Dan Schneider’s Poem: The Mothman

The more I read Dan Schneider, the more I feel as though a man who is Shakespeare, Nietzsche, Rilke, Robinson Jeffers, and Chekhov in a single entity has been walking the Earth for the last century and this one – and only a small percentage of the world has noticed. His brutal insight on the human condition is unsurpassed, but he has more poesy than the German mad philosopher, and he’s also more internally stable than him. I’ve already gone into his penetrating insights about human struggle, first world problems, existential questions of fluid identity, the vices of Malcolm X, the nature of Love, and the Masculinity embedded in war. He sees the entire world and the human condition fully.

Here is a poem about human folly and imagination:

THE MOTHMAN
*for John Keel

Here, above,
where fearsome angels cower, the Mothman
glides soundlessly above illusion. The moon
is something that cannot fly, and you cannot see
the moon, below him, as he spreads his terrible wings
his red eyes become the billion-year bloat
of giant stars dying into the useless night of eyes,
yours, folding in to the unremarked of realms.

But when the Mothman
comes, clearly, those who witness him rise above
those realms of plastic and styrofoam. To be human
is to disappoint- so the Mothman never does.
He is the summit of unknown and unbroken expectations,
and the inquisitor who asks: “What is the fallen
in you?” He cannot understand the onlookers
of life, the unmoved at Jericho’s tumble.

Up the facades
of inemotion, righter than left, and three winks
from Magonia, he rises, now sounding mechanical,
as if an early helicopter chopping its way
to your comprehension, the full breadth of his wings
spreading, as if to say, “I, too, have form!”
Yet, he has no head, nor mouth, nor nose, nor ears,
just huge glowing eyes in a gray-brown skin.

Then he returns
to earth, leaving the now of your wonder,
as if to instruct the mortal of their poor restraint.
Gently, gently he dares to shaping the odors
of your dreams, disnebulous as your remembrance
of him, filling the emptiness that springtimes do,
at times, distilling your denial into a tear,
singular as a day, but ten times as salty.

Each night he must
dissolve in to a crane, an owl, or a bugaboo
of dismission that underlies comfortability.
But his is not there. He regards it a disease
that the earthbound must overcome. He does
it by looming over the American night, the consensus
universe that you construct. Sometimes, he watches
you as you whistle by the wonder he swallows whole.

If you catch him
looking at you, be very afraid. Not of him,
nor some grim intent, but because his eyes will curve
in to you- hold your eye up to his eye, it is all
blood- a deep placidity no human can share, nor bear,
cool and pure as the scent of a stark dry thing
the wet of an animal’s nose remembers, the mist
of a thunderhead’s calm, the drum of rain on umbrellas.

This poem is inspired by the legend of the Mothman – one of those mysterious creatures like Big-Foot or Nessie that has been sighted around by various onlookers. Dan wrote his own essay on the subject over here – going into the mythology and research. The actual structure of the poem itself happens to be directly based on Elizabeth Bishop’s The Man-Moth – a poem of supreme imaginative fancy – all of the first lines are the same.

But, that’s all the background. Let’s dive in:

Here, above,
where fearsome angels cower, the Mothman
glides soundlessly above illusion. The moon
is something that cannot fly, and you cannot see
the moon, below him, as he spreads his terrible wings
his red eyes become the billion-year bloat
of giant stars dying into the useless night of eyes,
yours, folding in to the unremarked of realms.

This is a Gothic, Cosmic, and Divine imagery wrapped into a single stanza, setting up the Mothman as a mythic experience. But it also teases a bit of abstract description of the internal psychology of the mythologizers who would strive to encompass this being. Notice the sneaky enjambments like ‘is something that cannot fly, and you cannot see’ – showing the viewers rootedness and blindness. The Mothman ‘glides soundlessly above illusion’ – a reading of this is that the Mothman has become higher than imagination and delusion by becoming American myth – thus it glides above. The moon seems to be fixed as the symbol for human imagination and also limits (also used in the Visual Novel Himawari, incidentally) – and the stanza ends with a drifting down of the cosmic into the mundanity of the human – with ‘stars dying into the useless night of eyes’ and ‘yours, folding in to the unremarked of realms’. All Myth is born from this smallness and un-remarkability of a human self.

But when the Mothman
comes, clearly, those who witness him rise above
those realms of plastic and styrofoam. To be human
is to disappoint- so the Mothman never does.
He is the summit of unknown and unbroken expectations,
and the inquisitor who asks: “What is the fallen
in you?” He cannot understand the onlookers
of life, the unmoved at Jericho’s tumble.

This is about as straightforward a poetic description of human escapism from shittiness as you can get. Although there are some little turns, like how the Mothman ‘comes, clearly’ – and how it enjambs at ‘to be human’, as though the plastic and Styrofoam were what defined us. There is also that idea that he ‘asks’ but ‘cannot understand’ – which could mean many things, such as how all people want to hear is the phenomena (the Myth) without the connection to them. The last two lines also enjambs to make it seem as though being ‘unmoved at Jericho’s tumble’ or apathy – is the normal mode of life. And there’s also that little ‘onlookers of life’ which dualizes as both talking about the watchers of the Mothman and the people separated from life because they want to escape from it into Myth.

Up the facades
of inemotion, righter than left, and three winks
from Magonia, he rises, now sounding mechanical,
as if an early helicopter chopping its way
to your comprehension, the full breadth of his wings
spreading, as if to say, “I, too, have form!”
Yet, he has no head, nor mouth, nor nose, nor ears,
just huge glowing eyes in a gray-brown skin.

Magonia, incidentally, is according to Wikipedia a “cloud realm whence felonious aerial sailors were said to have come” – in this case meant to denote an aerial fancyland. This stanza is completely abstract – but it does that thing that Wallace Stevens poems likes to do where he creates a poetic image denoting an idea. It begins with facades – following Bishop – but twists into ‘facades of inemotion, righter than left’ – and this seems to be talking about the mythic quality that is a realm divorced from human emotion. But, in the vein of Nietzsche’s Death of God – this divorce is a lie, and in fact it is purely born from humanity.

So the first part is a kind of whimsical imagination spot, talking about ‘righter than left…three winks… and Magonia’ – but then suddenly shifts into this idea of ‘sounding mechanical’. Could this be talking about the mechanical quality of humanity’s myth-making? The machine of illusions that we keep falling into because something inside us wants to create an escape route to cope with reality – probably based on evolutionary psychology. That’s why the next image is of a helicopter ‘chopping its way to your comprehension’ – and within this comprehension spans ‘the full breadth of his wings’ (thanks to enjambment). We are all caught within our myths by some kind of strange machine in our heads – that old pessimistic idea.

And the next line is another double whammy – where you don’t know if the person who wants to ‘have form’ is the Mothman, or your own comprehension. Thus talking about the irreality of the Myth born from human insignificance and ‘lack of form’. The final image is a horrific alienating one – where the Mothman is, in the end, divorced from human senses, like some kind of Eldritch Horror that appears in the minds of the delusional and torments them, but cannot be grasped. In the end – could it be that the mad man is the one without his organs – and not the mad thing he sees?

Then he returns
to earth, leaving the now of your wonder,
as if to instruct the mortal of their poor restraint.
Gently, gently he dares to shaping the odors
of your dreams, disnebulous as your remembrance
of him, filling the emptiness that springtimes do,
at times, distilling your denial into a tear,
singular as a day, but ten times as salty.

And this part is about the Mothman’s return to Earth, after the previous stanza described his appearance in the abstract realm of Myth (Magonia). Now this is talking about the realm of human mortal subjectivity rooted to the ground. He is ‘leaving the now of your wonder’ – the people who have seen him will now be ‘instructed of their poor restraint’. They are now enamoured by the image, but it is all an abstraction created by the myth-making machine in human heads. The Myth-machine ‘shapes the odors of your dreams, disnebulous as your remembrance’ – crazy delusional people probably have very bad memory and skewed heads. ‘Filling the emptiness that springtimes do’ – the love of the Myth is like the love of springtime – a classical pastoral image skewed. ‘Distilling your denial into a tear, singular as a day, but ten times as salty’ – perhaps the fear of the Mothman creating tears of fear in the viewer? Although the viewing was only for a single day – the viewer can taste it for waaaay longer. But, in the end, it is still born from your denial, and your own flaws as a human.

Each night he must
dissolve in to a crane, an owl, or a bugaboo
of dismission that underlies comfortability.
But his is not there. He regards it a disease
that the earthbound must overcome. He does
it by looming over the American night, the consensus
universe that you construct. Sometimes, he watches
you as you whistle by the wonder he swallows whole.

But finally – why do Myths exist? These are dreams where ‘dismission underlies comfortability’ – in the end, it is for human comforts that they dream, so that they can better take in bitter reality. Yet, it is a ‘disease that the earthbound must overcome’ – but the Mothman, as an idea, has already overcome it (‘He does’). He is the ‘consensus’ – the ‘universe that you construct’ – both singular and plural delusions, delusions of mass and delusions of individuals (told in just a single enjambment). He is there to loom over the country as a myth, as a higher existence watching you to find him, reach him, or even overcome him (perhaps by expunging our myth-making organ from us through future scientific developments) – and he will swallow your imagination whole.

If you catch him
looking at you, be very afraid. Not of him,
nor some grim intent, but because his eyes will curve
in to you- hold your eye up to his eye, it is all
blood- a deep placidity no human can share, nor bear,
cool and pure as the scent of a stark dry thing
the wet of an animal’s nose remembers, the mist
of a thunderhead’s calm, the drum of rain on umbrellas.

Then, in the end, there is no ‘grim intent’ hiding behind his eyes – but they will ‘curve’ and bend into your vision – ‘hold your eye up to his eye, it is all’. What is it all? Blood – the Natural machine is calm, a ‘deep placidity’ that ‘no human can share, nor bear’ – Nature is apathetic and calm, so we must build ourselves delusions for fear that we would be destroyed by its coldness. But, one day we may be able to see the world for what it is – as ‘cool and pure as the scent of a stark dry thing’ – and maybe one day our ‘animal nose’ will scent it out and remember that within our storms, within this ‘thunderhead’s calm’ – we have our own ‘umbrellas’ – our creations have conquered nature. We have no more need for dreams.

Why do not more people heed the words, poesies, and the call of this mind with such insight? They too, are perhaps lost in their own myths – while the large eye of the poet – Dan – stares over them.

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