of dealing with it. I printed the whole thing out and have it spread on my floor. The pages facing the light of day. Hanging out together. It's a hot mess since I'm also packing to move 2,000 miles THIS WEEK!

All of this is to say that A) I am working on my poetry; and B) I have no fucking clue what I'm doing.

But I never do.

07 November 2012

Dust Jacket : Search Sweet Country

Search Sweet Country (1986)
Designed by: Brian McMullen

This is a 25th Anniversary edition from McSweeney's. Brian McMullen is their head artistic director. He also oversees their new children's book division.

The book is set in Ghana. This is important as a starting point for the image on the cover. It is clearly an African textile print. Almost to a generic point.

These printed fabrics are beautiful. It is an obvious reference point when dealing with a book that has been called "one of the greatest novels ever to come out of the African continent". The cover is even more important when you consider that the book follows a large cast of characters.

From McSweeney's book flap:

Bringing to life the bustling markets and bars in dizzying, lyrical prose, Laing weaves a story filled with bizarre and often melancholy characters...Their collective narratives create a portrait of a country where colonialism is dying, but democracy remains elusive.

A patchwork.

Of course McMullen chose to render the fabric in soft greens and browns. Tilted away from the viewer. Softly fading into the horizon.

Northwest Minn 9/09 - NASA Earth Observatory

It's a visual trick that makes it both cloth and farm land. A simple trick, but genius on McMullen's part.

Photos like the one above have always been mesmerizing for me. The weird perfection of our division of space. The OCDness of it. African cloth is just as oddly perfect. The little squares with their conflicting yet harmonious content.

This is the best visual metaphor for writing I have ever seen. Not just for this story, but all stories.

Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.

05 November 2012

That odd looking second line of cars across the street form my apartment showed up two days ago. It goes up Bedford 4 blocks to the gas station, where the National Guard is allowing people to get $10 worth of gas. There is another line for emergency vehicles. And a third for pedestrians with containers. I saw people carrying water bottles...

That line is there all day and night.