Moon-Magician-Manacle-Mother, or Harry Houdini Rising
after an untitled painting by Jane Hammond at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art

The Man in the Moon flaunts
his freedom in his mostly intact tux: the bell
moon, a weight that cannot hold him,
the tightrope, a chain that also
does not bind. An audience watches
as always wild with applause at his brave
feats while he extracts black
silhouette women from the cage
of his mouth, how many caught like keys
under his glib tongue,
behind the bars of his teeth a mystery. They
hang clipped to his rope like clothes in the wind
while they contemplate,
dangling, their own no-less daunting
escape. Make no mistake. They are the white
moon’s dark eyes. Look at their hands
which hold the pen, the brush, the magic
wand sticks. When they bring their
sisters to safety, they will drop, fly,
leap from his line. Write their
own history. Title themselves.
It’s not the (so-called) Magician
who interests me, but the mother,
the wife, who taught moon & manacle,
key keeping, sharp-edged juggling. Stage
mangaged her tail off. Sewed his shorts.
Think how many of them tip-toed
around to get one show off.
Walt Whitman Calls on Emily Dickinson

She was not at home—at least
no one answered his heavy knocking—just
as well; the hot sun that afternoon
drew him to a shady patch on the green
lawn where he stretched out, dusty hat drawn over his red face
to block the intense
mid-day light.
A white

curtain stirred in a small window
upstairs. No breeze set it going
but one pale hand, and a slow sigh
that followed, then nothing.

Her father found him snoring, roaring
there among the daisies, which turning
on his side at some point, he had accidentally
crushed. The bees buzzed curiously
around the wiry stamen ends of his beard which smelled like honey,
which smelled like the coffee
he had also had for breakfast. He was dreaming
about something that made his lips twitch, turning
up into a wide and welcome smile
and all the while

Father stood there, watching, no Poet
on the grass, but Idler, Loafer,
Dreamer, whose Bulk gave off offense,
or odor of Content.

He knew without words that it was hopeless
for now and sat up, pushing with one meaty fist
the hat brim past the line
of his eyes, opening his mouth, but before words came out, the thin
lipped man snapped
his bare chin toward the street,
and the great mass of Whitman leaped to his feet with a grace
you’d hardly expect of such a form. Leaving, he removed the hat,
glanced over his shoulder, and tossed an Expect I’ll be back,

his look knowing, wicked the laugh
that sets the daisies humming, that wilds
the haltered air, that widens the crack
sash to sill, disordering page & hair.
~ ~ ~
Wendy VardamanWendy Vardaman ( is the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press), co-editor/webmaster of Verse Wisconsin (, and co-founder/co-editor of Cowfeather Press ( She is one of Madison, Wisconsin’s two Poets Laureate (2012-2015) and co-editor of the anthology Echolocations, Poets Map Madison. In addition to poetry, she writes essays and interviews, which have appeared in Poetry Daily, Women’s Review of Books,, and other venues. She has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania. With husband, Thomas DuBois, she has three children and does not own a car.