29 posts from In the Company of Mystery

Author's Note to 2004 Blog Edition:

My first published work, 1992. Although the overall series strikes me now as ridiculously ambitious, there are still a lot of good poems here.

12 years have gone by since I wrote this book.

A year ago, I found a copy in a used book store in Grand rapids, MI and thought a moment about how much has changed in the world since then. On the other hand, some things hadn't changed all that much. At the time I wrote this book I was a "wandering poet," throwing my soul around like some kind of trick lassoo that might just snare me the horse of my dreams. And when I found that used book, I was homeless again, but a sculptor this time. Maybe only the dreams had changed.

A year later, I've traded art for land, home and a studio, and I begin to suspect the game can change. Perhaps that soul was a better lassoo than I thought. But what really matters, for the purpose of this intro, is the poems... Have the poems changed with time?

Well, I think the answer is yes and no. I wrote these from a deep core of mythology that I felt would always speak to the people of tomorrow, and I think they've held up pretty well so far. I'm maybe a little embarrassed by the staggering ambition of the book now, but then, what's youth good for anyway if not a blinder to the foolishness of taking on insurmountable tasks? Looking at the work today, there's stuff I'd do differently but I think on the whole there are a lot of good poems here. Skip on down the page and see how you feel.

Author's Note to the 1992 Print Edition

The Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny Suite takes its name from a theory proposed by Ernst Haekel in the 19th century. An anatomist, Haekel believed he had found evidence that individuals passed through all prior stages of evolution in the course of fetal development. The poems are intended as a symphonic fugue for language. There are four movements within the scope of the whole, corresponding to the four major epochs of civilization as I have experienced them: Tribal Nomadic Hunter-Gatherer, Sedentary Agrarian, Iron Age/Industrial Revolution & the current Information Age. Each movement or section examines variations on central themes from a different perspective, making the work similar to a musical fugue.

Poetry began with the delight of the tongue. It was a magic in itself, rooted in invocation and evocation, origin or by-product of our first stab at religion. In all my work I strive to strike what my friend Zeebie calls the "monkey Nerve," the sense of awe and wonder that has dogged our species since its inception. these poems are written to be spoken, incanted; to enchant, bespell, entrance. Their tune is the music of the snake charmer.

Preface: As Above So Below

Consider the unity
of dual worlds:
I saw two trout sliding
thru the shallows of the river
over the shadow
of the moon.
I saw them strike, simultaneously
at its reflection on the surface.
Twin arcs of perfection pierce
a mirror, thinner than an atom,
between the shadow & its source.
Shattered ancestor to the looking glass
dissolves in splash & ripples.
A moment when something gives,
air & water wed, in the sound
of a wet kiss, then,
once again lay smooth.


I was born in the fall of the summer of love,
in the season of the freeze-up moon.

I took my way of movin' from the Northwest wind
& the slow spiral fire of the tree's lost leaves.

I was raised on the stories that the rivers told me.
I was weaned from the breast w/ my first draught of poetry.

I spin my yarns & I tell my tales,
the taller the truer, the truer the better.

I say my stories & I sing my songs,
pass my poems 'round.

My words are given by the wind & the river,
the cracklin' fire & the furrowed field.

Cycles sing through me, the earth speaks to me
I speak what I know to them as will hear.

This is the rhythm, the rhythm of yr speech,
the cadence of the songs yr singin'.

In a circle of stones I stand
to bring yr words to life.


I came home with a harp in my hand
& 18,000 miles of dust on my shoulders.

I'd been dancing w/ Coyotl on the face of the Plains
& tryin'a make my life a story worth tellin'.

Coyotl is the sheepdog watching over all black sheep,
curiosity personified, patron saint of rebels & malcontents.

Johnny & I were lookin' for the roots of the blues.
We spent that whole winter walkin' thru fire.

We went down to the crossroads to stake out the dawn,
counting coup on Lucifer, playing tag like Russian roulette.

The legacy of Legba tracked our sleepless nights,
every turn we took, we saw him standing there.

There were angels in the shade, & devils in the noonday sun.
"Don't try to hide.  Don't try to run. It's Voodoo!  Voodoo!"

We was yellin', "He'p me, He'p me!  Hand me down my bags!
Hellhounds on my trail, boy, hellhounds on my trail!"

My grandmother probably expressed it best,
"You boys aren't really bad.  Yr just a couple of horse's asses"


We blew Dodge w/ a hoot & a howl
at the end of our winter in hell.

All of us laughin' at the thunder around us
as familiar landmarks disappeared.

The way to leave Michigan is at night w/ a joyous cry
in the midst of the first spring storm.

"desolation is a railway station at four AM on a weeknight."
our first stop was a final salute to the acoustics of stairwells. 

We arrived in Toledo in the middle of the night, lost, homing in
on the tracks by some desperate sense of history, some hobo nerve.

We rode a spooky shorted-out elevator from the basement to the
station floor.  Johnny & I played the harp & the whistle farewell.

Johnny took the wheel & we toured thru his childhood sites of myth,
we visited with a witch he knew, to consult the wisdom of my quest.

We cruised the ghetto as the sun rose, to the tunes of ancient jazz
Johnny boarded his Northbound train & Jeff & I prepared to go West.

Legba made his final stupendous appearance as a circle of flame
in the condemned, Gothic cathedral of Detroit's old trainstop


The last day in the midwest was forty waking
hours long.  We smoked eight packs of Camels each.

She asked "Why do you want to kiss me?"
& I cd not say, "Because I want to."

Sometimes playing the fool
makes the night seem twice as long .

We hit the plains states at night, fearing the emptiness  it held.
I closed my eyes the whole way, "the hell w/ the void".

First day in Olympia:  a double rainbow at dawn,
African drums in the distance, jungles & sand dollars.

We were sensual animals scenting the trail
of the mythical nymphs in swishy skirts.

Scattered 'cross the country, connected by our nascent crafts,
to take a walk down the block, we had to cross state lines.

"Wherever three of you are gathered in my name,
I'll be there, smoking for Elvis." 

We didn't know what it meant.  The plan was
we wd gather together, Jeff & I went first.


We shared a house by the freeway w/ roaches
a retired cat burglar & our doubts.

Our only friends were the bums on the Ave.
They took us in as their own.

For a month I was stuck in their dialect, afraid
I'd never speak like a white boy again.

Billy was a hobo once, lord knows he paid his dues.
He had a fatal weakness, called it the blues.

He was just a roly poly broke down old Indian bum,
happy as Pooh bear & always twice as stoned.

He was tone deaf drunk or sober,
but he taught me a lick or two.

Yellowhawk was a painter & a Lakota shaman,
carried a brush in his hat band like a feather.

We knew at once we were kin w/out blood.
Our symbols & our stories were the same.

His pictures had the mastery & mystery of Les Trois Freres,
sacred scenes that spilled from him & splashed across the page.

We spent a night on the mountain, once,
swattin' skeeters & swappin' tales.

When Jeff went home, I lost the pad. The last time I saw him
I was making drunken passes by the railway tracks.


I have given up hunting, in order that I may catch my prey.
I wait in silence, that she may stumble upon me, gracefully.

There is the dance of the hunt, done to the drum
of the heart, all raw tendon set to snap the snare.

Then there is dancing for the dance alone, indiscriminate
of subtle guiles, passion for the play of fire in the wind.

The dance of spirit is a flinging into the vicissitudes of all that is.
Simple, silent, sensual, a motion almost standing still.

Finally the dance of freedom finds us, unbound & unalone
knowing where we stand in the ribs of Ourobouros.

Then there is no dance.  Just the dancing, the hunt,
the spiral of the cycles in a whirl, & self.


Zeebie & I danced for the hunt, together,
in our old wild west stompin' grounds.

I gave him the name Strings Always Breaking.
No web cd hold him, no knot, no noose --

sooner or later, the strands always snapped
& he had to splice them.  It began w/ his guitar.

He was so intense he used to clear a crowded room
of women, one by one, just grinnin'.

He looked like the Cat In the Hat, Richard Braughtigan &
an El Greco Christ painting rolled into one,

& came on hard & fast like Moses callin'
square dances at the fall of the Alamo.

The carousing ebullience of Zen lunacy was our trademark
& our trade, roughhouse roshis playing pirate to the crowd.

"I'm lean & I'm wiry & I'm hungrier than you."
We stalked the sacred marriage among innocents.

We played a skeery, mean street blues in abandoned
acoustic hotspots, stopping only when the cops complained.

By then I was livin' where I stood & likin' it,
Callin' the whole world my home.

John T. Unger poet

I'm best known as an artist and designer. Relaxing makes me tense, so I tend to put in a lot of hours on diverse projects.

Before becoming a visual artist, I spent 15 years as a poet. I studied poetry at Interlochen Arts Academy, Naropa, Stone Circle and on the streets. I performed my work for years at Stone Circle, solo shows, poetry readings, and at Lollapalooza in 1996.

I still write poems, but only if I can make them fit the constraints ofTwitter.

Mobile: 231.584.2710 (9 to 5 PST only) | Email me

Art IS my day job

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