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Daniel Shapiro: California Poets Part 4, One Poems

Daniel Shapiro

December 29th, 2021

California Poets: Part IV

Daniel Shapiro

One Poem

“The Medium,” from The Red Handkerchief, was inspired by an experience he had with Adele Tinning, a medium based in San Diego, California, whom he met one evening during a family visit in the 1980s. Tinning was known for her apparent ability to communicate with spirits, whether at home through a system of “tapping” via her modest kitchen table, or in demonstrations at local colleges. He once observed her “tip” an enormous office table onto two legs, in effect defying gravity. During their conversation and subsequent session, she expressed wisdom and empathy, as well as a matter-of-factness that strangely enhanced the surreal nature of the occasion. She claimed, for example, that the spirits of those who’d died in the 1978 PSA Airlines crash had contacted her, sending messages through her table. This poem revisits Shapiro’s experience with Adele Tinning, reconstructed from memory and a recording of the session, often using her own words. That wondrous encounter was life-changing for him.

The Medium

“When I’m sitting here alone,

the dear Lord uses half his energy.

This table weighs thirty pounds.

He has to magnetize my hands.”

Adele Tinning’s hands pose a question

I can’t explain. I follow her gestures,

the threads she unwinds, imagining wires,

special muscles in her arms,

until a breeze fluffs the curtains in the window.

“That’s a spirit, dear, that puff of wind.”

In a polaroid, a bolt of light

forks from her infant son’s head.

Honeycombed spirals pass under the table

whose leg glows blue.

She touches a seam in the bird’s-eye maple.

She calls her spirit-guides Matthew and John

but Zoro comes in. “He doesn’t touch the floor

like the others. Ask him to tell you what stage you’re in.”

Seven stages like the seven ages of man—

He says I have only Love to learn.

I ask for my grandmother, who enters the table,

tapping out E-S-T-H-E-R against linoleum.

She makes it creak and tip in my lap

(“She must have talked fast because she’s tipping fast”).

Wishes me fortune and the table-leg slams.

“Send out a light-beam, they’ll come right over,

even from China. There are souls on all of Saturn’s rings.

A spirit can travel through heat or cold,

it’s at zero degrees,

so if you feel a little chill, you’ll know.”

Adele Tinning’s hands pose a question

I can’t explain,

her question to Captain James McFeron

two days after his plane went down.

A lump of flesh was found

jammed in a phonebook but his words

kept traveling until they found her,

until the passengers touched her forehead one by one.

Moments before, we all left our bodies

and watched it hit the ground.

—from The Red Handkerchief and Other Poems (Dos Madres Press, 2014, 2021).

Author Bio:

Daniel Shapiro is the author of three poetry collections—The Red Handkerchief and Other Poems (2014, 2021); Woman at the Cusp of Twilight (2016); and Child with a Swan’s Wings (2018)—all published by Dos Madres Press. He is also the translator of various works, including Roberto Ransom’s Missing Persons, Animals, and Artists (2018) and Tomás Harris’s Cipango (2010; starred review, Library Journal). A bilingual selection from Cipango appeared in Issue 11 of Interlitq. Additional selections from his own poetry collections appeared in issue 20. Shapiro has received translation fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and PEN. He is a Distinguished Lecturer and Editor of Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas in the Department of Classical and Modern Languages & Literatures at The City College of New York, CUNY. He is currently working on a novel, set in 1920s Pasadena, and a short-story collection, both drawn from family anecdotes, old photographs, and historical documents.


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