As we all know by now, Michael Jackson--who apparently was reading Tagore poems in his last days--is dead.

It is sad and strange, and though it feels a little odd, I wanted to put up a sort of Harriet "open thread" about it here just in case anyone wants to vent over the weekend.  Myself, I've felt mostly numb about the whole thing, mainly, I think, because the King of Pop had been dead for me twenty years or so, ever since I was eight years old.

Then--summer of '87--I had the Thriller poster up in my room, the weird plastic "Beat It" doll, the records, stickers on my school folders . . . I was a fan.  No, seriously.  I was a fan.  Not quite a lunatic fan, but an eight-year old pop music fan, which is quite enough already, don't you think?

Yes, well, case in point: I decided that summer that I wanted to get my haircut EXACTLY like Michael's.  I told my mom on the way to the barber (Okay, actually, a confession here: it was not the barber.  It was the salon.  Michael Jackson had made it okay to be feminine, marvelous and not-so tough, right?  So I 'll admit now to the world that I went with my mom to the salon to get my haircut when I was eight.  Think of that what you will.).  My mom seemed to take the news in stride.

"Okay," she said.

Okay?!  Holy shit!

I sat in stunned silence.  I could suddenly picture it so clearly.  That strange, curly, flingable wetness, how would I exist with such amazing glamour on my head?  At school!  At baseball practice!  Out in the streets of Iowa!

It would be the best.

I strode into the salon and told the lady straight away what was happening.  "Exactly like Michael Jackson's hair," I said, pointing at my head.  She looked over at my mom who just sat there, casually flipping through a magazine.  The lady shrugged, spun me around to face the center of the room and--I couldn't believe it--began cutting my hair!

She snipped, brushed, combed and spruced and the whole while I had the magic of "P.Y.T." coursing through my little eight year old veins.  I'm sure my eyes looked crazed.  Could this really be happening?  Michael Jackson's hair! On my head!

A little whisk of the brush at the back of my neck, and then the lady spun me around to face the mirror.   It was like Christmas on a roller coaster with a million puppies.  I felt a huge  anticipatory smile--all teeth and mania--spread across my face as I came into focus in the mirror, and there, above my little face smiling all crazy, was, yes, the exact same bowl-cut I always got.

R.I.P. Michael Jackson.

Originally Published: June 26th, 2009

Travis Nichols is the author of two books of poetry: Iowa (2010, Letter Machine Editions) and See Me Improving (2010); and he is the author of two novels: Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (2012) and The More You Ignore Me (2013). He has contributed to The Believer, Paste, The...

  1. June 26, 2009
     Don Share

    Romantic / by Dara Wier\r

    My love said take\r
    All my books, \r

    You can take all my clothes, \r
    My hats, my shoes, my gloves, \r

    You can have my watchband\r
    Take my sifters\r

    You can have my glass head\r
    And my silver darts, \r

    Take my wild boar, my astronaut, \r
    You can have my pots & pans, \r

    And my replica \r
    Of the United States, and take\r

    While you’re at it, all of the\r
    presidential figurines\r

    You can have all my matchbooks, \r
    My binoculars, my exceptionally fine\r

    Collection of cleaning products, \r
    My one-of-a-kind snake charming horn, \r

    Take my sand dollars & beach glass, \r
    Take all of my spices and salt & pepper, \r

    You can have my smoked ham & brown mustard, \r
    You can take away my Progesso Soup, \r

    Take away my bread, take my spoons, \r
    You can have my sheets and my pillows,\r

    Take my rugs and my three erasers, \r
    Take my pitcher and the scarf you gave me, \r

    Take my feathers my fox took\r
    From my hawk, take my walking stick, \r

    You can have my broom and my glass eye,\r
    You can take away my atomic clock, \r

    Take my dog, take my rule book, \r
    Take my decoy and my bamboo cage, \r

    You can take my girl waiting on\r
    Her suitcase, my Michael Jackson doll, \r

    You can take my mother and her priest\r
    And their holy water basin, \r

    Take my drill and my hammer, \r
    You can have all my brushes & combs, \r

    Take my handkercheifs and my scissors, \r
    Take all of the keys you can find\r

    In the house, take my scythe my hoe, \r
    My rags, my lamp with the lovers\r

    Asleep in one another’s arms, take\r
    My sprite sitting on a stump daydreaming\r

    Over an empty book, take my moose, \r
    Take my coffee can of loose change, \r

    Take all of my ant traps, take my \r
    Windowpanes, take my steps and my doors, \r

    Take my chicken shack & my wheelbarrow, \r
    Take my combat ship plaque, take my\r

    Vatican champagne flutes, my earplugs, \r
    Take my quilts, take all of my quilts, \r

    I would not take one stitch\r
    Of one of your quilts, though I love them, \r

    I sweetly interrupted.

  2. June 26, 2009
     Susan Mills

    I remember that day. Yep, it happened exactly like that!!\r


    Your Mom

  3. June 26, 2009

    Kreepie Kats pays homage:

  4. June 26, 2009
     Michael James

    I always feel a bit sad from celebrity deaths -- those entertainers who I admired for their ability to expose their spirits the way they did...\r

    Never have I teared up. I didn't cry. But I teared up a couple of times. I wanted to make movies because of "Moonwalker". I taped it off the TV and watched it again and again and again. I would wake up late at night and watch the "Scream" video he did with his sister because it just amazed me. The dancing, singing, the filmmaking. I couldn't dance, not like him. But I listened to his music, watch what he did. And he was amazing.\r

    I used to go to the local theater and play the Moonwalker arcade game. Just for that game. The man had an arcade game!\r

    I am still in disbelief. I knew him before I was born...

  5. June 27, 2009

    Good story, Travis Nichols.\r

    The real tragedy here is that the commercialization of pop culture always ends up in the commercialization of the real life individual "star." De-ja vu all over again.\r


  6. July 2, 2009
     Nick Demske

    Travis, I am even moreso in love with you now for being the person that wrote this blog on the foundation website.\r

    The most recent poem I had appear anywhere was in Travis's hotline-forum, weird deer ( He posted it on June 17th and it was about Michael Jackson, which feels like especially weird timing to me now, given the circumstances. Travis also happened to choose an excellent graphic, to accompany the poem, from the arcade game mentioned in the comment above. Alas. Coincidences.\r

    Of course, this MJ death stuff has already been drawn out too far and is, in most ways, grotesque. The fact that it's completely eclipsed any further coverage of Tehran hasn't gotten any attention, from what I've seen. However, i think this obsession of America's (the world's?) is justified in ways we don't even understand really, more closely linked to the horrors in Tehran than we realize, too.\r

    In a recent post on his blog (, poet Philip Metres says "Michael Jackson is a symptom of our national illness." I think this is spot on; the reason, I suspect, why people have not gotten over this musician's death is because he was a real live person that perfect strangers felt comfortable hating and judging and treating horrifically from afar. \r

    People go on about the litany of the man's problems, speculating what is true, what is false, etc. But whether accusations are true or not is almost secondary in importance here. What's of primary importance is that the majority of people who recognized that the man had problems--rather than being moved to compassion or some sort of action that could've helped resolve those problems--unionized only to crucify him. \r

    Of course Michael Jackson was a prodigious pop musician and of course he affected many lives in positive ways...but I think the reason his death has been dwelled upon to this capacity is because he's the most recent personification of human's cruelty to human. Humans dehumanizing a person they don't understand, and thereby taking the first important steps in completely devaluing human life. Now that Michael Jackson is dead, the rest of the world will never have a chance to redeem themselves from treating a stranger so inhumanely from afar. It's obviously profane to compare Tehran to the King of Pop; that being said, I think Metres calling Jackson a "symptom" is apropos. However, I think the "disease" applies to our whole species, not just the nation. The thinking that dehumanized Jackson in the eyes of the world is the same thinking that is justifying mass murder across the globe today. The same thinking that has justified it since the first time. If we can't manage to generate compassion in ourselves for one person who's blatantly in trouble, what hope do we have in resolving wars that have existed longer than any of us?\r

    Grieve not the death of Michael Jackson. Grieve for the living. Grieve us, who still have not found a way to exist on this planet together without brutalizing each other.\r

    Too Grandiose?\r
    Thanks again, Trav.

  7. July 16, 2009
     Lamar Cole

    Goodbye Michael\r

    A star has been plucked from the sky.\r
    The sky is now dimmer.\r
    It happened on June 25th.\r
    A day, we will always remember.\r

    Never again to see Michael's smile light up the skies.\r
    Never again to see him moonwalk across the stage as his fans cries.\r
    Never again to hear him sing Billie Jean.\r
    To the roaring sound of his fans' screams.\r

    A brother of the sun has been taken away.\r
    But in our hearts his music will always stay.\r
    Michael Jackson will now dance among the clouds.\r
    And in the heavens, you will still hear him singing loud and proud.