Demons, Also Saints, Scientists, and Love-Struck Sophomores

                              Like demons? Nobody does—well, scientists, yeah,
but we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s look at some
                              background first, starting with Saint Francis of Assisi,
whose experience with the little fellows may be said
                    to be typical of the time in that one night he sees

                              what he thinks is a housefly on his window sill
but finds it has horns, leathery wings, and goat’s feet
                              when he looks closer—worse, it spews curses
and makes a display of its hairy buttocks,
                    it being a scout for its band, the second of which

                              is as big as a bird. Then comes a demon as big as a hawk,
then one the size of a pig, until the room is filled
                              with creatures howling and cursing God. They flee
when Brother Bernardo bursts into the room and promises
                    to stay the night with Francis, and when a night bird

                              lights in the window, the terrified saint buries his face
in his friend’s shoulder, though when the bird makes
                              its familiar cry, the two monks murmur a prayer
of thanksgiving, hoping to hasten the dawn.
                    Quelle horreur, yes? The stuff of horror movies!

                              Which is our problem, not theirs, because the thing
we forget about demons is that they used to be angels,
                              meaning they’re smart. Read Paradise Lost.
Demons fell before the start of the visible universe,
                    and at that time they lost all the good of their natures,

                              but that doesn’t mean they’re dummies—true,
they unsettle the senses, stir low passions,
                              disorder sleep, bring diseases, fill the mind
with terror, distort the limbs, control the way
                    in which lots are cast, create the heat of cupidity,

                              lurk in consecrated images, and tell lies
that resemble truth. They take on different forms
                              as well and sometimes appear in the likeness
of angels, but so what? No pain, no gain.
                    Think young Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone

                              would have become Saint Francis of Assisi
if he’d just sat in the piazza all day with a pretty girl
                              in his lap, eating gelato? James Clerk Maxwell
would have had an opinion on that subject.
                    James Clark Maxwell hypothesized that gas particles

                              in two adjacent chambers could be filtered by
a “demon” operating a tiny door that allowed
                              only fast energy particles to pass in one direction
and low energy particles in the other, causing
                    one chamber to warm up and the other to cool down,

                              thus bypassing the second law of thermodynamics
with its famous insistence on entropy. But Maxwell’s
                              is not the only demon; there’s physicist David Bohm’s
demon and philosopher John Searle’s demon as well as
                    naturalist Charles Darwin’s demon, each of which is a placeholder

                              of sorts for theories or concepts not yet fully understood.
Each represents a theory that violates the laws of time
                              and space, hence the word “demon” in that the very identity
of each suggests the workings of a mischievous
                    force, as seen, for example, in the language used

                              by the bomb designers of the Manhattan Project,
who slipped from their talk of quantum physics into that
                              of demonic technologies, to annihilation and apocalypse.
Reader, I’m guessing you’re not a bomb designer.
                    But if you take “demon” to mean not just “the unexpected”

                              but “the unexpected of such a nature that it not only
changes your original plan but changes it for the better,”
                              then you’ll see what those scientists meant. If you’re a writer,
you make a pot of tea, fix the lights, go over your notes
                    from the night before, and curl your fingers over the keyboard,

                              when is when something—a phone call,
a man at the door with a package, a memory
                              from yesterday or forty years ago—barges in
and changes everything. Or say you’re a love-struck
                    sophomore who shows up at Veronica’s apartment

                              with your hair slicked back and a bouquet
in your hand, and who does the demon send
                              to answer the door? That’s right: Betty. Even gods
act like demons sometimes. When Brunelleschi was
                    building the dome of the Florence cathedral,

                              he told everybody he knew how to do it. He didn’t
know how to do it. Sure, he had a plan, but nobody
                              had ever built a dome like his before, so while
he was telling everybody don’t worry, I’ve got this,
                    you can count on me, I’m Brunelleschi, blah-blah,

                              blah-blah-blah, to himself he was saying “as this is a church
consecrated to God and the Virgin, I am confident
                              that since it is being built in Her honor, She will not
fail to instill knowledge where there is none.”
                    In other words, he was trying to get Jesus’s mom to do

                              what demons do. Good thing he had patience
in addition to faith and architectural skills. It took
                              sixteen years to complete that dome, but it’s there today,
or at least it was there when I was. Let’s review.
                    There are lots of demons out there, all different.

                              Saint Francis, you big crybaby—you scared the demons away!
Come back soon, fellows! Or come back whenever you want to.
                              I love you guys, and so do scientists, also inventors: you were
in the Alps with Georges de Mestral when he was walking his dog
                    and noticed that the hooks in burdock burrs attached themselves

                              to the loops in his clothes and invented Velcro, just as you were
in China in the 9th century when alchemists on the trail of an elixir
                              for eternal life accidentally developed gunpowder, which is
pretty much eternal life’s exact opposite. Fun fact: Georges
                    de Mestral’s second wife was Monique Panchaud de Bottens,

                              onetime fiancée of James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Bet you
chuckleheads had a hand in that as well—demons, you’re
                              welcome to frolic on my window sill whenever you feel like it,
for surely it can be said of you what Theodore Roethke
                    said of poetry, that you are what everything else isn’t.

Outfit Alert!

A woman in an outfit walks by with a man much older
                    than she is, and when Barbara says, “Outfit alert!” I say,
“Yeah, I have to admit, that’s some outfit,” that word
                              being one our moms used to use. “That’s quite an outfit!”
                    said our moms when a girl turned up in an outfit as well as

“Now that’s what I call an outfit!” and “I love her outfit,
                    don’t you?” What is an outfit, though. For starters, it has to be
eye-catching, so bright colors are a must. Its design
                              should surprise, so if a dress is part of your outfit, the hem
                    should be either very high or very low. Asymmetry is good:

think one bare arm or shoulder but not two or a drape
                    on one side or the back. Think cutouts! Cutouts are the best!
Slits or triangles above or below the bosom, diamonds
                              at the knee or elbow or, best of all, on the side! Let’s see
                    that rib cage! If the eyes are the windows to the soul,

the rib cage is the window to everything that is fabulous
                    about the soul’s best friend and worst enemy, the body!
Cutouts just scream outfit! And let’s not even talk about
                              accessories—okay, let’s talk about accessories but limit
                    the discussion to earrings, which should be gaudy, flashy,

and even garish, though never tawdry, tacky, or tasteless.
                    Guys don’t wear outfits. A guy in a cloak wearing a hat
with a feather in it is not wearing an outfit. Foucault says
                              everything is about sex except sex, that sex is about power.
                    Guys are about power. Okay, outfits exert power as well,

but it’s not the same. Outfit power is happy power.
                    All the girls go by, dressed up for each other, says Van
Morrison. Red-carpet attire is 100% outfits, even if most
                              civilians dial it down a notch or two: you’d feel funny
                    walking down State Street in Chicago or Sixth Avenue

in New York were you wearing the “swan dress” sported
                    by Icelandic musician Björk at the 2001 Academy Awards
                              that consisted of a crystal-encrusted body stocking
surrounded by a puff of white tulle, with a long neck
                    that draped around her own, the bird’s orange beak

resting on her chest, or the dress worn by Lady Gaga
                    at the MTV Video that was made of raw beef and was
referred to thereafter by the media as “the meat dress.”
                              Actually, Old West cowboys wore outfits. Back then,
                    cowpokes were known for their brightly colored shirts,

neckerchiefs, and bandanas. Too, rings, necklaces, and, yes,
                    earrings were all fair game for the yippee-ki-yo set. And if your
bronco-bustin’ buckaroos wearied of ropin’ and brandin’
                              and such and took a turn toward the shadier side
                    of things and became outlaws, the groups

they formed to were known as outfits, examples being
                    The Hole in the Wall Gang, The Wild Bunch, and my favorite,
The Five Joaquins. So Jesse James had two outfits, the one
                              he wore and the one he belonged to. Today there’s also
                    the Chicago Outfit, which has declined since the late

twentieth century thanks to stricter law enforcement
                    and general attrition but still continues to be one
of the major and most active organized crime groups
                              in the Chicago metropolitan area and throughout
                    the Midwest. Yikes! If you’re reading this, fellows,

I’m on your side! Well, not really. But I’m not entirely
                    for the FBI, either, since they probably pose a greater
threat to my freedom than you do. In old Florence,
                              when Savonarola called for the Bonfire of the Vanities,
                    women threw their rouge pots onto the fire

along with their false hair, mirrors, perfumes, powders,
                    and transparent veils meant to provoke inquisitive
glances as well as their masks and garments called
                              “masquerading dresses,” of which I have been able
                    to find out nothing except that they sound to me

a lot like outfits. Women, are your outfits you
                    or a masquerade? Does your outfit express your true self
or is it as a sign is to a semiotician, that is, does it
                              stand for something other than its own reality, as,
                    for example, a traffic light is not an invitation for you

to admire the intense beauty of its red, green, and yellow
                    hues but a mandate to stop, go, or hesitate, and if that
is the case, could it possibly be that your outfit is
                              a “semiotic black hole” or, in other words, no sign
                    at all but an atemporal destruction of a sign,

an example of which, is, oh, never mind.
                    It’s fun to say “semiotician,” though, isn’t it?
Sounds like a much simpler word that’s wearing
                              an outfit. Oh, look, here comes the woman
                    in the outfit who walked by earlier with the man

who is much older than she is, back from wherever
                    they were earlier, and when I say, “I wonder
if she’s a sex worker,” Barbara says, “Not exactly,
                              that’s her sugar daddy, which makes her whatever
                    you call a woman who has a sugar daddy,” to which

I say, “You have to admit, that’s some outfit,”
                    and Barbara says, “Yeah, she’s going to take off
her outfit for him later if she hasn’t done so already,”
                              and I’m thinking, well, then things will work out
                    pretty much to everyone’s satisfaction, not that wearing

an outfit means you’re a sex worker or even
                    a sugar daddy’s sugar baby. Outfits make everybody
happy, even moms—maybe even especially moms,
                              since they remember when they were young
                    and wore outfits as well. Some still do.

Gerda Weismann is Putting on Her Ski Boots

                    You’re in an old shop in an old city that you have
never been to before, and it’s just about to close,
                              but you pick up a kettle, a bottle, a tobacco tin,
                    and then a snow globe covered in dust, most

                    of which you blow away with one big breath,
and you wipe off the rest with your gloved hand
                              and turn the globe toward the window so it can
                    catch the last rays of the dying light, and you

                    look at it and blink and look again, for what you see
is not carolers or reindeer and a sleigh but young
                              Gerda Weismann in the town of Bielsko in Poland
                    in the summer of 1942, and she’s arguing with

                    her father as she is putting on her ski boots, of all things,
because she promised him she would wear them
                              even if the weather is still warm when the Germans
                    come for her, which they do two months later,

                    shuttling Gerda and other women from one
work camp to another till the war turns in favor
                              of the Allies in early 1945 and her captors decide
                    to evacuate and march her and 2,000 others west

                    through freezing weather. When the three-month
death march ends at an abandoned bicycle factory
                              near the German border, only 120 have survived.
                    Most of those who died were wearing sandals,

                    whereas “I had my ski boots,” said Gerda,
“and my imagination: if you were a person who
                              faced reality, you didn’t stand much of a chance.”
                    Genius is childhood recaptured at will,

                    said Baudelaire. Gerda Weismann wasn’t a child—
she was 18 when she was taken—but she thought
                              like one. She was playful. She made things up.
                    “I started Early – Took my Dog – / And visited

                    the Sea –,” wrote Emily Dickinson, and then
“The Mermaids in the Basement / Came out
                              to look at me.” I bet she had fun writing that one,
                    don’t you? I bet she had fun writing them all,

                    even the ones about the men who abandoned her,
one of whom was God. “I always believed
                              I would survive,” said Gerda as she was marched
                    from one place to another, imagining her dead brother

                    would be waiting for her or planning in detail
a party she’d host when the war ended—should she
                              wear a red dress or a blue?—or making up stories
                    for the other girls, telling them their rescue

                    was imminent. Gerda Weismann was writing
a poem of hope inside the larger poem
                              of the Holocaust, one in which the mind
                    of an entire people is taken prisoner by a thing

                    that doesn’t exist. That’s what happened in Salem
in 1692, said Arthur Miller as he gathered materials
                              for The Crucible: “Poetry may seem an odd word
                    for a witch-hunt, but I saw there was something

                    of the marvelous in the spectacle of a whole village
whose imagination was captured by a vision
                              of something that wasn’t there.” On the morning
                    of May 7, Gerda Weismann finds her captors gone

                    and a jeep approaching, the big white star
of the U. S. Army on its hood. She weighs
                              just 68 pounds and her hair has turned white
                    from malnutrition, and when the jeep stops,

                    one of the two soldiers walks over to her and asks her
if she speaks German, and she nods and says,
                              “I’m Jewish!” and Lieutenant Kurt Klein says,
“I am, too,” and then he does something that Gerda,

                    who has been treated like an animal for three years,
later said “restored my humanity, all of it”—
                              Kurt Klein says, “May I see the other ladies?”
                    and when she turns back toward the factory,

                    he holds the door for her. They fall in love
and marry in Paris in 1946 and have a long
                              and happy life in Buffalo, NY, where Kurt
                    runs a printing business and Gerda works

                    for seventeen years as a columnist with
The Buffalo News. “The devil danced happily
                              into Salem” in 1692, said Arthur Miller,
                    “and took the place apart,” just as civilization

                    officially ended in Germany in 1939, just as
it’s ending now, is always ending, its death
                              attended each time by hope and imagination,
                    you think as you put the snow globe back

                    and turn your collar up and walk out into
the darkening night. They’re always there,
                              you say to yourself. You just have to look
                    for them. You have to put them on.

David Kirby teaches at Florida State University. His collection The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems was a finalist for both the National Book Award and Canada’s Griffin Poetry Prize. He is the author of Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll, which the Times Literary Supplement of London called “a hymn of praise to the emancipatory power of nonsense” and was named one of Booklist’s Top 10 Black History Non-Fiction Books of 2010. His latest books are a poetry collection, Help Me, Information, and a textbook modestly entitled The Knowledge: Where Poems Come From and How to Write Them.