Houdini Escapes the Time Capsule

[audio link]


It proved to be far deeper than a steamer trunk,
fraught with the stench and dirt of decades.
For the sake of nostalgia and to cop a cheap bath,
Houdini leaps from the Brooklyn Bridge in a Saks Fifth Avenue sack
only to be met by police, a gaggle of startled onlookers.
I am Harry Houdini.
Of course, you are.

America has changed utterly.
Internet, cell phones, advertisements beamed in neon
across Times Square he is nearly invisible
as he pulls yards of needles from his mouth at the corner
of 42nd Street only one woman stops.
I hope they’re sterile.

What happened to the men in hats?
He misses especially the hats.


And so he disappears to Wisconsin,
old childhood home,
Prince of the Air.

Houdini is on your porch, Houdini is
holding his breath in your bathtub.
It is not the Chinese water-torture trunk
but you are still impressed.

He is compact and muscular, passionate as he speaks
of humanity’s illusions, rapt faces in the reflection
of ATM machines, masked sorrow in the lines at Walmart
The need for escape even greater.

Not to be grumpy, he makes your cell phone ring when no one is calling.

Sometimes, he uses your computer to search Craigslist
for a straitjacket, unusual handcuffs.
There’s a market, Houdini discovers, and not what he intended.

Houdini feels depressed.
Houdini misses Bess.

Yes, the washing machine is remarkable—
and the cake mixer fun to watch—
but mostly he wants to go back.

Where is the lock that opens the door to 1926
when that jerk of a boxer punched him in the stomach three times?
Houdini would stop him now, live out that slow and glorious stage

before the stock market crash, talkies, radio, Jews like himself
made into so many chattel, men shot apart, the sweat and nerves
of the deep South, the illusion of the shining kitchens of 1955.
He most likely would have died before Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind.

On his way out—he does not say where to—
Houdini gathers a roomful of school boys,
sets up an ordinary computer screen,
counts to five.
See them disappear.

Houdini cannot bring anyone back.

Houdini is on a Boeing 787, taxiing down the runway;
Houdini is in the sky.

He orders a water;
he does not turn it into wine.
He is not Christ after all,
though Christ must be out there, too,

wringing his hands, uncuffed
full of grief.

—Marilyn Annucci