41 posts from Postcards From The Land Of The Dead

Buzzards hang like flies in amber

In the open desert there are innumerable invisible roads—roads known only to those who know the Land of the Dead, who know how to silently scream at great velocity through its solid air where nothing else moves. Buzzards hang like flies in amber over smoke caught as motionless as a mineral, a fossil, a vein of iron deep in unmined earth. They know, these men, what earth can be eaten in the Land of the Dead, how to find its oily, scabrous water and how to build frozen fire which casts no heat or light but warms them inexplicably through memory. They know the silent greetings, the art of dissipative departure. They know the roads and crossroads in a land made of nothing but roads.

Skinwalkers. The sorcerers, necromancers of the Navaho. Feared by men who would forever seal the door of a house which death had entered once. They pose as coyotes. They hide as shadows of the dead lurking in mirrors cast of desert sand. If you go to the place where all roads cross, the navel, the pregnant belly of unfaithful change, you will see them. But be as silent and cautious as the umber air or they will catch you and sever the soles from your feet.


Yahoo—Skinwalkers, steppin' razors, hellhounds, guijé, lwa, zombé, ciciriku, needlemen…is there no end to the invisible world? While all about us in soporific splendor, mortals quake in phantasmagoraphobia, those who have been to the crossroads or are on our way have fine ears for these spooky denizens of twilight and night. I'm damned sick and tired of sulky Euro-trash specters of western ennui and malaise! Give me Cuba, the Antilles, Jamaica and Haiti, Africa, Texas and N'Orleans, Navaholand—give me people pursued by real spooks and I'll show you men and women who live a lively life sleeping always on the border of the Land of the Dead!

History excludes the unseen

Nothing ever happens in a land whose history excludes the unseen. Those who bury their dead not only forget their past; they have no future. Coyote was right when he decided that life would be too easy and boring without death, but the dead must be allowed to walk, to sing, to speak and drink and dance. Filtered and cleansed as it burbles up through the earth, the speech of the dead reaches us stripped of the impurities of time and space. The insufficient vision of eyes blinded day and night alike is polished up.

To create any new thing is to raid the Land of the Dead. But instead of looking back anxiously to see if it's true that we have the power of resurrection, we must meet the gaze of all the dead with a stare of our own, a solid, assured glare of equal weight to that of the collected eyes upon us. On returning home, we find that our hands are full and that these small gray seeds spring immediately into fruit upon the touch of light.

If reason’s sleep produces monsters, the coma of our dreams and imagining and remembering makes shoddy and boring monsters of us all.

Stories walk around in our name

Stories and history are part of the Land of the Dead, but they are, themselves, alive. The accounts of who and where we were and are no longer are more than memorials to dead selves—they take on their own lives, growing into tall tales and embellished truths, rumors, legends and myths. Stories walk around in our name, a more polished reflection than the one a mirror holds. It is a mistake to believe the past can be contained by sealing it in a sepulcher of ignorance or indifference, perhaps laying flowers before it on holidays until the dirt heals over and the present demands more attention. Watching Black Orpheus made me realize that the only thing I still believe in but love is the power of a story to reach out and possess a man or a woman almost for no reason, and become the life that lives them. Stories and love, which is just another story

Living like a scratchy long distance call

Muse a moment on the poetry of the dead, those lines and stanzas we may write from the other side of this life. What have they that they can write with? Scratches in the dirt, aches and pains, the broken glass and pottery littering African graves placed by the living like a scratchy long distance call; static and glitches in radio transmissions, chalk marks on boxcars and sidewalks, faded photos and lace, barbed wire fences marking boundaries, fog and city steam, spider webs, rain, wind, tree branches. The Dead may illustrate a poem with forms emerging from rust, frost or gnarled wood. They speak out in the throw of bones, dice or yarrow stalks, the fall of leaves, roll of thunder, crack of widow-makers. Lost items and sudden discoveries are often signs of their making. Imagine the epic poems that may be traced all around us, lying about in the world and built of worldly items by the unworldly hands and thoughts of those poets who have preceded us to the Land of The Dead!

Winter hides down

Big warm fall winds find leaves even where there are no trees, blow paper and smoke down city streets while Winter hides down by the overpass, burning trash in a rusted out barrel. The dead come by for a meal, their eyes big with the changes they carefully note to sustain them until Dia de los Muertos next year. How they must wish to see spring again instead of Winter and his nasty barrel. They kick it over and roll it down the street. Why not? They are always cold. Winter starts rubbing his hands together. The dead dance around. Just before dawn they evaporate into the air, returning to the Land of the Dead. Fall goes with them.

Driving spirits underground

Down south, people observe the African tradition of spirit writing, and often paper the inside of their dwellings with newsprint. They do this to keep out spirits, who are apparently confused by “too much information.” I wonder if maybe our 'information age' is responsible for driving spirits underground here? I wonder what spirits would make of a house papered with pages of Burroughs. Would it drive them insane or would they like it, somehow?

Instructions for construction of Ghost Hotel

Instructions for construction of Ghost Hotel (to trap unwanted spirits): Build a small paper house. Line the interior with pages of newsprint. Bait the inside with something that ghosts like very much (may vary from spirit to spirit). Seal it up completely and then make a teeny, weeny pin prick hole in one side for the ghosts to go in. When they get inside, they are suddenly aware that they are surrounded by too much information but then it's too late—they can't find the hole and they are trapped!

Like a peacock or certain butterflies

In Santa Lucia, the Philippines, there is a statue of Saint Lucia which grants clear vision to those afflicted by blindness. The petitioner approaches and rubs their eyes against her robe, a fantastic raiment composed of thousands of small silver milagros in the shape of eyes. If the petition is successful, the formerly ailing believer will add another eye milagro to her robe. Like a peacock or certain butterflies, St. Lucy glistens in her shrine; the eyes, like stars, leading not into darkness but through it to the light. Imagine her lit by candles as you descend into sleep and let her clear the vision of your dreams.

Hearts wide open to the eternal rains

Jacob wrestled with sleep—you who fall into nothingness and dread sleep. He wrestled with sleep like a man reading a strong sentence.
—Robert Duncan

Oh the sleepless weeks we rambled in search of living dreams—dreams so strong they drowned the world of worriers, the so called ‘real world’ in seas of obfuscation. Blues dreams of poetry, death and love, of single notes we could use to build whole worlds!

I am never so awake as when I'm dreaming and need not close my eyes to sleep to taste those raging waters. When will the flood come take us? When will we die deep into the waters with our hearts wide open to the eternal rains? Perhaps we already have!

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

Popular Pages + Entries

  • All content © 1992-2013, John T Unger.