When I told Jane about Joan’s comments on the boar-faced man in the mirror, that he symbolized my rebirth, she looked at me as if I had just accepted two nickels for a quarter. “It’s not a re-birth,” she said. “It’s an honoring, a reconnection.
“But aren’t they the same thing?” I asked.
“Not where I come from,” she snapped. “Where I come from you squat to give birth.”
To make matters worse, Jane kept repeating she didn’t really know if she could do a third oral version—that she and Joan were too different in terms of sound and approach—that it didn’t make any sense. I kept telling her I was aware of that, but she could do the responding in any manner that felt right to her and she finally, reluctantly, said OK, she would do it. Then she told me she was going to speak it, not sing it, and that she didn’t want me to use her name on the CD. “Use some other name,” she said. “I don’t care what it is; make it up.”
We had to try several times before a new version of the myth finally formed itself.
ALICE HICKEY 23
As I had expected, it had a completely new sound and dramatic approach. Jane’s version illustrated perfectly how ancient oral myths were created. Preliterate myths weren’t remembered verbatim, as many scholars would have us believe, but were recreated virtually from the ground up out of story-telling memory.
What’s more, certain elements were deemed sacred and remained constant, while others changed with the poet and time. This is exactly what happened with the third version created with Jane. In many respects, Jane’s version was similar to the first two, but it had substantial differences in tone and approach. The totality of all the versions was the real myth, which was what I wanted to create and others to feel: how mysteriously alive myths are in their native, oral form. I was happy. I had somehow produced the three oral versions and one written version I instinctively felt were the final, correct way for the myth to be experienced by others. Don’t ask me why or how I knew this. I just did. I was very happy.
Jane, on the other hand, was happy and unhappy. I was prepared for a bit of heavy going. I asked her what she thought of the myth now that she had actually created one. She was again standoffish, mumbling I was going in the wrong direction. But I persisted and she struggled with something and then scribbled out on a nearby pad: “like a snake / like a bone beneath flesh / bare bones / cold poem.”
When I asked her to be more precise about what she had written, she became impatient, as if she were irked with me about something. Finally she blurted out,
“I keep seeing a skeleton whose bones are perfectly articulated,” she said.
“What kind of skeleton?” I asked.
“It’s human but not human.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“The bones seem alive, wet, glittery. I can’t explain it any other way,” she said.
“What did you mean when you said the myth is like a snake?”
“That’s the part of the bones that’s not human.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means the bones are special.”
“Flesh swims on them, becomes alive.”
“What flesh? “ I asked.
“The flesh of the other myths,” she said. “You know the ones: the myths where the hero walks through fire and survives, or talks to God and dies, those myths.
The Wrath of Achilles, Black Sambo.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I think I understand what you’re saying. You’re telling me this is the mother of all myths.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“But you meant it.”
“No I didn’t.”
“What did you mean then?”
24 ALICE HICKEY
“What I meant was what I said. The bones of this myth are special: the flesh of other myths swims on them. That’s all I know.”
She was right about the bones being special. They didn’t look like the bones of any myth I’ve ever seen. I told her how strange the myth seemed to me, that it was unlike anything else I had ever done, that it didn’t seem to have any roots in me. “I know,” she said. “I’ve been watching you. Think about this: maybe the poem isn’t yours. Maybe it belongs to somebody else; that’s why you can’t understand it.”
ALICE HICKEY 25
Chapter 6: Pinga Dentista
April 2001, Tavernier Key
I needed a change of scene. I called Pinga Dentista, an old friend in the Keys, told him I’d like to go snorkeling for a few days. “Sounds good,” he replied, “I haven’t been out of the house for a week.”
Pinga was an unlikely friend. His only real interest was diving for treasure, which consumed him. Like his 17th century counterparts, he was sure that somewhere just off the Keys, Spanish galleons laden with treasure were sailing along, waiting to be boarded—except, in Pinga’s case, the galleons were sailing very, very slowly far beneath the shifting sands.
Everything about him reflected his obsession with piracy and treasure, even his house. It was on the bay side of Tavernier and consisted of four old aluminum Airstream trailers arranged in a large X. Just above the X was a very large bed of flowers shaped like a skull. Unless you were in a plane, however, you couldn’t see the flowers nor make out the grand design of it all, because from the front driveway, it just looked like a graveyard of old Airstreams nosing each other.
It was only when you climbed up on the watchtower he had built that you saw the complete Skull and Crossbones. It was a beauty. Pinga may have been born 400
years too late, but he wasn’t budging an inch. “Estoy El Pirata” (I am The Pirate) was painted above his front door. Every morning and evening he would roll a joint, climb the watchtower, and scan the horizon for God knows what. It was quite an act. I loved it.
It didn’t stop there. Inside the house, treasure maps were all over the walls, along with NOAA charts of the Caribbean, side-band sonar strips, pictures of Mel Fisher, you name it. I told him once that we were in the same business, we were both dreamers, and he looked at me like I was nuts and then he disappeared somewhere behind his eyes and then he reappeared and said, “You could be right, Whitey, you could be right.”
That isn’t to say Pinga didn’t have substantial side interests, like cheap strip bars and smoking good dope. But his real side interest was doing deals. It never stopped. It didn’t make any difference what the deal was as long as it made money with a minimum amount of effort. Pinga called it “low-hanging fruit.” He was addicted to it. One piece of low-hanging fruit he particularly liked was buying old, non-working cars from widows and reselling them to junkyards.
You wouldn’t think there would be any money in that, but there is if you don’t pay anything for the car, and there was no one better than Pinga in convincing a 26 ALICE HICKEY
grieving widow that letting him get rid of her late husband’s old, junky Buick was almost as good as going to heaven. The rest involved finding some high-school dropout who viewed twenty bucks as big money for towing the car a few miles.
Needless to say, the promise of some good smoke helped Pinga locate those particular gems.
What was really amazing about it was that Pinga never left his house. It was all done on the phone while he watched the soaps or NASCAR, take your pick. On any day there would be three or four old cars on his front lawn waiting to be towed away to the highest bidding junkyard. And believe it or not, the junkyards loved him. He knew cars, and he always delivered what he promised, and with the correct papers, even if he had to make the corrections himself. Never any hassle with Pinga. Yet for all his wheeling and dealing, he always left everyone feeling like a winner, a rare thing today. You couldn’t beat it. People just liked doing business with him. It was the best hall of mirrors I’d ever seen.
He also had an uncanny way of disappearing in photographs. I took some pictures of him one day when we were out diving with some of his buddies and they came out fine, except for his face, which was either blurred, or slipped, or unrecognizable. At first I thought it was just an accident—maybe he moved, or I did, or the camera screwed up—but after looking at maybe twenty or thirty pictures I had taken of him over the years, I realized I didn’t have any clear pictures of his face.
I have several of him posing as a pirate with my little grandson Kelby at the Gasparilla Festival in Tampa in which everything is crystal clear except for Pinga’s face. Either he looks like someone else or his face is turned or blurred or distorted. When I mentioned it to him one day all he would say was, “I don’t like pictures of me.”
“Why is that?” I asked, somewhat bewildered.
“I just don’t like pictures of me, that’s all.”
Very polite but that was the end of the conversation.
Ever since I had known him, Pinga had lived with his mother, Kiki. She was small, dark, like a crow, and looked just like him. She adored him. It didn’t bother her that most days he was stretched out on the couch watching the great, humming wheel of NASCAR on a TV screen that took up half the trailer. She didn’t even find it odd. I asked her once if Pinga watched anything else, ever.
“Why should he?” she answered, “It’s on twenty-four hours a day and he likes the goddamn crashes.” But then again, she had some strange habits herself. In all my years visiting Pinga, I never saw her lying down or resting. Her bedroom looked new, almost unused, like a furniture showroom. I remember getting up once in the middle of the night for a drink and seeing her sitting in the kitchen with a cigarette hanging from her lip, talking a blue streak to the microwave. I think it was Portuguese but I never asked.
ALICE HICKEY 27
Kiki had died suddenly in February. It was completely unexpected. Pinga seldom talked about her death; he was closed that way. But for some reason I could still feel her sharp, quick eyes. It was as if she were still with us in the living room, watching the great wheel of NASCAR, telling me what Pinga should do, something she often did when she was alive. “You think he’d listen to me, but he won’t; he’s too goddamn stubborn,” she used to say.
For sure she was with us the day Pinga began telling me about a long, complex treasure deal he was working on. “It’s a kind of barter deal,” he said, “but everything’s going to work out fine. It may take three or four years, but the guy’s OK; you can trust him.”
“You jerk,” I suddenly snapped, “he’s a goddamn crook. Wake up.” But it was so quick and dismissive I knew it wasn’t me talking. Pinga did too. At least I think he did. But just to make sure I said, “Hey, that wasn’t me. I don’t even know the guy you’re talking about. To tell you the truth, I think it was your mother. Or maybe it was my mother,” I added, knowing he was sensitive about me bringing up his mother. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. He knew who it was.
It amused Pinga that I was a babe in the woods on almost everything that mattered: engines, cars, construction. Every once in while, I’d catch him smiling to himself, like he couldn’t believe something I’d just done. If it really amused him, he’d start hopping up and down on one leg like a four year old needing to take a leak. It was a sight because he couldn’t control it. Jane Washington didn’t know what to make of his hopping up and down when she first met him. One time, after he’d left, she blurted, “That man, you know what he is? He’s a little Eshu, that’s what we call them in Nigeria. He’d be an elf in your world, but a very tricky elf. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but that one is full of the devil.”
She was right. Pinga was always up to something. Always.
I remember being introduced to the devil in him right after I had met him. It was on a long sailing trip to Key West with several mutual friends, including a lifelong, treasure-diving friend of his, Angelo de Marza. Over the years they had become a sort of comedy team, with Angelo being the overweight, anxious bear and Pinga the small, cocky terrier. When one of them couldn’t come up with a punch line, they resorted to a lot of rapid, back and forth face slapping, which they found hilarious.
The act never stopped. On our trip down to the Keys from Sarasota, they had drawn the bleary midnight to dawn watch, and the idea of them alone on the deck yukking it up wasn’t exactly reassuring. The waters approaching the Keys were very tricky. Yet we somehow arrived at the correct channel marker just as the sun rose. God knows how they did it, because all I could hear from down below was a nightlong stream of laughing and face slapping.
28 ALICE HICKEY
After we docked, Angelo began jabbering at the Dockmaster for a better rate, while Pinga and I raced ahead to a nearby hotel to shower before heading out to Duval Street. Just as we were leaving the hotel, Angelo raced in, begging us to wait, that he didn’t want to miss anything. Pinga told him not to worry; he’d call to let him know where we were. Which he did, because as soon as we got to Captain Tony’s, he called Angelo to tell him we were waiting for him at the southern tip marker.
I couldn’t believe it. If you know Key West, you know Captain Tony’s and the marker are at opposite ends of the town. When he hung up the phone, Pinga began hopping up and down laughing. I told him Angelo would never find us. I remember Pinga’s words, “Oh he’ll find us, it’ll just take him a little longer,” and he started hopping up and down laughing again. We were back at the hotel hours later when Angelo burst into the room laughing and screaming at Pinga. The face slapping went on for hours.
So when Pinga suggested I go to Panama with him, it would be fun, I hesitated. I could see myself wandering around the dark barrios looking for him, so I put him off. But he kept building the trip up, telling me that there was a shallow wreck just off the enlisted men’s beach he wanted to scout—that it was only a few miles from Panama City.
It sounded interesting, but I was also aware he knew I had family in Panama City, family with connections in case things got tight, as they always did in the treasure business. The soup was getting a little too thick for me, so I told him, “OK, but not now, I’m all traveled out; we’ll go later this year. I have to get there eventually; there are some things I have to talk about with my aunt Mercedes.”
Indeed I did. Mercedes and I had been visiting each other regularly since the death of my mother. She and Mercedes had been very close as young women.
After my mother’s death, I kept getting intimations I should visit Mercedes—that there was something she was supposed to tell me. So I flew down to Panama. On that first visit, I didn’t know what to expect.
I hadn’t seen her since I was a young boy. Yet, despite the years, she was pretty much the same: funny, stylish, and shrewd as ever— maybe too shrewd, as my mother was fond of saying.
The other thing that struck me, but perhaps it shouldn’t have, was Mercedes’
house, which I had never seen. It was right out of Dickens: very elaborate outside, in the old Latin tradition, with a courtyard and gardens, but inside it was dark and cramped and cold, like a cave. Here is a poem from that first visit:
ALICE HICKEY 29
August 13, Lunch, The Courtyard
By noon, the din in the courtyard
has become unbearable, like an opera
composed entirely of arias. Today,
there is Mercedes' repeated,
whimsical complaint that the parrot
no longer knows Spanish: No more
Amor y Sangre, she claims,
only the melodies
the Indian maid coos through the bars.
By now, that aria has become permanently engraved
on my cortex. As soon as lunch is finished,
I make my excuses: I must write, go to my room, I say.
But it is nice in the garden, you could write here, no?
No, I say, I need my papers, my books.
But it's the dark I need,
the dark, curio-filled room
where I go every day to lie down
and listen to the sound of my own breathing,
as if each exhalation were keeping the room
from crawling across the floor with its
hundreds of silver-framed pictures and dishes
and crosses of palm and the pink elephant soaps
and the six broken telephones, because
I am living in a midden
bristling with someone else's life.
are slowly making room for me. Little
by little, I have carved niches
for my things. There is space now
for my books, for Dubie, and Stern.
And my journal. And the small radio
that bleeds love songs all night.
That will give you some idea of what it was like living within Mercedes’ orbit.
She was quite a package. By all appearances, she was every bit the au courant society matron: designer clothes, expensive shoes, winters in Vail. She ran a bit deeper than that, though. I’d discovered as a very young boy she could do things like look into the future—and very accurately I might add.
I told Pinga I wanted to hold off visiting for a bit. “Panama’s not so nice since the Army left,” I told him. “I’ve just been down there. Everyone’s broke. And hungry. The only safe place to stay is the new city, and we don’t have enough money for that. We’d have to stay downtown, near the barrios, probably at the Covadonga. ”
30 ALICE HICKEY
He knew I was afraid of the area around there. “Stop worrying,” he said.
“Somebody jumps you, you bite their ear off.” I laughed. Sure. “Hey, I’m not kidding,” he snapped back, “You bite their ear off. Or rip it off. You rip from the back forward. It comes right off, like a shingle.” I laughed again, but I knew he was telling the truth. I could tell. “Listen,” he says, “When I was in the army, some fat fuck cold-cocked me for being a spic. I was just a kid. All of a sudden I was on his neck biting his ear off.”
“What happened?” I asked.
“It came off,” he said. “He went crazy, crying like a baby, holding his ear up,
‘You bit my ear off, you bit my ear off,’ but he never went near me again. Hey, it’s easy. Let me show you,” he said and he grabbed my ear. I bolted away screaming laughing scared (I never knew if he was kidding or not). He loved it.
He was hopping up and down. He told me he couldn’t believe my expression.
Sometimes he’d tell me stories so strange and yet so plausible I had no idea what to make of them. I had told him about my grandparents coming from Ireland in the late nineteenth century, and he’d said his were Portuguese, that they’d come from the Azores. “They had been goldsmiths for years. Specialists. They had a shop on the waterfront where they bought gold teeth and melted them down.
People would bring them teeth from all over. They never asked questions,” he said. “It was just a business as far as they were concerned.”
He told me his grandparents started it up again when they came to America and settled in Martha’s Vineyard. “Even my father and mother used do it, right here in Florida. But I never took it up. It wasn’t me.” He told me he still received teeth in the mail from relatives or friends addressed to Kiki. “Here, look,” he said, and he reached up and pulled out a small box filled with gold teeth. They were weird and beautiful. Some had emerald stars.
ALICE HICKEY 31
Chapter 7: Hallucinations
August 2001, Sarasota
I know some will see what had been happening to me as nothing more than a series of unfortunate hallucinations, which is our way of dealing with psychic events. I didn’t see them as hallucinations, though. They didn’t feel like products of a neurological or psychological disorder. If anything, they moved toward the light: there was a truth to them. After all, what distinguishes a psychic event from a hallucination is that sense of a felt truth. There may be a thin line between a psychic event and the neurological/psychological disturbances we should rightly call hallucinations, but it is a very real one.
In a psychic event, we always experience a felt truth, a truth that has an unmistakable authority. There is nothing deranged or confusing about it in the least. On the contrary, it is always deeply comforting, as our recognition of a truth always is. So I had no problem seeing them as psychic events, visitations from another reality. That was easy. By this time, I had long since given up believing that the only reality is that of the physical world. What I didn’t know was what the visitations meant.
It is ironic that in our enlightened culture, one so bound up in the principle of logical truth seeking, that we have been so sloppy in defining the nature of psychic events. The best place to see this is in our popular culture, because that is where that thinking takes imaginative form.
Our popular culture depicts the psychic world as consisting largely of demons that are constantly breaking into this world. Psychics find this laughable, because the psychic world consists of what can best be described as non-physical presences, or intelligences, or more simply put, intelligent feelings, not demons. Some of them may be horrific, as some of the events in our world are, but they are no more the norm than they are in our world.
What the Hollywood demon-driven view is really saying is that the psychic world is inherently dangerous—life threatening—which couldn't be further from the truth. After all, our great religions and spiritual insights are the result of psychic events. So why the demons? The demons pop up because our rational worldview is threatened by psychic events. After all, if the psychic world exists, our current worldview, which insists there is only this world, the world of physical events, would be seriously endangered. We’d be standing on quicksand.
A psychic is someone who has a unique sensitivity to psychic events as well as a unique ability to interpret them. Some of that interpretation is automatic, such as Diane Randall’s reflexive description of ghosts as “see-through people,” which is 32 ALICE HICKEY
how she sensed them as a child.
But much of what is sensed remains a feeling, or takes the form of metaphoric images or words, all of which can be difficult to interpret. A psychic’s interpretative skill can be all over the place. That fact was brought home to me by the intuitives I was working with. Not only did their sensitivity to the psychic realm vary, they each had completely different ways of interpreting their experiences. Jane was very precise but extremely terse. Diane Randall was more easy-going and informative in her descriptions. Joan, on the other hand, was as languid about psychic events as she was about everything. She didn't really like to go any further than describing her feelings, and seldom did. Over time, I became better at figuring out whom to approach about what. That was the real trick.
We often talk about the two “worlds,” but perhaps “realms” would be a better term when talking about psychic events, because “world” suggests a physical location. The fact of the matter is that no one knows where the psychic realm resides. It is invisible to us. It may be within us, a part of us, like our organs, or outside us, or both. No one can really say. More importantly—and here indeed is the rub—it cannot be controlled as our physical world can.
Nor is it a realm that can be easily viewed and objectively shared as we can events in this world, where a group of us can view and talk about a duck until we come to some kind of conclusion about the duck. What's more, and this is crucial, the psychic realm only becomes apparent to us when it chooses to. It is completely unpredictable. We have no say in the matter. So you can see why the psychic realm is science's worst nightmare: it is not of the jointly-observable physical world, which is the only world within which science can operate.
Recognizing that we have no control over the psychic realm whatsoever is crucial if we wish to understand its essential nature. Popular culture loves depicting psychics summoning the psychic world by drawing symbols and grunting and grimacing as if they're horribly constipated. The real truth, however, is that a psychic event occurs when the conscious mind is exceptionally still. Forget all that pentagram-drawing stuff.
This doesn't mean you have to sit like a guru in deep meditation for hours. The stillness doesn't have to last more than a second. Quality, not quantity, is what counts. The ability to access that stillness, by the way, is the main difference between psychic people and those of us who are not overtly psychic. Psychic events can happen to anyone; all it takes is an instant of the right kind of stillness and the crack between the two realms can open.
You might think I am one of those people who is overtly psychic. But I'm not.
Where I may differ is that I have never been closed to those who spoke to me about psychic events. I may not have been able to understand why or how those
ALICE HICKEY 33
events had logically occurred, but I never dismissed them out of hand.
I had no significant psychic experiences as a child or adult until the events surrounding the myth occurred. Why the psychic realm waited until I was sixty to make an appearance I have no idea. In the end, all I can say with any certainty is that the events happened. They were real.
I wouldn't be telling you the entire story, however, if I didn't tell you I had experienced a few fleeting psychic experiences five years before that, around age fifty-five. I didn't know what to think about them at the time.
The first occurred after I had read a review in The Whole Earth Catalog of a book, Journeys Out of Body. It was by a businessman, Robert Monroe, who had started to lift out of his body spontaneously, with absolutely no warning and no knowledge of psychic events. It was my first detailed introduction to the psychic world. A few years after reading it, I went to visit a non-profit psychic research center he had founded in Virginia Beach.
It was my first experience with people interested in psychic events. I was amazed at the range of interests. There were doctors and nurses interested in pain control, ordinary people who had been suddenly gripped by inexplicable visions, curiosity seekers like myself, and finally, a whole spectrum of those who were obviously psychic, some extraordinarily so.
I spent five days learning audio-feedback techniques for stilling the mind and opening myself to the psychic realm, but nothing extraordinary happened. I had a few vague time-traveling experiences, one of which turned out to be quite accurate, but was never able to do much more, including lift out of my body, which was what really interested me. Looking back on it now, it's clear I was trying too hard. I was grunting and grimacing if you will. I was lucky to have experienced what I did.
The second experience occurred a few years later, when I came across a small slim book in The Manatee County Library. I remember it had a dark scarlet cover, like many old books. It had been printed around 1900, and, because of that, used terminology from the spiritualist movement of that time (clairvoyance, astral projection, sensitive, and the like). It had a curious, comforting, small town flavor, having been written by an English country doctor, and was totally devoid of the hype that runs through much of our psychic literature today.
It consisted of ten or so straightforward recollections of psychic events reported to the doctor over the years. I trusted the book immediately. As I was lying in my bed reading it, or maybe not reading it, I started to lift out of my body. It was so unexpected I was seized with absolute fear. I don't know how, but somehow I managed to gain control of myself and the lifting suddenly went away. All I can 34 ALICE HICKEY
tell you is this: I was never the same. I have never been so scared. Shitless is the correct term.
As frightening as that experience was, what really shook me later was my realization that the page I had been reading had nothing to do with lifting out of body. I don't even know if I was reading anything at the time, perhaps just musing. What had happened then? What made me suddenly start to leave my body?
Something within me kept insisting against all logic that it was the book itself, the physical book, which was responsible. But how could that be? All I could figure out was that I must have entered one of those very still moments, just lying there, and somehow, something about the book had triggered my lifting out of body. But how? Then it came to me with an undeniable force. As unthinkable as it might be, the catalyst had to have been some form of psychic energy attached to the book itself. But that was clearly impossible. A book is a book: ink, paper, glue, nothing more.
Yet everything in me said that some form of psychic energy had been attached to the book by something—some reader, or the librarian, or the printer, or the person who made the ink, maybe even the country doctor, I had no idea. Once you enter the psychic realm, anything is possible—all the rules of time and space go completely out the window.
I may not have known the exact cause of my lifting out of body, but I had no doubt that the catalyst was the book. It shook all my ideas about time and space right there and then. So what did I do? I'll tell you what I did. I did what any right thinking logical person would do. I pushed it way back in my mind and tried to forget it.
Yet that event never went away completely. All I had to do was tilt my head a certain way and the whole impossible experience would come rushing back like a runaway train. I couldn't walk away from it. It kept telling me the world was different from what I had been taught. A psychiatrist, of course, would be tempted to say it was an unexpected, neurological short-circuit that caused me to hallucinate I was lifting out of body, but that is scientific mumbo jumbo.
Something extraordinary had happened. I had no idea it was just the beginning.
ALICE HICKEY 35
Chapter 8: The Red Light Bar
October 2001, Tavernier Key
Pinga had been bugging me for I don’t know how long about a bar he’d uncovered in south Miami. He’d go on and on about why I should visit it. The general spiel went something like this, “OK, it’s a dump, but listen, that’s not important, what’s important is it’s completely red inside, everything, even the lights, and everybody’s dressed in black suits like undertakers, and at three in the afternoon. Jesus, it’s like the goddamn Twilight Zone!” So I figured, why not?
We drove up US 1 towards Kendall and sure enough, there it was, just off the road to the right: The Red Light Bar. It was like stepping into a thick, pink, electric glow. At first, all I could make out was a fuzzy image of the red velour wallpaper and the red leather bar, and then a second or two later the glow sort of assembled itself into four or five white, pasty faces in cheap black suits staring at us like aliens.
They were one ugly, shit-faced bunch. “Let’s go. I don’t want any part of this,” I told Pinga, but he kept telling me there was more. “You’ll see, you’ll see,” he kept saying as he elbowed some space for us between two of the faces. He struck up a conversation with the guy next to him, but I didn’t even like looking at the one next to me. He looked like a corpse under the pink light. “We don’t let niggers in here,” he said to me, maybe as a declaration of principle, or maybe just to fuck with me. “C’mon, let’s go,” I kept motioning to Pinga, but he wasn’t going anywhere. He loved the place: “The Red Lights! The Suits!” he kept saying, like he couldn’t believe it.
So there I was, in Miami’s Last White Redoubt, surrounded by a bunch of piss-smell drunks in black suits . I needed some breathing room. I asked Pinga where the men’s room was and he motioned towards the other end of the bar, but when I got there I realized the bar was really just a room in an old house, because the bar room led to another room which led to another, like a dream. I finally came to a room that must have been the bedroom at one time, because over in the corner was the half-opened door to a private bath—a real gem from the fifties—
pink sink, pink toilet, pink tiles. A skinny, pimple-faced kid with an electroshock Mohawk was leaning against the sink smoking a huge joint. The underpaid stock boy, no doubt. A few bucks and we were fast friends. Me and my bud Travis.
As I floated back into the bar, I noticed a small woman at the end who looked remarkably like Kiki, those same dark, quick eyes, but she was very pale-skinned, with fine, white hair. I took her for the owner, the way she was going over the books with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other. She must have caught me looking at her, because she called me over and asked, “Did you find what you 36 ALICE HICKEY
were looking for?” I didn’t know whether she meant the joint, or Travis or the pink bathroom, so I figured I’d cover all my bases and muttered, “I think so.”
Right then she moved her face so close to mine I lost focus and then I heard a voice inside my head say to me very clearly, “No, not yet. ”
I froze. I remember thinking: This can’t be happening again, and then the world suddenly reassembled itself and I was myself again, staring at a very old woman who looked like she’d just woken up from a terrific bender. I knew that the voice I’d heard was not of this world, and yet—as impossible as it seems—I couldn’t shake the impression that the woman standing in front of me, like the one in the supermarket, had spoken to me inside my mind—or at the very least—somehow triggered the voice, made it happen—but again I was just grabbing at straws. The truth was I had absolutely no way of understanding why, or how, an extraordinary psychic voice had once again come out of the blue to tell me I wasn’t quite where I should be—and with almost the same words. Things like that just didn’t happen.
Not in this world.
I was beside myself. Terrified is more like it. “Excuse me,” I blurted out, “but how did you do that?”
She immediately became defensive, “Do what? Who the hell are you anyway?”
“Justin Spring. I’m Justin Spring.”
“Well, I’m Betty Hagan and I own this bar. Get some manners or get the hell out.”
I apologized for being so abrupt, which she acknowledged by grunting. Then I said to her, as politely as I could under the circumstances, “I just felt you—or something— speak to me from inside my mind; it said to me, ‘ No, not yet’. How did you do that?”
She looked down at her feet like an embarrassed child. “I don’t really know how it happens. It just does. And believe me, it wasn’t me that spoke to you. All I know is I hear a buzzing and then I go blank and something takes over. I can hear something like a voice but I can’t really make it out, it’s like in another room, you know. It’s been happening to me all my life. At first, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, I was just a kid, and then a few people told me what I had done and thanked me for helping them but I never really knew how except I always felt good after it happened, like the sun had just come out though I always got a little spittle in the corners of my mouth whenever I did it, because I’d see it in the mirror afterwards. I didn’t get any on you did I? What was it I said to you anyway, was it important?”
Jesus, what was going on? Had Pinga set the whole thing up? But how? It was simply impossible. What had just happened was as real as what had happened at the tomato bin. There was no doubt in my mind I was being guided—except I didn’t have the slightest idea why, or by what.
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I became very agitated. I told Pinga again I wanted to leave, but he was in no mood to go. He was into repeating himself, something that inevitably happens to him after three or four drinks. He kept pointing to the red tiles, the red wallpaper, the red leather seats, and asking me over and over, “So waddoyou think now? The fucking Red Light Bar!” He loved it. He would have gone on all afternoon if I hadn’t snapped his money off the bar.
On the way back to Tavernier, I asked him about the woman at the end of the bar, if she was a relative or sister of Kiki. “I don’t know,” he said, “She looks a little like Kiki, I noticed it too, I asked her once but she said, no, her name’s Hogan, something like that, anyway she’s Irish, not Portuguese, lived there all her life, right in that house. So what did I tell you, isn’t it too goddamn much? The Red Light Bar! The fucking Red Light Bar! And the suits! The goddamn black suits!”
If that wasn’t bad enough, a few miles outside Tavernier he starts shouting, “So whaddoyou think now, Whitey, so whaddoyou think now?” which is what he calls me when he sees I’m completely over my head. He had me. I didn’t know what to think. Not anymore.
38 ALICE HICKEY
Chapter 9: Speaking and the Psychic Roots of Poetry March 2002, Sarasota
Let me step back. I began this book with the old woman at the supermarket, but that was not the real beginning. The real beginning happened some months before, and I have only alluded to it. The real beginning occurred when I made my final breakthrough into the world of speaking. It was a momentous event, and a psychic event in every sense of the word.
I had been limping along for several years attempting to compose spontaneous oral poems, and then one day, a true speaking suddenly appeared on my lips and proceeded to complete itself of its own accord, just as a dream does. Right then, all my ideas about the nature of poetry changed. And so did I.
I realized much later on that it was also the lynchpin that had set everything in motion: the old woman at the tomato bin, the figure in the mirror, and finally the appearance of the myth itself. I am convinced that without that breakthrough into the world of speaking, none of those events would have occurred.
It may be difficult for some to imagine that the act of speaking could have such power. But when I was finally able to let go and truly speak, I knew I would never turn back— speaking poems was like charged quicksilver. I was in awe. I knew I had uncovered the mother of all poetry.
It had been a long journey. For some time, my attempts at speaking had remained
partly rooted in the familiar conscious world of written poetry and partly rooted in the unfamiliar unconscious world of oral poetry. I became a poetic Frankenstein of sorts. Friends—especially those who were poets—didn’t know what to make of my efforts. They’d listen, shake their heads, walk away.
I was still blind to the fact that everything required for the creation of a spontaneous oral poem was already within me, and that I had to completely abandon everything I consciously knew about written poetry before a true, unpremeditated oral poem could emerge. I didn’t realize that all I had to do was simply surrender to the instinct to Poetry and speaking would happen all by itself, just like gossip happens, but from the unconscious rather than the conscious self.
About the same time as I had begun my attempts at spontaneous oral composition, I had begun reading Julian Jaynes’ groundbreaking book on preliterate consciousness. I was intrigued by his description of that early consciousness, which, it seems, was much different from ours. Jaynes believed—based on a great deal of accumulated evidence—that early man existed in something like a state of natural meditation, a state that would suddenly change to a heightened
ALICE HICKEY 39
attentiveness when he experienced the internal, authoritative voices he took to be the voices of the Gods.
One of Jaynes’ revolutionary assertions is that those voices issued from a now defunct language facility in the right side of our brain, at least that is how he accounts for what seems to have been a real phenomenon, It may come as a surprise to some that our first consciousness was different from our current self-reflective consciousness. Yet, according to Jaynes and his successors, there is mounting evidence this was the case. Perhaps the simplest way to explain it is to say that early man was not self-reflective, or as Julian Jaynes says in The Origin Of Consciousness, he had no “subjectivity as we do; he had no awareness of his awareness of the world, no internal mind-space to introspect upon.”
Thus our early consciousness lacked the self-reflective capabilities that aid us today in plotting and deciding on a course of action. In its place was a consciousness that viewed the world in something like a state of meditation.
Which was fine as long as we were doing familiar tasks. But when we encountered a new situation—a crossroads of some kind—and didn’t know how to proceed, the Gods broke through and spoke to us: advised us, directed us.
Jaynes further asserts that despite the overwhelming tenacity of our current consciousness, there is considerable evidence that remnants of that early consciousness still exist, and that those remnants can come into being under certain circumstances. He cites the voices associated with schizophrenia as one proof of this, and the voice associated with the act of poetry (the Muse) as another, and I doubt any true poet would disagree.
Unlike our current consciousness, which is tenacious in its hold on us, our early conscious and unconscious minds seem to have been conceptually separated by a very hazy membrane that allowed preliterate humans to slip between the two in the blink of an eye. In other words, preliterate humans were always surrendering to their unconscious .
As to how that early consciousness may have felt, it probably felt very fluid compared to ours because we are super conscious, with a rigid separation of our conscious and unconscious minds. We may daydream, but that is a conscious activity. If we ever suddenly slipped into our unconscious with the same ease as preliterate humans, I suspect most of us would be frightened beyond belief.
I think it’s safe to say that the ease and familiarity that early humans experienced in slipping between the two states was a hallmark of our early minds. I would even go so far as to say that the waking state and dreaming states of very early humans were quite similar.
40 ALICE HICKEY
This may account for the importance preliterate man gave to his dreams. Our contemporary dreaming state, on the other hand, is completely different from our waking state because the unconscious is highly unstable in matters of time and space, the cornerstone of our waking state. This is one reason our dreaming state seems so illogical, and why we give so little weight to it.
One of the unfortunate prejudices of our modern world-view is that it prejudices us against acknowledging the existence of the psychic world, the world we experience in our dreams. That same prejudice has almost destroyed poetry.
Poetry is the way the soul speaks to us of the psychic world, which is also our world, our other world. If we don’t acknowledge that fact, and honor it, poetry eventually shrivels into much of what we have today: poetic, conscious thoughts—nice, but no brass ring.
That is why speaking changed my life. It allowed me to experience the act of poetry in something like its purest, most primal form. Speaking also opened up a path to the psychic world for me. The two are inseparable. That is why speaking has a sound all its own, and why Jane Washington’s reaction when she first heard me speak was not an isolated case. Anyone attuned to the life of the soul generally has a similar reaction upon hearing a speaking. They instinctively sense it is a sound that comes not from the world of the self, but the soul. There is a slight, but undeniable, alteration in the sound of the human voice that somehow comforts us.
You can actually hear that alteration, although feel it might be a better term.
If you are a blues fan, it is the difference between the singing voice of Blind Willie Johnson and that of Leadbelly. If you can hear, or feel, that difference, that is the sound I am talking about. Johnson’s singing came from the soul, the unconscious—you can feel it. Leadbelly’s singing, as striking as it is, comes more from the conscious mind—it may excite us, arouse us, disturb us, anger us, sadden us, but it seldom comforts us. Only the soul’s song can comfort us. It tells us we belong—that we are not cosmic accidents but a mysterious part of the utterly unknowable mystery of Creation.
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Chapter 10: Eve Is the Serpent
July 2002, Sarasota
Julian Jaynes also believed the heightened state we experience when a poem enters our mind is a remnant of consciousness in which the gods spoke to us with a reality that was overwhelming. I found his arguments compelling, even more so after I began speaking. I started to read as many myths about consciousness as I could find, hoping I’d learn more about its early form.
I turned first to Genesis since it is, among other things, a myth about consciousness. Adam and Eve’s seduction by the serpent and subsequent banishment from Paradise is a metaphor for the emergence of our self-reflective consciousness in which we no longer hear the Gods, but have to figure out what to do by our own wits. Re-reading the story of Adam and Eve being tempted by the serpent, I was struck by how little Adam says or thinks—in fact nothing—
whereas Eve is chock full of ideas.
When I mentioned this to Jane, she snapped, “Of course she’s full of ideas,” she said. “Eve is the Serpent.”
“What do you mean Eve is the Serpent?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “that just came to me. Leave me alone.” And then she blurted out, “The Writers pulled them apart.”
“What writers?” I asked.
“The Bible Writers.”
“Why did they pull them apart?”
“They were afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“I don’t know,” she snapped, and then, very slowly, as if it were coming to her from somewhere else, she said, “They were afraid to admit their dependence on women—afraid to admit women are more powerful than men.”
More Amazon talk, I thought to myself, and shot back, “How can they be more powerful? Men have always been physically stronger.”
“I’m not talking about muscles,” she said, “I’m talking about psychic energy—
women are like Gods in that respect. That is why, in the beginning, in the stories before the Bible Writers, Eve and the Serpent were one.”
“What do you mean, ‘were one?’ ” I asked.
“I mean early man understood that the Serpent of Creation was driven by female energy. The male energy was there, of course, but it wasn’t dominant the way it is today. Female energy is intuition, inspiration, birth, love, caring,” she said, while making her left hand undulate like a snake. “Early man instinctively understood 42 ALICE HICKEY
that without that energy, without the constant voice of something beyond himself, some intuition, some inspiration, he could never become God-like. Early man was smarter than his modern counterparts,” she snapped. “You included.”
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Chapter 11: Speaking
September 2002, Sarasota
I have never been at all sure why speaking seized me the way it did. I do know a large part of its initial attraction was the physical nature of the act. As emotionally powerful as writing a poem can be, speaking is such a physical, elemental act that neural pathways I had never used suddenly became flooded with feeling and energy. We may have forgotten oral poetry as a culture, but our bodies haven’t.
I have never liked “studied” things. Speaking is so primal, so emotional and so unfettered it appealed to me immediately. The ecstatic moment associated with creating a poem is also markedly different. In creating a speaking, that “moment”
is much more diffuse and lasts much longer—for the duration of the speaking to be exact. I would even go so far as to say it comes close to the kind of generalized, full-body orgasm women often describe.
The tactile immediacy of speaking appealed to me immensely. Writing poetry quickly lost its attraction. I remember saying to Jane, “You know what writing poetry feels like now? It feels like I’m making love by remote control.”
“Since when do you know making love by remote control? You been holding out on me?”
“It was just a figure of speech, Jane.”
“I know you got your kinky bits.”
“That’s not one of them.”
“That’s what you say.”
“Jesus, Jane! What is it with you? What I’m trying to say is that the ecstasy of speaking feels something like the full-body orgasm women describe—and you know that’s true—you said so yourself.”
“That’s not what I said—I said you could feel speaking all over. Anyway, since when are you so big on full-body orgasms? Where you going with that anyway?
“Jesus, Jane. I was just trying to describe the feeling.”
“Listen to me, Mister Two Times Divorced, don’t be telling me what women feel.
Better you stick with what you know, which isn’t much.”
Yep. Nice and smooth then bumpity-bump.
If my desire to speak was intense, I still had no idea where I was going with it. I could feel something guiding me, pulling me in a general direction, but I was never quite sure if it was north, or north by northwest.
I had to feel my way toward the act of speaking, and I say “act” because speaking is as much a spontaneous intuitive act as an art, and is as natural as gossip or 44 ALICE HICKEY
prayer. The art, believe it or not, has nothing to do with mechanics or theory or anything intellectual. It has to do with becoming more sensitive to the soundless whispers of the soul, of the unconscious. The machinery within us will find the right words, the right phrasing, the right rhythm, the right voice, if we allow ourselves to become sensitive to those soundless whispers and allow them to be born as they wish to be born. That is the long and short of it.
I remember Jane saying to me once that the speakings we had been doing were beyond poetry.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It just feels older than poetry, much older, and more powerful. Like the Giants that walked the earth before us.”
But that, as I was to about to learn, was just the beginning. Once I learned to surrender to it and truly began to speak, my ideas of poetry changed utterly. I all but gave up writing poems and performance. I realized that speaking had little to do with either. It became clear to me that poetry (of which speaking is a pure, primal form) is a very special way in which the soul, the unconscious, speaks to us—and through us . Shortly after that, the psychic visitations began.
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Chapter 12: Diane Randall
November 2003, Sarasota
Diane Randall has three faces. I saw the first one at a gathering I’d set up to demonstrate the art of speaking. It was a shy, searching face. We spoke briefly. I felt she understood what I was trying to say—that speaking had deep psychic roots.
I started to tell her that speaking was distinguished by its sound, but something in her eyes told me she already understood the soul has a sound all its own—a sound our bodies recognize instantly even if our modern minds don’t quite know what to do with it. I think all people knowledgeable in the ways of the soul know that sound. It is beautiful and healing and very close to the sound of true prayer.
You can hear it in the sound of the voices of truly spiritual people—yogis, mystics, gurus. You can hear it whenever anyone speaks from the soul. It is the sound of truth—of deep, unpremeditated, unguarded, human expression. It is a sound that roots us, comforts us.