Despite the testimony of my senses theory rules the stage and disciplines imagination.
How should it feel to confront impossibility?
My first time there, a happening by chance,
a roadside sign, an impulse
on my way to fishing further down the road,
a turnoff ending at the water and there, a house,
one room of which an improvised museum,
a menagerie of body parts of once living things
long dead, shadows of their former substances
now consigned to picture books.
On the walls and in the cases,
fragments of the common and the extraordinary predators and prey,
teeth and bones and “footprints”
of these and other remnants
of smaller forms of extinct life:
clam and oyster shells, barnacles and coral.
The proprietor- collector, custodian and warden- would let you touch things as long as he was watching. This was his home, his hobby and his livelihood.
There was a charge to enter and enjoy
(less than for a movie).
Before and after you were free
to prowl the beach and prospect.
Included was a map, but would it be needed?
How could you fail to find the beach you’re on
or get lost once there?
Rustic, clean and neat:
hand lettered captions,
brochures without hype
and the old man’s stories.
This was his culmination,
obviously his favorite things
in which he took a raconteur’s delight.
Impressive to my ignorance,
he opened up his world to me.
I chose to spend some time exploring it.
He urged me on, warning of the cliffs:
don’t get too close or try to climb them;
some have died in the attempt.
Stick to the beach and surf,
you’ll find lots of fossils there
shed by the precipice,
churned clean by the waves.
Help yourself to what you find,
it’s yours there for the taking.
This was so new to me;
I’d driven past a hundred times
without knowing it was there.
I felt childlike starting out.
Here was a candy store, a Christmas morning,
a cornucopia, a portal into wonder.
Following a hurricane, on certain ocean shores
gold diggers sift the sands of “coin beaches”
for loose change, and other reclaimed loot
tumbled in slow motion
from shipwrecks bottomed off the coast histories ago. Bayside here, I was free to plunder other, local treasures
from a thin fresh slice of brief forever,
a cliff exposed anew by a recent hurricane’s
Thanks to this storm the top was off the bottle,
fresh cream now on the top.
The tide was out when I set out,
the beach was at its widest,
offering its full display,
a jeweler’s tray,
a bejeweled virgin,
a field renewed by churning.
New shells and other jumble jingling in the mini-surf
were bright and shiny tumbled gem-like
by the lapidary waves and sand.
Hoary fossils looked like what they were:
pale milky gray or chalky,
deceptively not fragile, yet with true gravitas.
All those higher on the beach, exposed to sun and air,
had shed their glistening elegance,
dulling into lackluster commonplace.
As I walked, the cliff rose on my left.
Here and there along its base a barrier ran parallel,
of pilings, posts and heavy wire
to try to save the land from being stolen by the water;
it was being undermined.
Thrust there by maelstrom,
stormtide flotsam and some denser detritus
had lept the fence or been driven under it.
The beach was strewn with aftermath of chaos profusely scattered on the sand
along with artifacts and remnants
things surviving life.
Eventually a danger sign, a posted warning
cautioned me impersonally
to keep a non-litigious distance from the stony wall. Before too long it seemed some others
didn’t want me here at all
declaring this as private land:
“DO NOT TRESPASS”,
a command without a “PLEASE”.
Nonetheless, I peeked around
to see if I was being peeked at
then did my best to simulate invisibility
and guiltily proceeded
out of their sight, not yet on their mind.
There was no cross-beach barricade;
this was the honor system,
my passage further was a crime scene in the act
without a yellow ribbon.
In careful haste I trespassed my furtive way
toward a bend which, having rounded it,
would put me out of legal sight
except by someone looking down-
unlikely- a very dangerous thing to do.
My attention was drawn downward
toward what the beach revealed.
I couldn’t take in everything at once,
there was so much to see;
the cliff would have to wait.
Despite the animated urging of the old man’s pep talk my impromptu field trip had caught me unawares.
I’d thought my detour from fishing
would involve a brief round trip on hurried feet
and then back to my intended day .
My name should be Inertia:
however sluggish to begin
I quickly quickened and then accelerated.
I wasn’t satisfied to look;
I had to pick up everything,
touch all that caught my eye
handle everything of interest, see them closer,
I was more promiscuous than selective;
this kept me very busy.
Caught up in it, it was hard to stop.
I looked a lot before I began to see..
Much bending over later
my back taught me to choose first
and pick up hence.
Observation came to me as I reached out to it.
Learning to take it in I felt much better.
There was always more in front of me ;
I didn’t have to make it happen.
Hidden, there it waited, then here it is, apparent.
Here was a shark’s tooth, and there a larger one,
could that be a vertebrae of a mastodon?
Another and another, of this and that, ad infinitum.
Here there have been dragons . . .
Here be their remains.
If this was real- and real it was-
then real they must have been.
This was first flicker of epiphany.
I became acquisitive, embarrassingly so,
fearing that this would go away,
be taken by the wind and tides
or someone greedier than me
before I could return with something to carry it in,
more than hands and pockets, my shirt serving as bag
to take so much treasure home.
This sheer abundance seemed to justify my greed.
I’d need containers next time, burlap sacks and buckets.
I made piles upon the beach and continued gathering.
Now that I worked to harvest them
they took on more weight of meaning.
Nonetheless, ashamed of my rapacity, yet curious about it-
this wasn’t like me-
I thought I’d better redefine my goal, find out if I had one.
Consider patience, I told myself, practice self-restraint,
remember the Passenger Pigeon and the Carolina Parakeet,
but bring bags or baskets next time just in case.
Eventually I tired before I’d plucked enough
(a hopeless task), how much was plenty?
I sat upon a driftwood log
and while in this ambiance
a state of meditation settled over me,
like fog seeping from a dream.
I’d found something that I didn’t know I’d lost:
a need to visit places where my mind can’t go,
through the presence of things so old,
so far away in time that they might be from distant stars,
then come to realize they are from here before,
even before before,
woven with a phantom sense of here where I now was.
This in the midst of bright, clear day.
I’d found a need to touch pieces of this past
with my fingers, embrace them with my hands,
wrap my mind around them,
try to realize how far away they are from me.
I longed to bridge that void
between their time and space and mine,
knowing it was not possible even in my mind.
Let them embed themselves within me
without a sense of me intruding;
let them fill me, fourth wall be damned,
allowing them to flow into me,
not blocking passage through any channel
or narrowing possibility.
Being human I tend to minimize
how distant they really are from me
stretching my imagination like the frail balloon it is
knowing it will reach its limit before I’ve half reached mine,
popping before the awesomeness is neared on any scale.
I’d been touched or brushed by contact
with something I’ve never given thought to,
something attempting portraiture in the gallery of my mind:
as before, so very now.
One step was all I’d need in that progression,
then perhaps the next might follow,
and so on toward some kind of end.
I strain now to walk in that direction
toward a dream about another dream,
both contained within a grander one
forgotten by all former dreamers.
This stonescape these imprints now adorn
was once an animate kaleidoscope,
a garden alive with tiny flowers of siliceous algae,
which, in dying, rained a steady dandruff sediment, endlessly shed snowlike, falling into snowflaked drifts,
the lees of ancient seas, amounting to a matrix
much like an anchored glacier, a diatomaceous cement,
which, when mixed with the gravel fragments of larger skeletons and compressed by its own weight,
became hard and dense enough,
became- voila- a concrete also known as rock.
The animals that created, lived within the shells,
did they die or were they killed?
Did something eat them, make them sick?
Or did their life spans just collapse?
In paleontology, you expect to dig down for what you seek.
What here was over is elsewhere under,
what here was under is up above your head a hundred feet or so.
I was standing in and on the sediment of ocean,
it’s floor, the bottom, the Abyss
where sharks and whales lived and died,
royal links in an extinct food chain.
What I held, selected, collected in my hand,
is what the muck could not digest, nor the sea dissolve:
teeth, some bones and shells,
sometimes a fossil imprint from one of nature’s presses challenging me to try to read.
How strange, I thought and yes, how almost creepy.
All this, enough to overflow my eye and overpower my mind,
the bank and its still buried treasures,
the rich sea bottom plains of this sloping beach,
became something like a spell.
My eyes were open, alert to all around me.
The beach still looked and smelled like beach.
There was no hard evidence that real magic had been done,
yet I felt surrounded by absent company.
Perhaps it came from what I’d handled
lingering as something I’d absorbed- a deathless energy.
I’d piled up lots of fossils on this long and narrow graveyard.
What can one absorb by touching things?
Can one catch death from things long dead?
Although I didn’t understand, I felt less fear than wonder.
Touch. Touch these things as you uncover them
these remnants, this book you open page by page,
to find it’s in some kind of Braille
revealing just how blind you are
until you learn more humbly how to read them
gathered round your campfires wanting better light, settling for what you can get.
You may touch, catalogue and shelve them,
name them for yourselves in Latin,
but cannot claim them, however you may become engaged.
Time . . .
The old man told me this is Miocene time:
fifteen million years ago, give or take ten million.
Can I believe it?
But I am trying to.
Life along the beach was plentiful and varied;
birds I didn’t know the names of,
squirrels scampering in the upper trees,
in the water an occasional turtle head
submerged once you stared at it.
Occasionally a fishback glinted, sometimes baring more,
probably striped bass.
A school of Bluefish stampeded smaller fish toward shore.
In landlocked tidal pools were minnows,
minuscule shrimp and even smaller life.
Deer had left their cloven hoof prints in the beach,
this safer highway off the road.
Rabbits also showed their absence
by their footprints and their presents.
Ospreys had raised families in a skeleton tree.
I was in a place of life;
I was in a place of death
with no contradiction.
We’re fond of glorifying earth as a living thing-.
No argument with the fact, only with cliché as sanctimony.
It’s so full of life, so blue and green,
but scratch its surface,
dig . . .dig . . . disinter, excavate, discover.
Beneath it all a global graveyard,
a planet based as much on death.
This earth is cemetery, a vast necropolis,
this beach and cliff, an ossuary.
We are pygmies riding on a giant’s shoulders
walking on a lot of bones.
Back up a beach is always further;
U-turn of every journey even that from reverie.
I wasn’t in a hurry, it wasn’t getting late,
but I’d come quite a distance;
my legs and neck were feeling it.
Though not a worry, the tide was coming in.
Wavelets lapping at my toes;
I’ve had wet feet before.
I started heading back relieved
to be staring other ways than down around my feet.
As the beach shrank smaller there was less and less to see.
I paid more attention to the Bay now on my left.
A parade of vessels of motley flags and sizes
steamed their steady passages in the shipping channel:
container carriers, tankers, freighters, Coast Guard craft,
some tugs and barges, and many others . . .
I didn’t see a cruise ship; it was a good day for one:
clear, bright and warm, Bahama like
with the slightest breeze, just enough to ruffle water,
but not so much you’d miss a rockfish jumping. Fishing boats buzzed and drifted here and there
and sailboats butterflied their ballet upon their stage
look slicing the water like Great White’s fins.
Fishing birds were busy fishing,
others somewhere singing, tweeting.
Dragonflies darted here and there.
Upon the cliff’s brow overhung a drapery of trees and vines.
The sky was high today.
The cliffs now took on priority.
I now risked walking close, sometimes closer
where they weren’t undercut.
I was free to feast my eyes and curiosity
underfoot and overhead within my reach
to see what I could newly find ’mongst all this oldness.
So much rain had made the cliff unstable, looser;
some of it freshly fallen.
It loomed, threatening death and burial in one efficient stroke, but on I came chancing both the cliff and risk.
Landslides could happen, stone avalanches,
vertical becoming horizontal in a swift crash.
A skull-sized chunk could crush a skull.
Climbing could, of course, prove fatal.
I am careful, not a fool; I’ll take the odds of lightning.
Skirting without climbing satisfied my purposes, whatever they might be.
I wasn’t courting mishap or tragedy.
Let’s call it curiosity.
I mustn’t fall in love with out-of-reach rewards.
I didn’t try to search too high, chance undue temptation. As with some pretty women this a case of was look, don’t touch, and subdued adrenaline; this place was rattlesnaky.
Also commonsensibly, I had no tools, no bag or basket,
no ways or means for more.
I saw the now familiar from a fresh perspective
foetally embedded in its mother matrix, not yet fully born.
The surface was irregular to the hand and eye.
There were bands within it, tilted waves of gritty ribbons
nearly parallel with each other, but not so with the water-
a giant Smith Island cake dropped and left right where it landed.
Between the stony layers ran more sandy veins,
soft enough to scratch into with my bare hand.
Someone daft or rash enough to gouge footholds
into these yielding layers
might build the kind of lethal ladder angels would decline.
It was the kind of escapade that might appeal to me,
thirty years before,
but not enough to do it now.
As I proceeded,
I had a really good look to see if there was anything
I hadn’t noticed from the beach,
something different from the sharks’ teeth
and maybe-looking bones
and shells, shells, shells and more shells,
seashell path to prehistoric sea.
I’m sure I missed a lot through my inexperienced eye.
Much in the museum had looked to me
like undifferentiated stone just like other stones,
but for the fact that they were labeled bones.
I shopped for anomaly, unfamiliarity.
I didn’t know the names of what I did see,
but wasn’t much concerned with that.
I didn’t feel the need to know them yet,
those little flags of ownership armchair explorers plant
on newfound, foreign shores to claim them as their own, anchoring them as namesakes in absentee possession. I kept seeing more and more of nothing different,
but tried to wean myself from complacency or haste
before my eyes glazed over.
This was a job I gave myself without a job description
so, while I’m here, I’d do it.
That is how I fish and that is why I catch them.
I touched far fewer things,
bending over as little as I could because I ouched a lot .
Unwisely multi-tasking, I strained to focus
without breaking stride at a quickened pace
till staring stung my eyes, a bad habit riding on my back.
I had been accelerating for no good reason;
I didn’t want to miss a thing.
I sat down again and eased my eyes,
let them go soft and blurry
let my vision go on autopilot where it’s often at its best.
Then . . . as I got up, leaning on the cliff for balance something stung or bit me in the palm of my right hand.
There was no critter there.
Fossils are not sharp;
all the ones I’ve seen are rounded and relatively soft.
I saw what did it, inconspicuously embedded in the wall
with blood now on it- mine-
enough to ball up my handkerchief for and clench it in my fist.
I doubt if I’d have noticed it otherwise.
Sticking out at shoulder height
the shape of a shark’s tooth,
except . . . this was not a shark’s tooth.
I had no doubt; I’d seen hundreds of them today,
but only one of this.
About halfway exposed, its sharp point protruding,
irregularly serrated, it looked to be hand-chipped or carved,
I think the word is “knapped”. I knew what it looked like
and also knew what it couldn’t be.
It was stuck hard in the stratum where it lay; it would not wiggle free.
Arthur and Excalibur came to mind, anthropomorphically.
It was content to stay right where it was;
I was not content to leave it be.
With a hard sharp shell I began to scrape and scratch around it-
easier said than done.
Slow progress. I didn’t want to slice myself again.
Finally . . . at last . . . some movement-
very slight at first, gradually increasing,
until a wiggle, then a twist and in between more digging.
until the rock relented, loosened its firm grip,
gave it slowly up to me, let me have it.
Some sand clung to it;
I rubbed off a little with a shell.
Hard won . . . but a victory, albeit a mixed one.
I sat down again to have a long hard look at it.
This was hard stone . . . very.
My guess was flint, sharp enough to shave with.
This was artifact, not fossil.
This was an arrowhead.
This was impossibility.
If this were on the beach it would be explainable;
this had been Indian country,
but there is no way an Indian could have shot or buried
this arrow into this Cliffside at this depth.
(Why would he? Why would it point outward?)
This surface was not yet exposed when Indians were present.
There were no Indians in this chapter of Creation.
The tide of this befuddlement was swiftly coming in;
the cost of this discovery: its penalty was readily apparent.
It was obvious and certain that no one would believe me.
I am a curious person and all that comes with that.
Now that this paradox had dropped into my lap
I couldn’t let it be or easily be free of it.
Already this was more than arrowhead;
it was Idea.
Covering my emotion lay intellect, its skin.
I was unprepared for hidden warning signs.
What words could state the peril I now faced?
Is there language adequate to caution
that the threat was not through injury-
that was not my hazard-
but by obsession with true mystery.
I’m having so much hindsight now;
why did I have so little foresight then?
There would be a lot of homework
best done in solitude;
otherwise if publically, in half-truths or outright lying.
I am educated broadly, but a shotgun not a sniper
and since this perplexity involved specialties not mine
I’d need the expertise of others.
Ruefully reflecting on all the classes I’d half slept through,
or been barely listening to,
enough of it sunk in for me to know
I was facing more than mere oddity.
I dreaded all the hard work that lay ahead of me:
a lot of books and questions in search of answers.
There’d be fieldwork- returning here-
I would enjoy that.
I’d like to find a second one-
document it with photographs and witnesses.
As this one was, there must be another.
If I have this one why not two . . . or more,
there’s got to be another shoe somewhere near this floor.
In this moment’s headiness
may I be allowed a grandiosity:
might the archer be found as well?
No time like the present for exploration to begin.
I had a closer look around my excavation.
Broadening my search, I found nothing obvious,
so did not prolong it;
there were other things to do.
I’d have to trust my mental map;
I had no camera, no pen or paper to plot it graphically.
I had to mark this spot inconspicuously,
so I could find it later, but not lead others to it.
This discovery was mine.
While I was in the throes of its being new to me
I’d best do nothing until I’d thought it through.
I must pay close attention to features of this site.
First I focused on the top, the edge above me
where forest overhung the vertical
(some trees were slowly toppling, soon to fall).
Was there a special tree or a unique outcropping?
Yes, I found what I needed; it had been lightning struck.
Now to memorize and reinforce that memory by repetition.
Next, a marker down below.
There was a lot of insubstantial litter,
which, with the winds and storms and tides,
easily comes and as easily goes.
Driftwood thickets here and there, also flimsy, portable.
I was in for some hard and sweaty work.
I dragged three heavy logs, the remains of trees
whose limbs and branches had been worn from them
by time and other elements; half their weight was water.
I laid them side by side, at right angles to the base
as close as I could place them-
exactly thirty paces to the north of X, the spot.
Forty paces to the south
I rolled and dragged and cursed
three squarish boulders into place.
I looked at it from near the water line
for maximum perspective.
I had to memorize my tree;
I had to memorize my dig so I would recognize it. .
The next important job requiring full attention
was to study the seam, a layer of the cake,
where this point had been bedded.
Although not ruling out the other seams,
this lode was the one that gave me what I had,
the likelihood that here there may be more
making it most promising.
Something else to memorize, not my best faculty.
I’d need to track that seam as far as I could follow it
before it dove into the ground back near the museum,
as I remembered it.
I stalked it as closely as I could until I wasn’t quite so sure.
One last thing before I left:
the height of the arrow’s nest came to just below my shoulders.
I took a final look above to verify my marker tree,
trying again to be a camera.
Although I meant to be back soon
things have a way of changing.
I passed by the piles I had collected without picking up a thing;
I had all that I could carry:
one single thing.
When I got back to my starting place
the old man asked how I’d done.
I said it had been interesting, I was glad that I had come.
Now that I’d found my cursed treasure
I’d like to come back as often as I could.
He said I would be welcome- good weather-
anytime as long as it was light.
Some come in the winter, too.
Of the Show or Tell I was considering- definitely not both-
I asked if Indian points turned up here, too.
Yup, he said, they do.
They show up in the woods and fields,
but never in the cliffs, of course, and unlikely on the beach.
Algonquian and Piscataway, both long gone Iroquois,
all around these parts.
Sometimes they wash down.
I’ve got a few in here.
He showed them to me.
Generically familiar, specifically different.
I never brought the subject up again.
I’d caught my quota for the day.
I needed information and didn’t know who’d have it-
I’d have to beat the bushes for educated guesses
from any valid source-
there had to be a few-
anyone ahead of me in various specialties:
the history of the earth for one- geology,
earth’s fossil record- paleontology,
and closer to us- perhaps too close: archeology:
prehistoric peoples from study of their artifacts.
I’d settle for a master-mind, an earthly Einstein.
I’d have to learn enough to follow
what I hoped they might be teaching me.
I had a large advantage: a native sense of logic,
aka: a shit detector
I thought I’d best avoid psychiatry.
Next time there I came prepared to explore in earnest,
limiting myself to best specimens of each type
matching pictures in the books
for a private inventory of what I could not resist
and to learn the names of things,
establishing validity though this was a sideline now,
a front for my frequent presence.
I put my greed behind me.
I wanted only one of each for my tactile education.
I also brought things home to test the spell
that clung to the fossils like an odor,
the way their presence stayed with me. Back in their habitat there was no mistaking it,
but at this distance it became so faint and thin
I was never certain.
One day yes, the next I was less sure.
There were lots of maybes.
Despite my fretfulness I found my “dig” with ease.
That had worried me, cost some sleep.
I had my camera and binoculars,
and my best prospecting tool:
a long handled mountain pick- rock hammer on a stick-
to extend my reach and flick my finds
from wherever they might be sighted
up in the cliffside as high as I can reach
without disturbing it- or me.
I did not intend to climb or die-
It’s also good to ferret out the beach
and eliminate some bending over.
I still take a bag or two,
a compromise between discipline and addiction.
My site was each time as I had left it.
I would bring lunch and a small camp chair,
then scan the coarse, uneven face methodically
first focusing on my “mother” lode and then expanding.
This was more than looking, inspecting was more like it. examining in sharp detail.
Having seen all that I could see from one location
to the edge of clarity
I’d move to the right or left never skipping over anything.
A mosaic for the eye, with no piece missing, however small.
I kept a photographic log and reviewed it at my leisure.
Before moving on each time I’d walk up to it
as close as I could get, look it over face-to-face,
rub my hand on it, offering blood sacrifice again
if it should come to that.
On the posted private land
I tried to stay below the high tide line diplomatically;
on public property I worked closer to the cliff.
Whenever something caught my eye, magnetized attention,
I’d risk confrontation with those on their side of their fences.
Trespassing was a misdemeanor with possible fine and jail time.
I might need to plead with silver tongue to sympathetic ear,
if it ever came to that; it hadn’t.
I’d be happy to sign a liability waiver should it be tendered.
I could not state my true mission.
I’d become collector that first day, an avid novice starting out,
but I’ve reformed for reasons other than the obvious.
I’d no more room to store my treasures;
I’d filled it up with rocks and bones and fossils.
I didn’t stop collecting and am reluctant to relinquish,
although I might replace;
my shelf space was that crammed.
I wanted expertise, or at least its semblance
of the realms I’d entered.
This acquiring was education as I came to know collectibles.
I chose between what I had and each new addition,
returning one of them back to the beach.
Absorbed in my enigma,
I’ve shed the need to own anything but two:
the one I have and the one I’m looking for.
Though window shopper now I’m still open to temptation,
tantalized at times,
always urged by curiosity, ever energized by awe.
In this strangeness I wonder whimsically
if I might also chance upon a Kraken’s beak
or the horn of a unicorn.
I have become a comber of a broader beach.
Now that it’s implanted in my mind I can’t put the seed back,
tweeze it from my memory, be free of the idea of it.
Should I consign the object to the darkness of my pocket
now that it’s been exposed to light and so bring some relief?
I was so aware of it; it would not come to rest.
I had a pendant made of it suspended on a golden chain
and kept it always next to me hidden in plain sight.
I exhausted libraries and they exhausted me;
thank god for the Internet.
How many languages did I need to read the diary of the earth?
I needed simplifying facts to answer just one question:
how could someone shoot an arrow across ten million years?
Baldly stated, there it is.
What did you shoot that arrow at?
Did you hit it?
Did it taste good?
Did it nourish you and yours?
The animals and fish that were there for you –
rabbits, bluefish, deer and perch
are much the same as we fish and hunt for.
Our diet and our larder’s much the same;
we’re omnivores at each end of one long table.
We – I have to say it . . . we. . . have a certain resonance:
you, who once were
and I, who, some eons hence, will also be as you.
We are now connected by my curiosity
and our shared, however distant, mutual humanity.
The only clue, what’s left of you-
this tool you made and used- is all there is;
the rest also bedevils me.
You are so much less than dead- or more if viewed another way.
You are so erased you have become unwritten in any record book,
so close to having never been.
I try to meet our past on its passive terms
from my subjective distance.
It seems far too far to come, and certainly is.
Not a pseudo-séance, but a field trip of the mind,
stretching . . . being stretched . . .into some kind of mystic touch . . Adamlike and Godlike, fingers frozen in their almost there.
I am neither God nor Adam; who the hell are you?
Talk about trespassing, we are both so out of bounds.
This was anomaly beyond anomalies . . . anachronism,
temporal dislocation, parachronistic incongruity-
new words to me-
shifting my emphasis and my motives for thinking,
doing almost everything.
I’d tripped and fallen into a tiger pit of time.
When I was young my mother gave me
a World Book encyclopedia,
cross-referencing spiderweb of irresistibility.
A fuse was lit.
I followed all the road signs, ending where I’d started out,
all this amounting to an extremely liberal education.
Recently, the spider on acid, busier than before, and slyer
has spun another labyrinth in a neighboring dimension.
Having been forewarned, nonetheless, here I go again.
Between field trips I sought out “experts”, relentlessly and guardedly, wherever I could find them:
authors, teachers, their books and some of their classes.
It’s sometimes easier to ask, “Can you please help me?”
than wandering alone through dense pages in the dark
seeking light enough to read by.
When so approached and stroked, most people are obliging
even or especially when they don’t know what they are saying.
My enquiries were well clothed in robes of rationality
draped with discretion,
cloaking what would be to them absurdity or madness.
I dared not show the arrowhead dangling ‘round my neck
tell them where I got it .
I couldn’t show my hand, the equivalent of presenting
a charred silhouette of Jesus in a piece of toast.
We know enough at any time to print temporary books,
touting that the latest is bound to be the best
while typing up the next edition,
aware that this year’s will be obsolete in one or two.
Avant garde, the cutting edge:
think razor and what a razor’s for;
the beard keeps right on growing.
Nothing ‘s static; nothing will stay still.
Exasperatingly, it’s often more rewarding
to listen for the messages of things themselves
when they seem to speak directly to us
than to deal with their interpreters.
People pose the problems, the experts and authorities,
and then become them.
Caveats are extraneous when the statement’s ex cathedra.
A universe of distinction lies between the unexplainable
and the merely unexplained,
although some insist they are the same.
Controversy reigns on earth; the universe is indifferent.
It’s been said by someone within the scientific clan
that we know exactly four percent of what we can.
What arrogance to teach what you haven’t learned.
Sciences and -ologies advertise their progress,
their “most important product”, in rendering the opaque clear,
but their pseudo-certainty still boils down to mystery.
Sorry, I have grown sour from too many lemons.
Cynical? Who, me?
Answers don’t stay put;
like waves, they’re overridden by the next.
Questions follow answers more surely
than answers follow questions.
Many messages, presumed, are read before the envelope is slit.
Fossil footprints in the mud become too often
one flat stone is not a path.
It’s not sand’s destiny to remain within an hourglass.
My quest for knowledge arises from my need;
it’s not a game I play.
If I renounced humility while wresting iffy answers
from the permanence of questions
flaws would swarm like flies from the fraudulence of hubris.
I do not claim significance from my discovery;
it may be that it discovered me.
I can’t say that I felt guided by prescience or déjà vu,
I was in the midst of a different ordinary day.
Lest I complain about the burden, let me say this to me:
“Don’t go to the Nobel Prize; let it come to you.”
I sought solution
through linear and analytic methods
as student and in solitude,
all stonewalled at the same dead ends.
I’ve run out of experts in person and on paper.
I didn’t know enough to trust what I find in books.
I needed an interpreter, a translator.
I now know enough to not trust them.
At this point I don’t believe there’s anyone
who can enlighten me.
Returning to the cliffs for years with loyal frequency
keeping up my vigil, manning my station,
I know that every day my odds of unearthing a second one
are exactly as for the first,
which keeps me even with the universe.
I’m strongly drawn to coming back;
I’d been from the beginning, irresistibly.
There is something here for me that I feel only here –
a life-form like an aura, persisting after all this time
warding off distinct display or explicit recognition.
All this and the arrowhead.
It was simpler in the old days before the old man died,
intestate and heirless, before the State took over
laying down restrictions which I early learned to skirt
by baldly lying and/or feigning ignorance if challenged,
as happened rarely.
I was prepared to say whatever they wanted to believe allowing me to slip between the short arms of the law.
Authority came to know me; I became accepted over time.
They grew to think me harmless, which I was,
neither threat or liability.
Some thought I was a scientist
who knew what he was doing, so I swelled to fill the role.
Memorizing Latin nomenclature was one facade that helped.
I came to be on speaking terms with owners of property above.
agreed to all their terms, offered compliance with their wishes.
I wouldn’t dig or litter
or climb the stairs up to their homes
or upon that “attractive nuisance”, the cliff itself.
If they were on the beach or coming down to it
I would leave discretely as if I’d never been there,
unless they gave a sign of welcome as some would often do.
Technically, I was an interloper,
but they came to think of me as watchman of benefit to them.
The old man’s house is long gone, razed by the state,
replaced by a bright museum, as opposed to gloomy,
now more like a hotel lobby.
They retained his collection and expanded it.
It’s still a helpful reference
though they’ve not surpassed his accuracy or knowledge.
I check out their Indian points from time to time
to see if they’ve added to them.
They’ve come to think of me as the guy who came with the beach.
The public shore is often crowded now-
as are beaches everywhere-
more pickers picking, moreso after rain or storms,
but the horn of plenty is as full as ever.
It won’t run out.
I sometimes gave the fisherman I was a day,
a small vacation.
I’d bring my tackle and just play.
That was acceptable.
I’d given at the office, paid my dues of debt.
I’d catch Spot and Bluefish, sometimes Trout or Flounder,
which are as they were, their fossils underfoot.
Multi-tasking conflicts with my religion,
but though this was technically a fishing day
I couldn’t keep myself from walking
with eyes cast down around my feet or upward at the cliff.
When my eyes and neck got tired I’d mix in some variety
prowling the open beach, selectively collecting-,
practicing catch and release.
To the bone
I’ve always been a beachcomber and fisherman.
I took so many wrong directions- fundamental ones-
on the advice of others or through my own conjectures.
My first guess had been Indians,
because I’d found an arrowhead
because they’d lived here- how naïve.
They were the settlers in this vacant place, or so it’s said,
immigrants from the east and west of North
at most twenty thousand years ago.
The Miocene was more like twenty million.
My logic had been thus:
The traffic of migration was controlled
by something like a see-saw of water and its alter-ego: ice.
When one was up, the other’s down,
each a blanket of the planet either way.
Three quarters of the surface of the earth was water,
ice more or less one fourth of that in variable ratios.
Once the planet cooled and hardened in its infancy
water was sometimes on top and sometimes not,
but always under water lay solid rock or earth.
When the margins of the seas became paved with ice hardy humanoids braved their ways upon the icy shores
to greener pastures previously inaccessible to pedestrians,
and risked their ways from continent to continent
across ice bridges spanning perilous depths
while others crossed narrowed straits on rafts or boats
and some other creatures kept right on swimming
waiting for their moment to emerge.
Elsewhere, others of the Stone Age
streamed like molasses ‘round the world from Africa
over many different routes.
Irrelevant, because their legacy was only
one hundred sixty thousand years or so of bones
and those in very foreign lands.
Their first arrows flew at most
sixty thousand years ago or so the story goes.
No, they also didn’t leave my arrowhead.
Whenever error is introduced into a system or a history
it clones itself as gospel
repeatedly begetting endless copies of itself,
grooming self-replicating plagiarists as carriers.
In cahoots with comfort, error has great power,
once entrenched in its disguise,
defying correction or removal.
Like any uninvited visitor, it doesn’t want to leave.
It must be recognized, acknowledged, exorcized,
a ritual involving danger
for its brave or foolhardy undertaker.
The longer it remains in place, the deeper it becomes embedded,
the more resistance there will be to the pulling of this splinter,
an act sure to attract resentment, scorn,
and the risk of martyrdom.
It means going back to school again for kiddies of all ages.
On any stage there is an actor
casting himself in all the leading roles,
performing them because he’s unopposed.
He persists because unchallenged,
taking all the space, breathing all the air.
We host this parasite at our expense as long as he is in our face;
we are his captive audience
because he says the exit’s locked..
That’s why it’s said that science grows “a funeral at a time.”
If science fails us, may we simpler laymen,
find some core of truth within myth and legend:
pearls whose metamorphoses
began with grains of sand or diatoms?
Willful ignorance is an insult,
especially from those in authority,
who should know better, act better
and be better than the rest of us.
Good role models never have been too plentiful;
maybe they aren’t paid enough.
Too often science dictates what it can’t pronounce or spell.
Looking at the bottom of a bygone sea
it’s hard to form a clear image of geology.
Some, having had a glimpse, say they know the rest
and so are paid to teach it.
April twenty eighth, my birthday,
a frayed bookmark between blinks.
My present was another arrowhead
found on the ground close to, not in the cliff.
Similar, generic, not identical,
lacking the feeling of the character I’d call archetypical,
meaning way back near the beginning of the assembly line.
Their parent stones were from different quarries,
their sculpting by unrelated hands.
How did it get there, where was it from?
I keep asking questions; that’s what I do.
This one didn’t count as the second one;
I didn’t find it in the wall itself,
but feel persistent need to validate the first
to a, so far, nonexistent jury of my so-called peers.
Should I show it without comment,
to someone with a more experienced eye,
let them tell me what they think it might be?
I hadn’t done that yet because I was afraid.
Is that paranoia; is there good reason for it?
In my constant inner dialogue I am Devil’s advocate,
and the devil, increasingly with time.
What is this compulsion to authenticate to myself
what’s in my hand as well as in my mind,
obviously as real as the hand that holds it.
The problem seems to be that leaking vessel, memory,
a phantom gland unequal to the past it was party to;
on the scales of time the past sheds weight
when pitted against the hefty present.
This is potential fear, not a real problem yet.
My secrecy was not born of pride,
but of a need for dignity, validation of myself-
in the face of NO.
I must not lose my faith in myself.
I know where I got it!
There’s a theory in genealogy that a family rumor,
if persistent, may well be true.
While unraveling that ball of yarns one is confronted with
enough knots and snarls and tangles
to make a rumor of that rumor.
One’s family tree can’t be defined by simply tracing
limbs and branches as far up and out as will bear our weight.
There’s more of it than meets the eye,
figuratively- in silhouette against the sky,
or, actually- on paper.
Another tree supports it, its mirror image equal:
the rest of it, beneath the surface where lie our buried roots, as untraceable as connection to collective consciousness.
What are the boundaries of this extended family?
What is the size of it, its diversity, its population?
How far back in this paleonarcheology
was my arrowhead embedded?
How deep is it possible to dig to disinter it?
At the end of reason, I am now arriving where I had to go.
There’s hearsay in the dynasty of legendary places
kept alive through stubborn measures in so-called fiction
where everything now happens fast or faster to accommodate the modern pace and taste.
Still expelled from textbooks,
Myths of Creation and their Geographies
linger, patiently alive and well, in a vast archive
entempled somewhere between Science, the Fiction of
and Fiction, the Science of.
The names of Atlantis and Lemuria and other legendary places
are battleships sunk in the wars of continents,
remain familiar millennia since they were last seen.
If they did exist, evolution, which we know and say we trust,
surely went before and continued after them on firmer ground.
Conflicting views abound
when they’re allowed in open conversation. Scientists claim the upper hand as always,
citing lack of fossil evidence as if it proves their case
beyond a doubt.
Aye, there’s the rub- beyond a doubt-
deftly overlooked in the face of inconsistency,
hidden in the closet, forgotten in the file,
conveniently neglected whenever challenging consensus
(another rub), another sleight of hands
is ignored within and by that gated enclave.
Consensus is less measured by conformance with known science,
than approval by its members in a vote.
The will of the majority is taken to be truth,
then cast in bronze of doctrine, policy and dogma
straining vocabulary beyond the bounds of dictionary
since the minority also voted for the truth.
How can you vote on fact- for it or against,
whether known or not?
Consensus is no proof of anything.
We’ve got a puzzle we’re unlikely to assemble.
Some pieces will not ever fit;
others will remain forever missing.
Some keys we seek lie locked, buried beyond our time here
beneath thousands of yards of bottom
under hundreds of yards of water
a thousand miles off any recent shore,
fossils, profoundly lost because never found
hidden beneath an abysmal former shoreline.
This is a society of what we know.
I would be more comfortable
in a culture based on what we don’t know
because in any serious investigation
we ground on a bedrock of mystery.
Sometimes extrapolation is just a cheap cigar
or spots we see before our eyes when getting up too quickly.
Core-boring sampling is throwing darts
at unseen targets in the dark.
Those monkeys typing Hamlet
should take up pointillism when they’re done
connecting the pin prick dots to just as likely form a Mona Lisa
as an abstract X-ray of the earth.
Being right about a wrong idea based on insufficient evidence
is arrogant and dangerous.
Once a scientist- or anyone – knows he’s right his mind closes like a sphincter.
I am burnt and stung.
I’ve run out of experts with no further need to hide.
Is now the time to boldly, baldly show my hand
hoping for a better one dealt from another deck?
This investigation is as layered as the cliffs themselves
with elemental forces repeatedly reshuffling decks
and dealing different hands unevenly around the table.
I doubt if my evidence would or could be heard,
even if they relaxed and listened
instead of being pricks around this odd balloon.
The limits they insist are in and of their minds,
set and settled on within their comfort zones,
Science has direction, traveled by a flow of increments
with occasionally a leap of something
with the size and strength of faith, of art.
What if we reversed the course first hypothesizing a conclusion,
then attempting to build a bridge between there and here,
as opposed to there from here?
What if they took on this problem and straightforwardly
set about to solve it without prejudice or bias?
Ah, they’ve got too much to lose,
too much erasure and retraction,
far too much repudiation;
this would shake the tree too much,
all its fruit would fall off.
I’ve knocked on doors of Science and Religion . . .
Both are locked to me.
I can’t understand the one or believe the other.
What access door is somewhere ajar for me to try to open,
offering an inkling, a hint of possibility?
This is what I‘m left with, nowhere else to go,
after consulting infant science suckling in its cradle.
Ironically, religion in its casket points a bony finger,
toward its common origins with science in myth.
What should we call our myths?
What is their category?
Non-fiction, fiction or is there another genre
where Zeus and Shiva lived . . . and live?
Non-fiction and reality aren’t synonymous
or science would be stranded. Fiction and non-fiction are also not the same,
nor are they opposites, though they might be of equal size.
Their common aspiration with reality is to discover and reveal it.
They are two legs of a triangulation, an imaginary device employed to find its other leg-
something called the truth. Truth might be something like a star
which can’t been seen by staring at it with the naked eye;
you must look next to it to see it.
Within the realm of fiction without leaving fact behind
there are lenses of perception, facets of a diamond
that focus at the truth, adjusting toward being on it,
zeroing in on this moving target that will not stay still.
When artists or scientists are asked
where their ideas come from
most say from their imagination.
Where does imagination get them?
Fiction and non-fiction have been and can be
either, both or neither.
More like a relay than a competition.
In one incarnation one will be the mother,
in the next- the child, without conflict or contradiction.
If you get stuck, or lose your way in one, then try the other.
Sometimes fiction aka imagination lies within non-fiction.
Sometimes non-fiction just needs a boost from imagination to help it over hurdles.
Generally, the so-called factual tends
to slip and slide toward and into fiction.
However, if truth is butterfly,
non-fiction is the pin that too often stills it.
Nothing now to lose, here is at last my theory.
It’s been said that History is inadvertent fallacy at best;
at worst, deceptively self-serving,
that any attempt to record factual account
helplessly becomes a work of fiction.
Fiction’s door often opens on the path,
becomes clear and open to and through non-fiction
toward what you’re looking for.
Let me insert into this record here
that I have no idea what I am talking about.
This is pure invention stemming from my ignorance.
If I have to bore a tunnel into time and crawl through it
to get at the truth I seek I must find out how to do it.
In the theater of confusion it seems it’s up to me.
to write my own play and then produce it.
It’s title is The Rubicon.
My war with science is absurdly ludicrous;
science is the windshield, I the bug
in an uncontested non-encounter,
but in fiction we’re on equal footing.
I won’t be writing science fiction,
but stripping science down to its shorts
and dressing it in fiction, hand woven clothing
once I decide which will be the warp,
the lengthwise, longest threads
across which run the fibers of the filling woof.
I’ll let synchronicity decide, I’m overdue a visit,
or did it come like Santa Claus and decline my cookies?
I’m also overdue a visit from serendipity.
I’m not waiting for the world to reconcile with me.
I’m looking for a world that I can reconcile with.
I entertain larger possibilities in silence and alone.
I have no argument to present and not a thing to prove
that can be proven in my time.
The future is a world I will never visit.
There was a time before which man could not exist in any form.
Then, very slow to take the stage,
after waiting in the wings so long, quadrupedally
we’re now told we’ve had a brief life span
after rising to the occasion with two feet upon the ground,
freeing up the other two to put to better use.
Perhaps too brief for credibility
if we believe what’s cast in print as granite
about the length of time available since then.
Does evolution have a lifespan?
Metamorphosis seems to have one.
Is it possible we’ve been through this more than once before,
in dramatic moth-like cycles with near death experiences:
The Five Extinctions?
And evolution, which contains them-
there’s been ample time for more than one.
We might be later than we think.
and we might have started earlier.
Who can possibly imagine, or begin to,
this expanse of time during which,
however slowly, things were going on.
We’ve had time and determination, true grit,
necessity, the orphan of no choice.
Every orchid has to die, but first it wants to bloom.
We’ve shivered through ice ages, (We’re still in one.)
withered through some blazing deserts,
been conserved as seed crop
through one or more so-called extinctions.
Obviously man did not exist before man could exist,
although they generate a parade of reputations
based on guesswork,
fossils are notoriously unreliable as evidence of themselves, especially in their absence.
Reconstructions are figments, mystically artistic fabrications
of entire prehistoric animals
fancied from single isolated pieces of bone.
(Or are they artistically mystical?)
(What the fuck does prehistoric mean?)
How do they do it?
They don’t, it can’t be done.
More core-boring samples.
More slide shows of the unknown.
Although they do get some things right,
they’re very good at being wrong.
Evolution is a one-way river never running backwards.
Susceptible to being temporarily dammed,
it is never blocked completely,
ever capable of carving new channels,
following the bloodlines of least resistance.
Extinction is a necessity of evolution,
an intrinsic element, not a catastrophe.
Moving onward with all its denizens
except those who could no longer swim
and never learned to float,
its fresh vacancies are soon occupied
by other life looking for more and better room to grow.
Even so-called “Extinction Events”
are weeding processes, never total decimation of all life,
genocides removing competition and predators
of those next in line to fill abandoned space .
When interrupted, evolution
just picks up again where it was curtailed.
There is no guarantee that what proceeds from there
is a carbon copy of what might otherwise have been.
Not a thing stayed put;
Continents strained and shifted, were pushed
slower than the rate of fingernails’ growth.
Time was in a sense irrelevant, without deadline or schedule;
Though it seemed to not exist, it was defined by change.
Behind all scenes unanimation had always been going on
given raw materials spun by heat and light
and a kind of magic.
Things evolving, becoming . . . always becoming . . .
something different, something more.
When finally, in no hurry, with no rush,
the living seed began to sprout,
the life we care about began to happen.
We weren’t there to chart it,
so missed more than a page or two of this nonfiction myth.
Later, man could not resist conjuring how this came to be
and around the globe seemed to be in some agreement,
even reaching , one could say, separate consensus.
Tsk, tsk, tsk, religion got there first
and their version tends to be as good as any.
Climate is a pulse of the largest being we know,
beating colder, warmer, colder, warmer,
in a throb of longer seasons uncontained by calendars,
seeking equilibrium and never finding it
for longer than a planetary heartbeat,
meaning not really, as far as we can tell.
Ice ages come and go in cycles we will never know
and tides of oceans rise and fall by longer yardsticks,
all rewindings of a larger clock.
We drill down for oil ten thousand feet or deeper.
Finding not just a compost of dinosaurs,
their rain forest and dinosaur chow and fodder,
but a microorganismic stew of tiny plants and animals,
an infinite zoo composted into mud and silt,
sediment compressed into saturated rock called shale,
further modified by temperature and bacteria into gas,
or “boiled” down into pools of “liquid gold”
at the bottoms of very long gone seas
then squeezed even more by the mounting pressure
of dead relatives dropping in on them, so deep now, so very deep.
How’s that for good use of time?
So many measurements have been taken,
graphs constructed, formulae elaborated,
laws decreed, absolutes ordained. . .
To make a long tale short,
to simplify unknown complexity
we have established a system
of hypothesis and theory
and peerless peer review
based on predictability and repeatability
which we treat as fact.
Perhaps a wise decision
if it keeps us on the sane side of the madness called religion,
while blinding us, alas,
to the mad side of which science is our new religion.
Some figures are called absolutes, relatively speaking.
How could we know these things we otherwise would not
by looking at what we plainly can not see?
Because we take the word of those who say they know.
Although so enshrined, the speed of light is not an absolute
although treated as a pet example,
compared with simultaneity which is instantaneous,
ergo: faster, fastest..
Entanglement is also such, as well as Reiki distant healing.
There are likely more exceptions.
Zero Kelvin and the Big Bang are limits approached,
but not quite reached.
Synchronicity is considered to be acausal, an orphan.
Electricians are worthy tradesmen manipulating energy
that no one understands or can explain.
When contradictions arise like simultaneity
they are ignored, or blankly not addressed.
Does it matter if everything is not completely neat and tidy?
Yes, Virginia, there is mystery.
Once the planet was in place there still was a lot of time before things localized for us.
Time was all there was again for the longest time.
Ingredients were within it enough for many recipes.
Specialties of this house,
neither tried nor served before,
have been set before us at this table,
more than we will ever know.
There was world enough
and on it time enough for carbon dating,
carbon copies of reproductive rights and wrongs,
of unrecorded trials and cycles,
phantom duplicates of what we take for fact
and what we haven’t guessed at,
recurrences reduced to echoes of unheard utterance
of the newborn and of the stillborn
long dead before their voices
could be introduced as being first.
. Might there have been unrecorded cycles,
multiple recurrences of past societies
from the lighting of their candles to their snuffing out
primitive to cultured followed once again by extinction?
This long strand of life
woven of so many threads, knotted by extinctions,
rope on which the future hangs unbroken,
never really fully severed
despite some squeakers, all hurdles, not a wall.
Obviously, the proof is in the pudding,
not all eaten, not all served.
It was, perhaps, a wrong assumption
that there was only one Stone Age.
How many have there really been?
There has been time for many.
Is there room for mystic speculation
or is that too fanciful?
Was its creation intrinsic to itself, and not akin to me?
The pride I take as custodian of this treasure,
if I dare to use that word, is dangerously seductive,
masking eggshellish fragility.
Dare I bring up synchronicity, the sorcery that,
when it births something truly new
multiplies like bubbles in the bottom of a pot
as water comes to boil.
I should be happy to be chosen, but was I?
Does it really work like that?
Have I experienced what no one else has?
How could I know that?
The dilemma of another
would be much the same as mine:
secretive, hidden, as if ashamed.
There are costs for this, charges demanded,
prices to pay, extracted,
burdens, oh yes, burdens.
we could not even meet by chance
because of what we share.
We could never know each other.
My find was preexisting . . .
halfway to forever either way.
Could it have been there waiting . . .
for me or someone like me,
someone else to rise with its alarm,
as for a second dawn that day,
time come to wake again . . . to wake me?
Oh, it did.
In equal measure gods bestow, then snatch away.
What I’d been gifted in uniquity
they’ve stolen from my memory, lifted from my confidence.
and doubled my self-doubt,
a trade-off for Alzheimer’s?
Is this how madness ends? Begins?
Is this what insanity is like?
I’ve never seen it from the inside.
Between the issue and the ending,
here must subsist my sanity.
This is where I take my stand!
Closure and resolution are not gifts to be bestowed
by some external agency,
by something like “’scuse me god for having lived
and tripped on your mistakes”.
Those chaps who thought the wedding’s done,
went home with all the rice.
L43 ®Copyright 2014 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.