2 sisters

Two sisters in the park
You can’t tell them apart
Like I can,
But I know I can.

One’s a big fat heart
And the other’s a shark
Stop beating
Stop swimming.

One sister plays with dolls
And the other is enthralled
With cyan
Like Diane.

One’s asleep in the wheat
And the other wears a sheet
Where I am
I’m trying
I’m dying.

Two sisters in the halls
Making passes, making calls
I’m listening
I’m sighing.

Two sisters running round
One is flat, one is round
And unbound
And unsound.

One sister’s in the ground
And the other’s out of town
I’m buying
The next round.

One sister on the wind
And the other’s drinking gin
I’m lying
Beside them
Between them.


Théodore ChassériauThe Two Sisters via WikiMedia

shadow play

up upon the wall,
of the government hall,
tarantulas crawl,
and the scorpions sway,
it’s a game we play,
’till it lasts all day.

how we roll, roll away,
roll away the day,
losing time
to our other side
in our shadow play.

let’s sneak,
sneak upon the stairs,
(they travel in pairs)
till we leap like hares
and make our escape.
when the lights come on,
we can vanish as one,
in the noon-day sun.

and then roll, roll it all away,
roll the live-long day,
passing our time
to the other’s mind
in our shadow play.

would you care
to put on your crown,
you silly clown,
and be king for a day?
you can wear it with pride
and strut it outside
’til it’s late to hide,

then put
your milky bones away,
and dance
waltz with Fanny fae,
on the other side
where we lose our minds
in our shadow play.

bae, they’re coming for you,
they’re following me,
but they can’t see we,
like I do.
through clenched teeth,
on top of the lips
I’ll slip you a hiss
with my cobra kiss.

and when your web is spun
glinting in sun
my skin’s undone
and the game is won.

then may we roll
roll them all away,
or put them on display,
leading our tribe
to the other side,
with our shadow plays.

Title: A Spider. Artist: Jan Vincentsz van der Vinne (Dutch, Haarlem 1663–1721 Haarlem)

Seven Seeds

By Chinese post, I did receive,
a paper pouch with seven seeds,
metallic skin, mirror black
grown to sow, no turnings back.

I dropped one down, into a hole,
it fell and fell, towards midnight’s glow,
and when it stopped, it split in two,
and now it shines for me and you.

Tiny roots and tiny vines
curl and writhe inside my mind,
reaching out to darkness’ sun
growing deep, what’s done and done.

Seven seeds in mother earth,
metallic skin, for what it’s worth,
they pulse and throb within their cave,
and in the dark their tendrils wave.

I put them down, I pick them up,
sometimes they live inside a cup.
They draw my dreams into their veins,
and soak them up to dream again.

Berries black bloom on their stems
they ripen there in breathy wind,
they pulse and grow inside my brain
and dribble juice in spreading stain.

A fruit so big it caught the eye
of every serpent flying by.
A greedy suck, a sip or two,
who knows what grows for me and you.

Preview: The Alienist

The Alienist by Caleb Carr touches on a number of my obsessions; the Gilded Age, psychology, serial murder, the frontier. There are things I like about this prestige TV series adapted historical novel and some things I am less crazy about. The point is, there is probably a review or at least some comments, criticisms, and plaudits to follow here, so stay tuned for more info.!

The Alienist by Caleb Carr (1994)

Common or no?

Just curious if anybody has had any luck (good or bad) with trying to keep a common place book? I keep starting them and then forgetting them when I need them, even though I am always reading on a large variety of topics that could certainly benefit from some note taking and organization. How do I make it a part of my system? When do I create a special subject notebook or file and when a common place book entry instead?

My mostly empty commonplace book
John Locke’s double-page index, as printed in the English translation of New Method for Common-Place Books (1706). via Public Domain Review.

My 2021 Reading List

The Alchemist / Paulo Coelho
Snow Crash / Neil Stephenson
Chimpanzee politics: Power and sex among apes / Frans de Waal
The mechanics of Ancient Egyptian magic / Robert K. Ritner,
Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age / Antonía Tripolitis
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The Sumerians: Their history, culture, and character / Samuel Noah Kramer
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Isaac Newton / James Gleick
Galactic pot-healer / Philip K. Dick
Gods and robots: Myths, machines, and ancient dreams of technology / Adrienne Mayor
Synchronicity / C. G. Jung
Altered states / Paddy Chayefsky
The divine invasion / Philip K. Dick
On writing / Stephen King
Wise blood / Flannery O’Connor
Kim / Rudyard Kipling
Two Essays on Analytical Psychology / C. G. Jung
The transmigration of Timothy Archer / Phillip K. Dick
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Big Sur / Jack Kerouac
The dead / James Joyce
Fanfarlo / Charles Baudelaire
The island of Doctor Moreau / H. G. Wells
To walk the night / William Sloane
The edge of running water / William Sloane
The alteration / Kingsley Amis
Bob Dylan: An intimate biography / Anthony Scaduto
The king of elfland’s daughter / Lord Dunsany
The archetypes and the collective unconscious (vol. 9.1) / C. G. Jung
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The essence of Tsongkhapa’s teachings. Three aspects of the Path / TsongKhaPa & His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke
Cosmic puppets – Phillip K. Dick
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Rama II / Arthur C. Clarke & Gentry Lee
Dogs in Antiquity: Anubis to Cerberus, the origins of the domestic dog / Douglas Brewer, et al.
Dark entries / Robert Aickman
True Grit / Charles Portis
The treasure of the Sierra Madre / B. Traven
Inside Vasubandhu’s Yogacara: A practitioner’s guide / Ben Connelly
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Rosemary’s baby / Ira Levin
The family / Ed Sanders
Masters of Atlantis / Charles Portis
Fuzz : When nature breaks the law / Mary Roach
The ultimate evil : the search for the sons of Sam / Maury Terry
Soul catcher / Frank Herbert
Fear : Trump in the White House / Bob Woodward
Bad blood : Secrets and lies in a Silicon Valley startup / John Carryrou
Warlock / Oakley Hall
Hell house / Richard Matheson
Erebus : The story of a ship / Michael Palin
Rage / Bob Woodward
Peril / Bob Woodward and Robert Costa
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The Ministry for the Future / Kim Stanley Robinson
Artemis / Andy Weir
Against the grain ; a deep history of the earliest states / John C. Scott
The last duel ; A true story of crime, scandal, and trial by combat / Eric Jager
Annihilation / Jeff Vandermeer
Authority / Jeff Vandermeer
Acceptance / Jeff Vandermeer
Rebirth of a nation : The making of modern America, 1877 – 1920 / Jackson Lear
1898 : The birth of the American century / David Traxel
Vril :The power of the coming race / Edward Bulwer-Lytton
The dawn of everything: A new history of humanity / David Graeber and David Wengrow
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Seaborn fragment of a dream

From whence the dream that the siren’s song contains all the knowledge of the world encoded in it’s subtle and sublime melodies? It comes from the sea itself and is the very lure of its own singing. But it is the limit of that knowledge that eventually assumes the stark guise of madness, for knowledge exists on but a human scale, and has not truth in’t.

Incarnate things speak only to themselves, no matter how grandiloquent, no matter how great and all encompassing. But in the final fading of the ultimate string, which after all must have a bound in time, truth remains unspoken and unrevealed and always shall be, and therein lies the crushing melancholy of knowing – for knowing is as empty as the sound of surf within the vacant shell.

“All human choices lead ultimately to disaster. There is nothing to be done and nothing to be saved, so let the sea come in and wash it clean.” This is their song, and it is knowledge of the fate of the world.

We stopper our ears to such knowledge because we cannot live and function in the face of its stark revelation. We must abandon worldliness then, unless we dare to wear the cloak and mantle of the hero, which burns us up like acid in its deadly apotheosis.

Rembrandt Steele: Exploring local history through art and artists

Today I have been engaged in a little freeform research, the kind of thing that keeps me engaged with history even when I don’t have much in the way of professional opportunities to practice it. The real problem over the last year has obviously been the pandemic, and I am excited about opportunities that may be forthcoming to get back into the physical archive space as opposed to the very limited virtual one. Nonetheless, online is the place to start so that you don’t waste time at the repository. 

This morning I logged some web hours researching my old school, the John Herron School of Art and Design. There are a wide range of materials available, some of which are located in the Ruth Lilly Special Collections & Archives at IUPUI’s University Library (Herron joined in partnership with IU in the late 1960s and became part of IUPUI in 1969), with some other materials found at The Indiana Historical Society’s Glick Center, and still more being hinted of as being located in the Indianapolis Museum of Art Archives at Newfields. In addition to material about the school itself, of course, and its associated parent organization, there is a coterie of personalities associated with its hundred-plus year history, many of which have their own personal collections in the archives. 

The Tinker House, site of the original Heron School of Art

One of these personalities, who I have investigated at a bit in detail, was an artist, photographer, and amateur architect named Rembrandt T. Steele, son of well-known Indiana painter T. C. Steele. It turns out that when the Art Association of Indianapolis, which was organized in 1883, decided to form a school with the monies left to it by local businessman John Herron, they looked to the Steele family for inspiration. The organization purchased the artist’s former house and studio property, known as the Tinker-house, just northeast of the intersection of Pennsylvania and 16th streets, and transformed it into an art school. This was in 1902. 

They also made ‘Brandt’ Steele, one of the first faculty members of the new school to be opened in the former residence. A galley was to be opened as well, and the property was much renovated to accommodate it’s new functions. It probably didn’t hurt his career that Brandt’s father was the vice president of the Art Association.

The standard curriculum was to practice art intensively, “six hours daily, six days in a week.” Steele was assigned to teach design daily in a class listed as, “Modern ornament. The study of nature and its application to design.”

1902 Circular

A note on the back of the circular notes that “the annual membership fee to the art association is five dollars,” and that when “both parents are members” it entitles children to attend all lectures and receptions given by the Association.

Brandt Steele House In Woodruff Place Indianapolis

There were other items of interest about Steele the younger in the archives as well, along with his immediate family. Not only was Brandy a successful ceramicist, but he also designed his own home from scratch, one of the more distinctive properties in the city dating to the turn of the century, still standing on East Drive, in Woodruff place. Steele was an avid photographer, so there are large collections of his photographs in the archive. With none of them digitized, however, their contents only hinted at by the available finding aids.

In addition to Brandt’s drawings and papers, the archives also contain many writings and drawings attributed to his wife, Helen McKay Steele, including essays, letters, and most intriguing of all diaries. Helen was the daughter of a local newspaper magnate, and an accomplished writer, making her letters a pleasure to peruse.

Taken together the archival collection of the two personalities offers insightful and personal first hand views into Midwestern urban life during the Victorian Era. Early letters between them reference the Spanish-American War, and photos show that Brandt joined the Indiana Militia later, during the First World War. 

Page from letter of Hellen McKay Steele to Brandt, dated May 14 1898

6 P.M. Sunday —

Been over to corner of Meridian and 5th to see regiment go by. It was very quiet and solemn but I cant see anything with normal eyes while you are sick. I wanted to call and perhaps get a glimpse of you earlier but mamma thought better not — I do hope this messy note will not be delayed

Hellen McKay Steele to Brandt Steele: May 14, 1898.
Indiana Historical Society.

Hellen Elizabeth died in 1947, while Brandt died in 1965 at the generously old age of 95. Both are buried together in the famous local landmark, Crown Hill Cemetery. Together they lived through two world wars, a pandemic, and a great depression, while Brandt survived his wife well into the Cold War. I am looking forward to looking deeper into their joint histories, as well as those of the Art School and Association, with a view to recreating some of the elements of upper class life in downtown Indianapolis during the turn of the last century. Wish me luck!