John Ringling Towers Award for Literary Arts
Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press
Copyright 2011 Justin Spring
Library of Congress Control Number: 2011905144
ISBN#: Soft Cover 978-0-9717374-9-5
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Sarasota Poetry Theatre Press
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Spring, Justin, 1939-
Alice Hickey: Between Worlds/by Justin Spring
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Here’s what readers are saying about Alice Hickey:
“Few books allow us to really feel what encounters with the psychic world are like. Castaneda comes to mind, of course, and that is his enduring gift to us. Here is a book that has that same power, but it is not set in the austere Sonora desert, but the nutty, everyday world of poet Justin Spring who brings us smack into his humpty-dumpty world of supermarkets, intuitives, treasure hunters, bars, poets, preachers, Starbucks, pawnshops, drunks and dopers as he travels between Florida, Sedona, California, Mexico, Panama, and the Florida Keys trying to make sense of a series of psychic events triggered by a mysterious encounter with psychic Alice Hickey. This is a book you won’t want to put down. It is visionary in its scope and devilish in its pace.”
Poet, Dancer, Artist, Mystic
“This is a book that masterfully crisscrosses reality and fantasy until they blur into each other completely. I would say the same for the writer and for most of the characters portrayed, including myself. Maybe especially myself. It is a book that shuttles back and forth from head to heart, never missing a beat. Welcome to the world of the mystical. It is no more or less crazy and funny and engaging than the world we call real life.”
Performance Artist, Author, Intuitive
This book would never have been possible without the aid of Jane Washington, Joan Adley, and Diane Randall, not only for their insights as intuitives, but also for advising me on the early manuscripts and, of course, Alice Hickey, without whom this book would still be turning itself over and over in the halls of my mind. My special thanks to Diane for guiding me through the intricacies of psychic dreaming and to Scylla Liscombe for guiding me through the small but formidable forest of Alice’s poetry. I also want to thank Shaw Waltz for her tough-minded criticism on just about everything, writer Barbara Smith for her constant support and encouragement, and finally, Jan Dorsett, my scrupulous editor, for mercilessly slapping my prose whenever it wandered.
Table of Contents
ALICE HICKEY 1
The psychic world, the Other World, the world of the collective unconscious, the soul’s world, is real. It is continually visiting us whether we want it to or not. The central problem for us, as modern humans, is we’re not quite sure who, or what, is visiting us. Or why. We don’t have the ready answers our forefathers did.
Nor did I. I was totally unprepared for what happened to me in March 2000, when an elderly woman—a complete stranger—approached me and did something so incomprehensible it completely upended my rational worldview.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, that incomprehensible event triggered others. Inexplicable things started happening to me that were not of this world. As disturbed and bewildered as I was by these psychic intrusions, the poet in me decided to let what was happening unfold of its own accord—as if it were a poem insinuating itself into the landscape of my mind.
I also decided to record what was happening in somewhat the same way by giving the Muse her head, which accounts for the somewhat serpentine movement of this book. It is movement of which I have become very fond.
If those psychic intrusions had been the end of it, I probably would have gone about my life pretty much as before, but with an increased awareness of how mysterious our lives really are. That was not to be the case, however, because nine months after those events a long, enigmatic poem that was completely beyond my understanding suddenly came to me.
I couldn't get a grip on it until I realized it was a myth, although I was at a loss to say exactly what kind of myth. What’s more, I couldn’t even rightly call it a myth; after all, time is the great arbiter in that. All I can say is that it felt like a myth. As I began to unwind its skein over the years, it indeed seemed to have many of the characteristics of our ancient myths. Here is an excellent summation of those characteristics by author Robert T. Mason in The Divine Serpent in Myth and Legend:
“Myths are stories, usual y, about gods and other supernatural beings. They are often stories of origins, how the world and everything in it came to be in illo tempore [Eliade]. They are usually strongly structured and their meaning is only discerned by linguistic analysis [Levi-Strauss]. Sometimes they are public dreams, which, like private dreams, emerge from the unconscious mind; they more often reveal archetypes of the collective unconscious [Jung]. Myths are symbolic and metaphorical, and they orient people to the metaphysical dimension, explain the 2 ALICE HICKEY
origins and nature of the cosmos, and on a psychological plane, address themselves to the innermost depths of the human psyche.”
The myth, which I called The Witnesses Log, had those same qualities, and spoke of the same things, so it was clear to me it wasn’t just a lot of tasty, unconscious gibberish. Yet we may have a difficult time accepting one of the things The Witnesses Log says—that very early humans had a much different consciousness than ours, one that was in constant interplay with the psychic world.
We see our current rational, self-reflective consciousness as one in which our making sense of the world has become self-powered, needing only the physical world and the application of reason as necessary for knowing.
But that is an illusion. That other, older way of knowing is still there beneath the veneer of our modern consciousness, and it is as strong and as vibrant as ever.
Jung has taught us that, as have many thinkers before and after him. Our greatest poets have taught us its power as well, but in a more fundamental, more intuitive way, as poetry must.
Unfortunately, we have lost our taste for poetry because we have lost sight of the soul, and with it we have also lost sight of the fundamental role of poetry: it is the way that the soul, the unconscious, the unknowable, speaks to us. And here's the really mysterious part—it's the way we speak back.
Poetry holds a special place in the pantheon of arts. It is the primal seed from which all our other arts have come. Poetry, in its initial tribal form, was a full-blooded, communal oral poetry that contained other primal forms (mask, movement, mime, music, song) that eventually developed into the separate arts we have today: It is not only the most human of our arts, it is also the mother of those arts.
It has been my experience, moreover, that when we allow ourselves to surrender to something like that early, primal form of poetry—a form of poetry that was an integral part of our early consciousness—it will speak to us in a way like no other.
In short, it will speak to us the way poetry should.
Poetry gives us a way of knowing that bypasses the traps of the rational mind and strikes “zero at the bone.” It gives us a transcendent way of knowing that allows us to feel truths that are beyond logic: Death is Life. Love is Pain. More than anything, this older way of knowing tells us we are not a cosmic accident.
It is a way of knowing that has nothing to do with logic and facts, but everything to do with the intimations of the soul, with the transcendent feelings that are continually visiting us through poetry, continually whispering: We belong.
ALICE HICKEY 3
There is something else I’d like to say about this book: it wouldn’t have gone anywhere if I hadn’t created it communally. I don’t mean it was written with others; there was no need for that. I knew how to write, and I could sense the story was going to have the energy of a poem—a long extended narrative poem—
and that I was the one who was supposed to write it.
What I needed, though, was psychic guidance. I knew something extraordinary was taking place, something not of this world. As fate would have it, I was able to obtain help initially from three friends who were gifted intuitives: Joan Adley, Jane Washington, and Diane Randall. All it took was a few words and they gathered around me like dancers in a play. And then, some four years later, the stranger reappeared, and as Jung would say, completed the quarternity. She was the fourth, final dancer, and she was just in time. I was in desperate need of the kind of guidance only she could supply.
I’m not embarrassed to admit that I often became so lost I had to rely almost entirely on their guidance—which they unfailingly supplied me with all the assurance of sleepwalkers. I can’t tell you how beautiful and unusual those experiences were. You might say I had many Muses this time and not just the one I ordinarily rely on.
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Chapter 1: Alice Hickey
March 2000, Sarasota
The first time I saw Alice Hickey I didn’t know she was Alice Hickey. She was just a bony, gray-haired old woman rummaging through the same large bin of tomatoes. You’d remember her though. She was a type. Twenty-five years ago, you’d see women like Alice on a regular basis—women who’d been living here long before the palmetto scrub was paved over with malls. Crackers would be the correct description. They’d drift into town late Friday night from the farms and ranches for groceries, and they were all business. Just like Alice: long, straight hair, weathered face, bony hands, don’t talk to me.
I was about to give up on finding anything that even resembled a ripe tomato when a voice inside my head whispered, “Blood Eggs. ” For some reason, I don’t know why, I looked up at the old woman. I never got past her eyes. They were almost colorless, like high, thin air. I couldn’t stop looking at them. It was like she was looking right through me—or I was looking right through her, I couldn’t tell which, but the effect was unnerving. I tried to look away, but she stepped closer and whispered, “You haven’t found anything, have you?” To which I stammered back something like, “No, I haven’t.”
No sooner had I said it than her face seemed to simplify itself—that’s the best way I can describe it—and then her eyes seemed to get larger, and then I heard a voice inside my head say very clearly, “Not yet. ”
Right then my mind stopped. I instinctively knew the voice was not of this world.
There was no thinking involved in coming to that realization. I simply knew.
Then, suddenly, I was myself again, looking at an old, bony woman who kept asking me, “Are you OK?” as if I had just stumbled, or slipped. I nodded yes, or at least I think I did, but before I could say anything else she strolled out of the market as if nothing had happened. That was the last time I saw her until four years later when Diane Randall called and told me someone by the name of Alice Hickey wanted to see me.
ALICE HICKEY 5
Chapter 2: A Visitor from Sedona
June 2000, Sarasota
I would have liked to dismiss what had happened at the market as some kind of neural short circuit, but I couldn’t. Although I don’t consider myself particularly psychic, I am familiar with psychic voices. My own come to me in times of stress or high creativity. I view them as guides, interior companions. This voice, though, was not a companion’s voice. It was a psychic voice of an entirely different order.
I had immediately felt its authority, its truth, and had instinctively bent to it, Yet I couldn’t help thinking—as crazy as it sounds—that it had somehow come from the old woman, which was impossible. How could she have spoken to me from inside my mind? Supposedly only aliens can do that, and she was anything but that.
The only explanation that made any sense at all was that the old woman had somehow triggered, or caused the voice to erupt in my head, but that was just a stab in the dark. There was nothing in my experience that could explain what had happened.
To add to my mystification, I didn’t have the slightest idea what, “Not yet. ”
meant. I knew it wasn’t about the tomatoes. It had to have been about something else, but what?
I knew if I hoped to get any inkling as to what was going on, it would probably have to be through a state of heightened awareness. Joan Adley, a fellow poet and frequent collaborator, was visiting me from Sedona. She was also extremely psychic, so I asked her if she’d like to join me in a few sessions of heightened awareness and the answer was, of course, yes, when do we start? I’ve always liked working with Joan. We have a friendship that’s deep and very easy. There is a stillness about her that puts me immediately at ease. Our feelings on most matters are so similar there’s generally very little need to talk them out. Our everyday conversations, when they do occur, usually consist of a few short thoughts about art and then, every once in a while, these funny little riffs that seem to come out of nowhere. Wicked is the only word for them.
I began seeing Joan’s spirit face over the days we spent together. I had seen it before, but now it was quite vivid, usually appearing when we were lying in the dark: her spirit face would hover just above her real face. It always had a blue-gray luminous cast to it. I discovered Joan had two spirit faces: a kitten, which fits her playful, feline personality, and then she had another face—a face with no features. Nothing. No matter how much I stared at it, I could never get past that blank, amorphous surface.
6 ALICE HICKEY
It was an uneasy experience. Sometimes I got the sense that there was nothing behind it, and by nothing, I don’t mean the “idea” of nothing , but nothing itself: non-existence. If you want some idea, try to feel what nothing, what
non-existence is. The mind crumbles before it. Whenever I tried to look deeply into that numb, unyielding face, I could feel my entire being resisting. Something in me didn’t want to go there. Ever.
I mentioned the face only once to Joan. She listened somewhat impatiently and said nothing. I never brought it up again. The only thing I was ever able to conclude about the face is that it had something to do with her uncanny ability to empty herself and acquire, or absorb, the feelings of others, to be a sort of psychic tabula rasa. That ability is so acute it’s literally impossible for her to not feel what you feel, even if she doesn’t want to. Sometimes, in intense situations, you can see those emotions rippling across her face in a tangle of shadows: fear, love, laughter, pain, surprise, sorrow.
Those empathetic powers have also made her extraordinarily sensitive to the Stream , as she calls the psychic world, and once she hooks into it, all kinds of things happen creatively. I would say that Joan has a predilection, almost an addiction, for latching onto creative energy of any kind. Some of the most original, creative things I’ve done—complete artistic shifts—have been the result of simply being with her and somehow slipping into the Stream with her. There are no outward signs when the time is right. It just happens. I’ve learned over the years to be attentive and surrender to it immediately.
You might think that kind of intimacy and closeness would be reflected in our personal lives, but Joan and I had a long history of being close and then pulling apart and then coming together again. At a younger age, I might have been disturbed by those cycles, but I was at a time in my life where I had long ago accepted that what I had with Joan was probably how it was going to be.
I like collaborating with women creatively, and have had long, fruitful artistic relationships with several talented women. But my personal life with women has been less successful. I had to go through two marriages to good women before I realized I simply didn’t have what it takes to make a marriage work. I was too self-centered, childish, independent, mean-spirited, opinionated, angry, you name it. My second wife said it best: “You look friendly, but you’re not. You fool people.” I think if you blend that remark with my earlier idyllic portrait of Joan and me, you’ll have a better sense of how Joan and I actually fit together. I can assure you it is a very complicated Garden.
Some time ago, I recorded a conversation with her about the Stream. Joan can be extremely chatty, but getting her to explain psychic things in detail is like pulling teeth. She is the most miserly transmitter of psychic information I have ever met.
She doesn’t think or see anything. She feels it with her body. She will tell you, for
ALICE HICKEY 7
example, that surrendering to the Stream comes as a physical experience, not a visual, or verbal one: whatever message she gives you is based on that feeling. So if you try to dig deeper, you immediately hit her body and that’s the end of the game.
I asked her once if she could tell me more about what she meant when she said the Stream is “female creative energy,” and she said, “I can’t tell you any more than that. I just know what the Stream feels like, and it feels like female creative energy to me.”
“What does the Stream look like?” I asked.
“I don’t know; I can’t see it,” she said. “I only feel it.”
“Well, what does it feel like then?”
“Like a presence.”
“What kind of presence?”
“ But what does that feel like?”
“Like an orgasm. But slower.”
“Does it move toward the light?”
“Does it move toward anything else?”
“The dark, but not as strongly.”
“What else does it move toward?”
“Everything. It’s the energy of Creation.”
“How do you find it?”
“I don’t. It finds me.”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you do when it finds you?”
“I surrender to it.”
“What happens then?”
One full moon night, I could feel something was about to happen. I was alone; Joan had left for a few days to visit friends. Around midnight, I don’t know why, I went into my bathroom to look in the mirror, a favorite technique of mine for seeing spirit faces. You have to stay a certain distance from the mirror. It’s about the distance in conversation where you begin to get uncomfortable if the other person moves any closer. You can move in and out and watch it appear and disappear. Joan says mine looks like a pig. I’m sure she’s right, but I’ve never seen it. I told her I must save it just for her and she laughed. It was one of those laughs that said: You’ll see.
8 ALICE HICKEY
She was right. When I looked in the mirror I saw something I wasn’t expecting.
Staring back at me was an ancient, numinous figure with long, gray hair. He was wearing a coarse, simple robe and was bathed in a gray, dusty light, almost as if he had been accumulating the dust of centuries. My first instinct was that he was an ancestor, a Celt. Then the word messenger came to mind; and right behind it the pale eyes of the old woman at the bin. I kept looking at the figure in the mirror. He didn’t move an inch, just stood there looking back at me. I could feel an incredible sadness about him, a burden.
This happened three evenings in a row. After the second evening I tried to make sense of what was happening. Later, when I tried to picture what the figure had looked like, I realized he had no mouth, something I had somehow accepted as normal. I also remembered there was something about his nose that I had also somehow accepted as normal, and then it came to me: his nose had been shaped something like a boar’s snout. I immediately thought of Joan’s comment about my piggy face, but this piggy face had nothing to do with my greedy little bouts of selfishness. This was a survivor’s face.
One last thing: on the third evening, as I stared at the figure in the mirror, I heard a voice inside my head say, “Witness.” The voice was clear and flat, without any particular inflection, but it wasn’t the voice of the figure in the mirror. It was another voice: a knowing, clarifying one. I hear voices like that frequently, usually when I’m in a highly creative state. They seem to come from a deeper part of me. But I had no idea what “Witness” meant.
Was it a command, or a description? I couldn’t tell. Was the figure a witness to some ancient horror? Why did he have no mouth? And why had he come to me?
Or was the figure a reflection of the inner me? Or did “Witness” mean something else? Did it mean I should bear witness to the figure? Was I supposed to tell others about him? But what? Tell them that an apparition of an ancient figure with a boar’s snout and no mouth had appeared to me in my bathroom mirror?
When I told Joan about all this and asked her what it meant, something like wonder and then regret rippled across her face.
“It’s about a birth,” she said.
“What kind of birth?” I asked.
“Yours,” she said.
“But what kind of rebirth and why me?”
“I don’t know that. All I know is it’s yours and it’s a rebirth.”
“What about the piggy nose?” I quipped, hoping that her sense of humor would loosen her up.
“That’s yours too,” she laughed, “just like the birth.”
ALICE HICKEY 9
Chapter 3: The Witnesses Log
December 2000-January 2001, Santa Monica, California
Joan called at the end of November. She was depressed. She had just moved from Sedona to Santa Monica. She was lonely, needed company, and besides, I’d like it there she said, the apartment was only a few blocks from the beach. Why didn’t I fly out? It sounded inviting. I needed some time out anyway. My head was still spinning from the figure in the mirror, not to mention the old woman at the tomato bin.
There were times I thought the message, “Not yet.” referred to the figure in the mirror that had appeared shortly afterwards, but even that didn’t make much sense. For one thing, I hadn’t been looking for him, and even when he appeared it only served to raise more questions. I needed some time out. It was possible Joan might be able to help me figure out what was going on. A few days later I was on my way to Los Angeles.
I was in an up mood when I arrived. The change of scene felt good. I had friends in Los Angeles I hadn’t seen for years, and besides, I’ve always liked California.
When I last visited in the seventies it felt new: open, independent, full of energy.
When I saw Joan, however, I knew something was wrong. I could see a weariness and confusion. Her guides were not being kind to her. They were shifting her from place to place faster than she could handle it: from Sarasota to Sedona to Santa Monica, all in the space of a few years, and although I didn’t know it at the time, she would soon pull up stakes again and move to a small town in Sonora, in Mexico, without knowing a word of Spanish.
Our routine soon settled down to Joan staying in bed until noon and me going for long walks in the park overlooking the beach, breathing in the bright sun and cold, damp Pacific air and then joining her for a late lunch at one of the little eating places on Montana. Then I’d usually drop her off at the apartment and go walking again through the neighborhoods. I never tired of looking at the beautiful, old homes; there was something magical about them: the bright flowers, the perfect green gardens.
One night, after Joan had gone to bed, I pulled up my web page to see if any new poems had been posted. I had read three or four new entries when a short poem suddenly came to me. I entered it. It seemed abstract, at least for me. A second poem followed immediately, then another and another, until I had entered a total of twelve short, abstract poems that somehow seemed oddly personal. They didn’t look anything like my normal written poetry, which tends to meander in a chatty kind of way, like a man with too much on his mind.
10 ALICE HICKEY
But these poems were short, almost telegraphic. Nor did I understand why such a collection had chosen to come to me in writing, as I had all but given up the writing of poems in favor of spontaneous oral composition. And then there was the deliberate way they arrived: perfectly complete, one after the other. Like eggs in a carton. As I looked at the poems, I realized they made up a myth of some sort, and then the title simply popped into my head: Witnesses Log, and then, right behind it, like a bell in the night, the ancient figure in the mirror. Something unbelievable was unfolding right in front of me but I didn’t know what. I was too close to see.
The next morning I told Joan what had happened and showed her the twelve poems. In the past, she always seemed to understand what was happening when my work took a strange turn, but this time she seemed confused. I realized her depression was deepening. She wouldn’t be able to help, not now. I’d have to wait. I wanted to correct some misspellings and grammatical errors in my entries, but because of the way my web page works, I had to completely re-enter the twelve poems. When I did, they changed all by themselves, some very slightly, some dramatically. I had no choice in the matter. All I can say is that they wanted to clarify themselves—become more beautiful—more true—and I let it happen.
The two versions are still there on our web page, locked in time, circling each other. Like twin stars.
By this time, it was clear to me that not only was something unusual happening, but also that the poems made up some kind of creation myth. I became restless and began searching for an explanation—looking for some ancient myth that might roughly parallel this one—but I could never find one that even came close.
I was up against a wall. One thing was for sure: I knew that the myth had come to me on the web for a reason. I didn’t know what that reason was, but I knew it wasn’t an accident that I had entered it there.
I remember having the distinct sense, right after I had entered the poems, that they were supposed to be shared, and then a word had appeared in my head: sacrifice. I took it to mean the poems were supposed to be cannibalized, pulled apart, used by others to create their own myths. I put a message on our web page next to the myth asking anyone who wanted to use it in this way to follow certain conventions so I’d be able to detect their entries.
A few days later, I began to get the feeling that the myth should have an oral form as well. That didn’t surprise me. For a number of years, I had been attempting to create poems by speaking them as they came to me, and had become proficient at it. But in this case, there were a number of problems associated with creating a speaking, which is what I had come to call these spontaneous oral poems.
I never create a speaking with any preconception of what I am about to do. I like to operate the same way all preliterate poets did, by simply surrendering to
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whatever the Muse has in mind. Think of it as something like the artistic version of Zen no mind. The only way I could see of getting around this dilemma was by trying to forget the written version as much as was humanly possible and see what happened. Then I began listening to some of the hundreds of music tracks I carry with me, hoping one would strike a chord and suggest a beginning.
One did: a track given to me by Bruce Baughman and Chris Sittel, two Sarasota artists. The track contained what I like to call industrial music: discordant, percussive, driving. It’s something I wouldn’t normally use, but it kept calling me.
I asked Joan to join me because her empathetic powers make her a wonderful antiphonal responder. We tried thirteen times, but none of them took. Either the written version kept coming back to me and spoiling it, or the music was too discordant, or Joan wasn’t able to catch fire and the whole thing would wind down like a spent music box.
Maybe I was trying too hard. I decided to get out of the apartment for a while and asked Joan if she’d like to take a trip to Venice Beach, a few miles down the road.
We were wandering along the boardwalk when I heard a sound that went right through me. It was a guitar of some kind, but with an unearthly sound. I pushed my way through to the sound and there in front of me was a slim, long-haired, street musician strumming a Fender electric in one hand and what looked like an Indian sitar in the other.
There were several CDs on the table. He said his name was Levi Chen. I asked him which CD had the song he was playing and I bought it immediately, along with several others. (“You can never be sure,” I kept saying to myself.) I told him how I’d like to use the music to help record a poem, a myth, that the music seemed perfect, and he said no problem, have at it. I returned to Venice several times after that, hoping I’d bump into him, but I never saw him again. Not once. It was almost as if he’d come down to the beach that day just for me.
I knew I had found the missing music; it was pure poetry. That evening I set up a mixer to bring in my voice and Joan’s along with the two pieces of music and hit start. The window opened and there was the Stream . Finally. The fourteenth speaking took without a hitch. Both Joan and I were astounded. The two pieces of music had fit perfectly together. What’s more, I had finally been able to reach down to the core of the myth, way past the written version, and let the oral version form on my lips like a visitor from another world. And somehow, Joan was able to momentarily rise out of her depression—you can hear it on the recording—and we created something that bordered on the miraculous.
We tried the next night and were successful again. This time Joan opened with a long soliloquy about awakening from a long, dark sleep that was so subtle and beautiful I still marvel at it to this day. We tried seven more times and finally gave up on the twenty-second try. Joan was clearly exhausted and I was close to 12 ALICE HICKEY
it. I realized the Stream had moved on and nothing more was going to happen.
Somewhere in my mind, I sensed there were supposed to be three oral versions of The Witnesses Log, but I realized it wasn’t going to happen in Los Angeles. I thought of Jane Washington, a poet and singer I worked with in Sarasota. Maybe she could do the third version, I said to myself, and that’s how it eventually worked out.
When Joan and I sat down the next night to listen to the two oral versions we had created, I was stunned. I always know when I have done something good. I can feel it. But speaking is such an unconscious process that my conscious memory of the event is always a bit vague. The recordings were overwhelming. Everything fit together beautifully. It seemed almost impossible. After we had listened to the recordings a few times, I looked at Joan and said, “Well, what do you think?”
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
“But what does it mean?” I asked. “What is it all about?”
She paused for a moment as if trying to capture something working its way through her body.
“It’s a Bible,” she said. “A new Bible: a Bible for our time.”
She was undoubtedly onto something, but I hadn’t the slightest idea where she was going with it. I wanted to know more.
“I don’t know any more than what I told you,” she said.
“What about the figure in the mirror,” I asked, “and the voice in my head that said
‘ Witness’ as I looked at him? They both have to be connected to the myth, right?
Why else would the myth have wanted to call itself The Witnesses Log? ”
“All I know is what I told you. Don’t be so piggy.”
ALICE HICKEY 13
Chapter 4: The Myth
December 2000-January 2001, Santa Monica, California
A Brief Summary of the Myth:
The myth’s primary contention is that we became human not when our skeletal structure changed, or we began to use fire, or tools, or logic, but when we began to create stories. When we became witnesses to creation.
The myth implies that all the things we have come to see as particularly human: tool-making, belief in God, knowledge of good and evil, logic, language, came out of this inexplicable and unprecedented change in our previously animal consciousness.
This change has never occurred again in any of the thousands of animal species we are aware of. We are the only animals that can say: This happened, or more spectacularly, Once upon a time.
Although we hold stories in small regard today, preferring the logic of science, the myth is very clear that it is our ability to witness— to observe, and to report—
that distinguishes us from the animals, indeed from the very animals we evolved from. This change from animal to human consciousness, according to the myth, occurred when we became aware of the Listeners, an invisible, unapproachable, felt presence we sensed as having an unknowable interest in our feelings.
The myth is very elusive, as a good myth should be, about the exact nature of our relationship with the Listeners. But it is very clear that it was our awareness of the
Listeners’ existence that brought about our sudden change in consciousness, a change that has absolutely no counterpart in all of evolutionary history.
Everything else, including the change from fins to fingers, is small potatoes.
The myth goes on to say that once we became Witnesses, we also became aware of a second metaphysical presence: the Visitors. Unlike the passive, unknowable
Listeners, whom we might think of as the truly unknowable, or the Gods before there were Gods, or perhaps our previous animal consciousness, the myth portrays the Visitors as continually coming into time: think of spirits, visions, angels, demons, aliens, poems, prophecies, intuitions.
The myth then goes on to say that the appearance of the Visitors caused a further development in the consciousness of some of the Witnesses: they became Dreamers, which is the myth’s term for those capable of directly witnessing the psychic world. Think of Black Elk, Buddha.
14 ALICE HICKEY
Early human consciousness was one in which all of these intelligences were in free interplay within our conscious and unconscious minds, if we can use Jungian terminology for a moment. You might say if you took off the top of the head of very early man, these are the players that would be inside. Essentially, these intelligences were in free float, constantly influencing one another.
That free-float was what allowed us to know the world by feeling it rather than logically explaining it. That ability is no longer with us, at least in the ancient sense. Rather it is buried beneath our current modern consciousness, where it has been receding since the advent of writing and all of its stepchildren.
The Witnesses Log
In the beginning,
there was nothing.
Only the sound
We were like moss
to the mountainside.
We were waiting
to be remembered.
for the sun.
ALICE HICKEY 15
When the Listeners came,
We became Witnesses.
We heard the Listeners
entering the darkness
in the valley
far beneath us.
We could feel them
the dark folds of light.
When the Visitors appeared,
some of us
No one knows why.
the Other World.
When we asked them
why they had come,
they looked down
at the darkness
in the valley
far beneath us
and then they went
to the top of the mountain
like dark stars,
16 ALICE HICKEY
The Dreamers travel
to the Other World.
They are sent
to places of darkness
and places of light.
When they come back,
they bring back pieces
of the Other World.
The pieces comfort us
when we are lost.
They speak to us.
One of the pieces
spoke to us
in a language
no one understood.
it sounded like blood,
The Dreamers said
that is what The Listeners
when they speak:
Like blood, or water.
No one knows how
to speak like that,
the Dreamers said.
No one knows how
like blood, or water.
ALICE HICKEY 17
has ever seen
The Visitors say
in the valley
far beneath us
is too dark to see.
But we know
they are there,
the dark folds of light.
We can feel them,
The Visitors say
they sound like water
moving into darkness
They hear us
when we’re crying
in the silence of our minds.
They hear us
just before we die.
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The Visitors say
we are bound
to the Listeners
No one knows that,
Not even us.
Some of the Visitors
have large flat eyes
like the tails of comets.
We can see them
in the corners
and the byways
of our minds,
The Dreamers say
the Visitors with large flat eyes
are useless to us,
that they have come
to kill us.
The other Visitors
If you ask them,
they will let you hold their eyes.
If you do,
you’ll see things
you can’t describe.
Not to anyone.
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know many things.
And so do we.
have been here
But they are wrong.
We were here
before the Listeners came.
When they came,
We became Witnesses.
entering the darkness
in the valley
far beneath us,
we could feel them
the dark folds of light.
This we know.
And this as well:
When we leave,
the Listeners leave.
20 ALICE HICKEY
The Visitors tell us
they will fade away
and then, in time,
come back again.
When will you come back,
When we are like
dark stars like fires
When will that be,
No one knows that,
The Visitors are fading now.
They are like memories
pressed against the glass.
Only the Dreamers
can hear them.
The Dreamers say
they sound like
soft, distant thunder
that is what
the Dreamers say:
they sound like
soft distant thunder
ALICE HICKEY 21
Chapter 5: Jane Washington
March 2001, Sarasota
Jane Washington has two striking physical characteristics. One is a shiny, blue/black complexion that seems to reflect every light in the room. The other is a body scent reminiscent of very strong peppermint. They grab your attention immediately and don’t let go. Let me put it to you this way: when you’re talking to Jane, your mind doesn’t wander unless she wants it to.
Jane had left Nigeria around age seven to live with an aunt in Phoenix. She said it had felt like she’d arrived in heaven, but after a few months she was sure she was living in hell, and I don’t think she was talking about the climate. Living in Phoenix, however, hadn’t put the slightest dent in the graceful, African lilt and sway of her voice. But that same lilt could instantly turn into a bark, because Jane walked a very straight line, and had little patience with those who didn’t. Like many of my friends, Jane was highly intuitive. But unlike Joan, who was vague, hard to pin down, Jane had very specific, very detailed visions. She was organized.
We had met years ago at an event in Newtown, the black section of Sarasota, where I was talking about the spontaneous oral composition of poems. She told me she had recognized my speakings for what they were as soon as she heard them. “They had that soulsound, even if they were the wrong color,” was her way of putting it. That was good enough for me. We began working together after that.
Few people really understand why I attach such significance to the spontaneous, oral creation of a poem. What’s the big deal, they ask, you write the poem, memorize it, and speak it. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the spontaneous spoken composition of a poem out of no mind. No forethought of any kind. Just load and go. There are no books around to tell you how to do that. What Homer and every preliterate poet did has been completely forgotten. You have to feel your way.
To give you some idea of the territory, let me just say that speaking in tongues is somewhat related to the art of speaking. If you want a finer feel for the nature of speaking, I would say that it lies about halfway between written poetry (as we know it today) and the act of speaking in tongues. That should give you some idea of the territory you have to traverse in order to speak.
The act of speaking bound Jane and me together. I had talked to others about speaking—and the Witnesses Log myth as well—but it was never easy. I didn’t care for some of the looks I’d get back. It made me very uncomfortable. That’s what happens when you travel too far from the mainstream. Jung says you hit a 22 ALICE HICKEY
very real wall of communal disapproval and are presented with a choice: either you rejoin the herd, because the isolation is too painful, or you take your chances and keep going. According to Jung, those who keep going do so because they sense they must honor what is happening to them, no matter what. In other words, it’s beyond reason. The way I finally saw it was this: to turn away would have been tantamount to suicide; I may as well have never been born.
As painful and as frightening as that path became at times, I was never really alone. Somehow, Jane always managed to appear in front of me or in back of me or on the telephone telling me it’s OK, what do they know, this is real, barking at me if I complained. I had learned early on that she had an unerring instinct as to where I should be going, which was towards the soulsound, as she called it, and if there was one thing she was determined to do, it was to keep me from straying from that sound, from becoming too conscious, too thinky in my art. She didn’t mind fighting with me about it either. But as soon as she blew up, she’d forget about it. After a while, I simply accepted our relationship as one that would always be smooth and nice then bumpity-bump. Anyway, that was the message I kept getting.
When I played the oral myths for her she had a mixed reaction. She thought they were going in the wrong direction, towards an emotionless, metaphysical poetry.
“All that talk,” is how she described it, and she was right, in a sense, but that wasn’t the point. These poems are important I told her. I agreed that the tone was distant, but there was also an extraordinary longing that balanced it, and besides, that’s the way it’s supposed to sound . I went on and on. It didn’t help. She didn’t like the sound. It was too dark, too cold, too thin, too grim, too thinky. “It’s a backwater,” she said. “It’s from Joan. Get rid of it.”