Seeing Through The Fraud

Inspired by “Houdini With
The Spirit Of Abraham Lincoln,”
modern photograph from original
glass slides, n.d.), probably 1920’s.

The men never met, only their images. The photograph
is a montage. Are you surprised? Probably not, for you and I swim
in a sea of digital gimmickry. Houdini dismissed the occult;
no wonder he glares at Lincoln. The space mainly contains
their opposed profiles; yet Lincoln is supposedly a ghost. The sham
expands. Houdini points to a map, a diagram,
a plan in a scrapbook; hard proof
that humans author their stories
by using nature: in this case, soft wood
milled into printable pages. Lincoln isn’t looking.
Can this fake photo tell a truth? See how the blackness

shrouds Lincoln, shackles his shoulders, darkens his torso.
His eyelids droop, dragged by the bags beneath his lashes.
Perhaps he thinks about these honored dead, the phrase he conjured
for the Yanks who fled through Gettysburg.
Lincoln’s new birth of freedom wrapped the battle in the misty language
Houdini distrusted. How we love these words,
later to languish in sweat shops, steel mills, Jim Crow.
Light defines Houdini. Lincoln bows his head;
maybe to mourn Antietam, Seven Days, Chickamauga,
the forever-absent seven-hundred-fifty-thousand slaughtered. If he summons
myth for consolation, wouldn’t you or I? Even so, the picture lies.

—Richard Merelman