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  #1  
Unread 07-09-2019, 10:22 AM
Ashley Bowen Ashley Bowen is offline
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Default Harry Houdini Was Not My Father

Harry Houdini Was Not My Father
Performed in 1915, the “Buried Alive” trick almost cost Houdini his life.

When father first learned about it, he gathered
us in the garden to watch him bury
himself beneath a grave’s worth of dirt.

He’d convinced our neighbors
to angle their cameras
so he could surface in a fever

of flashbulbs. They shuddered
when my uncles had to shovel him up,
when he wobbled and vomited dirt.

The weight of all that earth
was killing,
he said,
but the Lord’s been willing to kill us
from the beginning—fire and ashes, dust
to dust
.

His lungs never recovered.
The furniture always needed dusting.

He said he came to understand Jesus
in the dirt down there. The secret

to the torture trick was the ladder
he climbed down into the box
of his body

when the weight of the earth came
to lie down upon him.





Harry Houdini Was Not My Father

Performed in 1915, the “Buried Alive” trick almost cost Houdini his life.

Father gathered us in the garden where he buried himself / beneath a grave’s worth of dirt.

He’d convinced our neighbors
to wait their cameras
for him to resurface in a fever of flashbulbs.

They shuddered when my uncles had to shovel him up, / when Father wobbled and vomited dirt.

The weight of all that earth
was killing
, he said, but the Lord’s been willing
to kill us from the beginning—
fire and ashes, dust
to dust.
His lungs never recovered.

He never stopped dusting off.

He said he came to understand Jesus
walked in the darkness down there.

The secret to the torture trick was the ladder
he climbed down into the box
of his body

when the weight of the earth came
to lie across on his body.






Harry Houdini Was Not My Father

Performed in 1915, the “Buried Alive” trick almost cost Houdini his life.


When my father learned about Houdini, he gathered
us in the garden to watch

him bury himself beneath a grave’s worth of dirt, convinced
the neighbors to ready their cameras
for him to resurface in a fever of flashbulbs.

They shuddered when my uncles
had to shovel him up,
when he wobbled and vomited dirt.

The weight of all that earth
was killing,
he said, but the Lord’s been willing
to kill us from the beginning—
fire and ashes, dust
to dust.


His lungs never recovered.
He kept dusting himself off.

He said he came to understand Jesus
in the darkness down there, his commitment
to the torture trick. Said there’s a ladder

you have to travel down to reach the box
of your body when the weight of the world
comes to lie down on your shoulders.

Last edited by Ashley Bowen; 07-15-2019 at 08:45 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 07-09-2019, 02:30 PM
Martin Rocek's Avatar
Martin Rocek Martin Rocek is offline
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I want to come back to this one, but my first impression is very positive. A striking story well told.

Thanks for the read!
Martin
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  #3  
Unread 07-09-2019, 03:31 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I like this as well. Iíd vote to remove the epigraph, I donít think you need it.

Cheers,
John
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  #4  
Unread 07-09-2019, 04:09 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Ashley,

I agree with John that you don't need the epigraph. At least, not as the poem currently stands. With the title, the epigraph and the first line you have the word 'Houdini' three times in rapid succession, and it gets a bit much. You have the option of changing the title to something more oblique ('Escapes' or some such), or keep the title and change the opening line ('When my father read about it...'). Or change both and keep the epigraph! Some variation needed I think...

I think

to watch // him bury himself

might sound better as

to watch // as he buried himself

Apart from that, I really like this. I think it's my favourite of yours I've read. I love 'He kept dusting himself off', with its echo of the old song, which is such a 'dad' song and gains a grim new resonance here.

Good one.
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  #5  
Unread 07-09-2019, 04:37 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Ashley,

I like this a lot. I'm with Mark and John in suggesting you lose the epigraph. I'd also change the title to avoid Mark's other concern.

What if the title were "My Father Is [Was?] Not a Magician" and then the opening line were "When he learned about Houdini, he..."
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  #6  
Unread 07-11-2019, 09:47 AM
Ashley Bowen Ashley Bowen is offline
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Hi, Andrew: Thanks for stopping in and commenting. Good notes.

Mark: I like your suggestion. I was bugged by that part as well, and I think your suggestion is a good one. Muchas gracias.

John: Thanks for stopping in and taking the time to comment. I appreciate it immensely.

Martin: Thanks! I'm glad you found something here to like.

I'm pretty stunned that you all liked this one. I'm not sure that it has reached my target yet. Maybe too much backstory? At any rate, I'll stick this back in the drawer and let it sit for a few more years.
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  #7  
Unread 07-11-2019, 09:58 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Horace said nine years was a good number. Few people do that these days, i think. Not sure this poem needs it. :-)

Cheers,
John
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  #8  
Unread 07-11-2019, 11:23 AM
Max Goodman Max Goodman is offline
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I struggle a lot with free verse, including most published free verse, so take this with a grain of salt.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ashley Bowen View Post
was killing, he said, but the Lord’s been willing
to kill us from the beginning—
really jumps out at me, gets a lot of emphasis, for having the only rhyme that pushes itself toward notice. It also has the partial rhyme on beginning and the (awkward to my ear) killing/kill identity.

I disagree with those who feel the epigraph isn't necessary. I think the reader can be expected to know that Houdini was an escape artist, but not to know about the buried-alive trick.

I really want to know the father's plan. Did he devise and practice a way to save himself that somehow failed, or did he just see Houdini's trick and think, "That's neat. Throw some dirt on me and I'll escape, too." The two are very different stories with very different meanings.
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  #9  
Unread 07-11-2019, 12:48 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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I'd missed Max's final point when I read the poem, but think it is a good one.

Cheers,
John
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  #10  
Unread 07-11-2019, 02:00 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I don't know why you struggle with fv, Max. I think they help to improve each other. Good poem, and the title tipped me off to that. The ldea that your father wanted to be a magician, alone, is pretty cool. Maybe I'd like that magnified a little?
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