It’s Not Every Day A Friend Gets Bitten by A Brown Recluse Spider…

Or that that friend is an anthropologist, and responds accordingly.

What a Brown Recluse Spider Has Taught Me by Alma Gottlieb

After having recently received a venomous bite by a brown recluse spider in NYC, I’ve spent some time researching my arachnid attacker and discovering how to recover from the poisonous attack. Along the way, I’ve learned some life lessons.

Puzzlingly, few anthropologists have put that fundamental human experience front and center. True, some scholars discuss pain in investigating particular topics such as childbirth, endometriosis and acupuncture. But to date, the 48 sections and interest groups contained within the American Anthropological Association (with foci ranging from visual anthropology, music, and museums to agriculture, corporations, and tourism) do not include a group focusing on pain. In a rundown of some perspectives on pain from peoples around the world, anthropologist Mary Free has crafted a superb opening for an anthropological approach to pain. The brown recluse spider that deposited its poison in my leg this past weekend has suggested to me: it may be time for a new subdiscipline–the anthropology of pain.

Anthropologists: We have explored how plenty of other somatic experiences are influenced by factors beyond biology. Pregnancy and childbirth, menstruation, diseases from cancer to mental illness, and sports from walking to basketball have all claimed our attention. Yet, we live in a world of many people who experience pain routinely or even chronically. And when we’re not actively suffering from pain, we may spend much time thinking back on past episodes with amazement that we survived . . . or anticipating future episodes with dread.

To read the whole essay, click here

A Long Time Dream…

For many years, I’ve fantasied about getting a funky vacant lot in Santa Fe and turning it into a poetry and sculpture garden as a kind of outsider art folly.
I’m getting closer–and may have actually found a lot. At least I know what the garbage receptacles will look like. This charming design from Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC.

A Sign That We Were There: Memorials and Monuments

Visitors like to sign a guest book. The same urge can lead to defacing graffiti. Interestingly, some installations have had the foresight to forestall this.
At Carhenge–there is a place to sign:

So too at more serious memorials.

For example: The sculptress Yael Ben-Artzi, has dedictaed this work of art on the first anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin. 16 basalt rocks from the Golan Heights are sunk in the ground and signify Rabin’s roots and his bond with the land. The stones placed at different heights, symbolize the political and social earthquake that Israel has undergone with this brutal murder.

Graffiti, written by participants of the Peace Support Rally, on the night of the murder, and Israelis who in days that followed came to the place, are still displayed at the site. It has since become a place to come to for remembrance and for mourning. One can not remain indifferent when passing by the sunken basalt rocks in the pavement.

And in Mexico City, the Memorial for the Victims of Violence allows visitors to write on the slabs:

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On a more ephemeral local level, the Secret Art & Poetry Trail installed by Maternal Mitochondria is about to come down, as it was just for the summer. One unsolved issue–visitors started signing each piece along the trail, and some red ink bled through in the monsoon rains. In the future, we need to make the sign in scroll clearer.

The Electric Palm Tree by Miriam Sagan

It’s been a wonderful season for me for poetry chapbooks. First “Lama Mountain” came out from Red Bird Press and now “The Electric Palm Tree” from Flutter Press!

The poems–and essay–in The Electric Palm Tree were written several years ago at Center for Land Use Interpretation in Wendover, Utah.

In a landscape pitted and mined. At the edge of three million acres of the military’s bombing range. Where bombs are buried in undocumented locations. Where I can see old munitions mounds spreading out over the landscape like the ancient Mississippian city of Cahokia. Craters. Historic aircraft. A landscape big enough to lose a plane or a bomb in. A landscape that seems to make people want to drive really fast, crash into things, and blow them up.
On the boundary between Wendover, Utah and West Wendover, which is Nevada, and which sports casinos and strip clubs.
This isn’t exactly Walden Pond.

READERS– you can purchase this at:

I am also giving away FREE REVIEW COPIES. You can have one to review on your blog, e-zine, magazine, or even something short on Lulu’s site under the book. Write me at to request a copy.


Flutter Press is a micro publisher, which caught my attention. It has its roots in the small press movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s, but the technology is much prettier and faster than the stapled chapbooks of the day. I’ve been watching this for a while–seeing who can make something small and beautiful–so appropriate for poetry. Editor Sandy Benitez is of a new generation, and has created a simple and elegantly sustainable way to work. The press charges a reading fee–very modest by today’s standards–and if accepted Benitez works with the author on design and cover. The author gets books at a discount and royalties. They’ve got a nice list. My book had exactly the feeling I was looking for–an old deco-ish neon sign feeling–of a motel in the desert.

When I was an editor at Fish Drum Magazine with founder Robert Winson the mag and chapbooks were published off of a rather erratic household budget. Using pod totally sidesteps this–the publisher has no outlay beyond time, editing, and designing. Granted this is quite a bit, but most small press editors do it for love in any case. I’m working to bring the publishing arm of Miriam’s Well more consciously into a micro publisher mode.


Eclipse watchers were irresistibly drawn here in Alliance, Nebraska. Even we started making jokes about sacrificing virgins. I could deconstruct this outsider art as a homage to abandoned cars on the plains, but it is just plain fun.

Sympathy for the Devil or The Gentleman from Cracow

I’m afraid I’ve been thinking about evil. Recent events in this country have seen to that. But evil—or the devil—isn’t very central in Judaism. As far as I know, the devil appears only in Job, and there is seen doing what the devil does best—walking around on earth, and stirring up trouble. Then the devil and God make a bet about Job. But throughout, at least from my perspective, the devil is seen as subsidiary to God, even a part of God. For in Hebrew the word Satan simply means adversary.
But Milton and Mick Jagger aren’t the only ones who have some sympathy for the devil. The great I.B. Singer goes into quite a bit of detail about this personage in his short story “The Gentleman from Cracow”—a tale which has fascinated me ever since I read it as a teenager.
In a classic set-up, a suave outsider comes to town. He lends money, encourages orgies, and before much time has passed the formerly pious villagers are partying full out. Every kind of vice prevails.
Singer writes: “And then the gentleman from Cracow revealed his true identity. He was no longer the young man the villagers had welcomed, he was a creature covered with scales, with an eye in his chest, and on his forehead a horn that rotated at great speed. His arms were covered with hair, thorns, and elflocks, and his tail was a mass of live serpents; for he was none other than Ketev Mriri, Chief of the Devils.”
Vanishing as suddenly as he arrived, the devil leaves the villages embarrassed, ashamed, shocked, and horrified. Only the pious rabbi hasn’t been taken in—but he is a pretty ineffectual fellow. So…what happened?
Singer seems to say that evil—or, a more classic Jewish way of putting it—the inclination to do evil—comes from within and without. Those villagers would never have gone berserk on their own. But the tendency to bad behavior was inherent, or latent. And then, like a match to deadwood (or, dare I say it, a racist president to the KKK and neo-Nazis) the outside influence corrupts everything.
Are Singer’s villagers punished in the end? Not really. In an odd but thought provoking twist Singer cites the “kindness of the Jews” as the reason that neighboring villages help out and restore the community. Surely at the end of “Gentleman” Singer isn’t proposing that Jews—or humanity in general—is basically kind. Rather there is a balance here, with the inclination to do good.
The pious rabbi’s grave shines a beacon of light. Life returns to normal. The devil has gone back to the big city and left our village alone.
Let’s hope so.

Conversations About Faith Part Three: Shabbat Shalom

Ezra answered the Miriam’s Well question about how he wants people to ideally read his writing with this response: “I assume that everyone puts on their glasses (even if they don’t have them) and then they sit down to read my blog with astute thought. I’ve always wanted my blog to be interactive, so I always consider the thoughts that people will have after reading.”
Enjoy more thoughts on religion…

Opening Pandora's Box

Welcome back everyone, sorry for the delay on this post, but here it is, the next iteration in our ongoing conversation about faith. This week I was able to sit down with Ilan Schwartz who is a rabbi at OSU Hillel. We have known each other for a few years and he is a great guy and one who is always excited to discuss Judaism.


Ezra- To start us off today, what do you believe as a Jew? Or what makes you Jewish?

Ilan- I believe that there is one god. Although I don’t believe that god is a single entity, or an old man with a beard. It’s more akin to the Force in Star Wars, it’s always around and it leads us, but it isn’t something that you can understand. I also believe that there are certain obligations for this life that help to make someone a…

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Eclipse of The Sun: Totality

there is no
for an eclipse
in Hebrew

although there are blessings
for a large crowd
first blossoms
a comet

putting on new clothes
the passage of time
a rainbow

Above us, the disk of the moon covers the sun. You can look right at it without dark glasses for 90 seconds. It burns like an eye in space. Birds fly into the trees. We can see Venus, much higher than usual, and a star or two-—Sirius? We’re at a rest stop in Lusk, Wyoming, having slept in Nebraska. At the edge of shortgrass prairie.
Driving back into town, we encounter our first and last eclipse traffic of the trip. It takes a half hour to go a mile. At Agate Fossil Beds National Monument there are sunflowers and prairie roses and stinging nettles and fossils from millions of years ago.
A colander and a vegetable steamer from home cast sharply defined shadows of dozens of partial eclipses.

All week I’d been having intense eclipse dreams:

and in the underworld of sleep
you can visit
all the shadows
of your different selves

an ancient white-haired woman
sits glowing
without hands
in a room
too bright
to look at directly

a dark man
torments some young crows
(in yet another dream)

I’ve been writing a 24 section poem on suminagashied index cards called “Woman, Sleeping” which is about the eclipse, statues and monuments, and more. I’ll post additionally when it is finished.

Devon Miller-Duggan Takes A Fond Look At Her Readers

I’ve been thinking about who/where I imagine my readers to be. Maybe it’s a problem that I can’t come up with a clear picture. Maybe it’s not. I have zero opinion (a rarity) on where or how folks read my stuff. I suspect that some people who liked my first book might be a bit shaken by my second, which is very differently voiced, I think, and in that sense I find myself occasionally wanting to apologize to the folks who bought the second book thinking it’d be like the first one, which is a little silly. So far, I have managed not to do that. Mostly I just hope I have readers, and they’re welcome to read the poems however and wherever they choose. I remember reading an interview with John Grisham years ago in which he was asked how he felt about the various film adaptations of his books and whether he had a hard time seeing someone else’s take on his work. He said he liked the checks and otherwise figured they were out of his hands and not his problem beyond that. Minus the big, fat, lovely checks, I think that’s sort of how I feel. Once the poems are out there, I would very much like them to be read, but beyond that, they’re in other folks’ hands and hearts and heads and not really mine in some sense. Of course, I also assume that all my readers are smart as all get out, thoughtful, playful, and gorgeous, but that goes without saying, right? This whole question is interesting to think about in terms of Robert Frost, who famously fought against certain readings of some of his poems and carefully cultivated a public persona that was geared toward creating a very broad and affectionate reading public (this being back in the day when there were more than 2 poets in the country who could actually make something like a living as poets), but while he did not like the darker readings of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” I wonder how he’d feel about the consistent mis-reading, mis-teaching, and mis-understanding of “The Road Not Taken” as a simplistic, Kipling-at-his-worst, “buck-up sermon. Maybe he’d have been fine with it as long as it got the poem enshrined in the cultural consciousness and brought in royalties, maybe he’d be repulsed, maybe a bit of both. I doubt I’ll ever have that sort of problem. It’d be nice in some ways. But mostly, I’m just very fond of my readers, whoever they are, wherever they are.

Ozymandias’s Socks

I’ve been enjoying all the snarky and sarcastic comments on the internet about how we’d never have history if it weren’t for statues. It’s a funny attack on Trump’s statements, but it also points to some deeper truths. Statues have never accurately represented history. They are the perfect example of the truism that history is “written” by the victors.
Monuments are also deeply connected to the dead, and to a desire to mark the landscape and infuse it with a particular set of meanings. Chaco and Gettysburgh alike reflect this need. And so, unsurprisingly, what statues are is really art, not history. Good or bad art, but art nonetheless.
The Latin poet Horace boasted that he had “erected a monument more enduring than bronze”–that is, his poetry. But both Buddhism and common sense teach us that everything changes, and yes, most things are eventually lost.
Which brings us straight to…Ozymandias!

“Just off the highway heading south on I-27 out of Amarillo, two gigantic legs in athletic socks can be seen. You wouldn’t know it, but they are in fact the shattered likeness of an Egyptian king.”Ozymandias” is the Greek name for Ramesses II and was the inspiration and name of a famous poem written in 1818 by Romantic poet Percy Shelly after a visit to the ruins.

The pedestal near the monument also asserts that the visage of the king was destroyed by Lubbock football players after losing a game to Amarillo, which while plausible, is of course false.

The sculpture was built by local artist by self-taught artist Lightnin’ McDuff, who specializes in altering found objects to make new pieces of art. The sculpture has been vandalized numerous times, most notably with the addition of socks to the legs. Occasionally the sock vandalism is sandblasted off of the sculpture, but always seems to reappear. The locals appear to prefer the king’s legs be kept warm.

A plaque near the gigantic legs reads:
“In 1819, while on their horseback trek over the Great Plains of New Spain, Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein), came across these ruins. Here Shelley penned his immortal lines.” ”

This of course is a series of charming hoaxes. I”m pretty sure when I last saw it the legs were missing socks, but here is what they look like added:

Info from the marvelous Atlas Obscura, without which my life would be much poorer:

And these lines from Shelley, who endures in my poetic pantheon.

By Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”