Upon Seeing a Photo of Houdini

What can I make of this man?
Bound in ball and chain, fettered
at the ankles, padlocked at the throat
arms cuffed behind his back, naked
except for boxer shorts.

He’d certainly have to be courageous
to do something like that
superlatively self-confident
a genius of a contortionist,
maybe, a little off his nut.

At least I can’t help but
wonder what would possess
a man to dress like that
and move from town
to town, city to city,

where he’d be locked in milk cans,
hung by his feet as he’s lowered
into a water torture cell. Asked
to be tossed, sealed in a locked
crate, into an icy river.

But what’s missing in this particular picture,
what  I don’t see is the moment
not photographed,
the moment he’s escaped.
So what’s the message here?

Are we all in some kind of bondage,
but live our lives deluded?
Can we ever escape our shackles,
magically wriggle, like Houdini,
out of our metaphorical chains?

In the end, I’d rather just be awed
by his art, mesmerized
by his illusions, impressed that
as he lay dying, he made his loved ones
promise to contact him beyond the grave.

I’m left to imagine his dwelling
in the  “Other World” where the show
must still go on, where he keeps performing
that one last trick

of outsmarting death.  

—Nancy Jesse