Cage the Black Bird


I’ve been an Edgar Allan Poe fan since junior high when I saw a live production of “Telltale Heart” and the theatrical version of “thump-thump, thump-thump” has never stopped haunting my dreams.   “Dream Within a Dream” is one of my favorite poems, and “Raven” is another.   In grad school I wrote a 20-page critique of “Black Cat,” which added to my full-fledged Poe passion.

Recently, a good friend gave me a great idea to augment a tattoo.  I now am the proud wearer of an awesome black raven surrounding a double rose.  The same friend accompanied me to Baltimore last weekend, on the anniversary of Poe’s death, 7 October.  For some reason, I’ve lived in the DC area for five years and had never made the trek to Poe-ville.  Sadly, the Poe House and Museum had just closed, so I was unable to see the memorabilia while I was there.  The good news is it’s reopening sometime in 2013.  Aaaaand another trek to Baltimore will surely be orchestrated about that time!

Some things I learned:  It’s fairly common knowledge that Poe was buried originally in the Westminster Hall graveyard with the stone, grey tombstone carved with a raven and the famous quote, “Quoth the raven: Nevermore” and later moved to the monument that is also the final resting place of his wife Virginia and his mother-in-law Maria Clemm.  What’s not so common knowledge is that both these memorials are in the same graveyard not more than 500 feet away.  Ok, well, it wasn’t common knowledge to me.  Which is, of course, my definition of “common knowledge.”  Also, I always thought the mysterious Poe fan would leave a single red rose and bottle of cognac at his grave each year.  However, he left three red roses “in a distinctive arrangement” (according to Wikipedia) each year on Poe’s birthday, 19 January.  This tradition stopped in 2010, however.  When I was there this year on the anniversary of his death, there was a pitiful-looking plastic read rose that looked to be trampled underfoot, a plastic-looking wine glass filled with some colored liquid that I suppose was meant to give the appearance of cognac on a nearby stone, and a paper card with a raven on it.  This is a far cry from the fresh red roses and bottle of cognac the “Poe Toaster,” as he’s been dubbed, left in honor of the Original Master of the Macabre.

And, although some may consider it a sacrilege to fondle the tombstone of my literary idol, I posed unabashedly at the raven tombstone for some good photo ops that were fully taken advantage of by the photographer I had with me.  Here are a few samples of the resulting pictures from this cross-border trek:

Is Poe personified in the image of a black bird, then, so his spirit can fly free and perch upon whatever windowpane happens to attract him?  Great existential concept, although that is a completely different class of poet than Poe.  Am I, too, personified by that black bird image I now have branded on my body?  Even more intriguing a thought.

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