Sea of Light

What moves it? What draws it close?

It is always the same subtle force, the liquid of the universe. It saturates the living. This is our fluid body. We are held in it, so do not see. Here’s a proposal: create what will catch the current of light. To do this is a matter of knowing how and when to induct. Desire-demand, web of light, pray.

What moves it? What draws it close? The child’s soul, beholding a just-killed pheasant, for one. Droplets of it move like meteor showers low among us, large pearls of the world, suspended in the fluid of this collective womb.

See the vital waves emanating from a hand, electric signature of the elemental grace that holds us, invisible fire, our living light. Come, and all is transformed. One needs the dark to detect it. Let this be a new route into truth.

***

Inspired by (and borrowing phrases from) Dr. Hippolyte Baraduc’s 1913 book, The Human Soul: Its Movements, Its Lights, and the Iconography of the Fluidic Invisible, which I came across this morning. Baraduc was a French physician and parapsychologist whose research led him to create images (iconographs) intending to track the appearance of soul energy.

Words for Unknowing

Head in these clouds.

You menace, you specter, you shadow, you––

bear? No, airplane! That one’s an elephant.

You vapor, you veil, you gloom, you mist,

I see you, dragon! Your tail, like this!

Muddle, obscure, puzzle the lot. We name you anyway,

cataloging images like suspects’ mugshots: cirrostratus,

arcus, shelf, roll; towers of cumulonimbus plotting hail.

We can’t resist forecast’s temptation to fate; foretell

this foreboding, foreswear it true.

Shapeshifter of heaven, where are you? Count me

in, you said, and left when we reached nine. 

Our heads followed where we kept losing them. You

were the nightmare horizon, wandering lonely;

hold my unknowing and sing a feather canyon.

We’ll cross ages like you do these skies. 

Melancholy idyll, romantic torrent, ominous calm.

You annihilate language, and still, we can’t keep

from naming, even if nothing holds beyond the

first sound you inspire: Ah! Oh, what is this

but the beginnings of awe, and here in this

open field we fall silent, planting alleluias

and waiting for rain.

The Art of Perplexity

On the virtue of resisting the easy answer.

Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1131-1205), is a good person to meet if you’re looking for some antidote to the excesses of a mode of thought (typically Greek in origin) that tends to value “the universal, the general, and the unequivocal” over modes more typical of Hebraic scholarship, namely an openness toward “ambiguity, contradiction, and plurality of meaning” (from The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism). The title of Maimonides’ “Guide of the Perplexed” was enough to pull me into his orbit. The following is inspired by this treatise, as translated by Shlomo Pines

***

Consider this: the meaning of a sacred text can only be glimpsed. It is best accessed by those prone to being perplexed. Consider also how contradictions, so often maligned, may be embraced instead of being shunned as flaws.

I am moved toward those terms that may sometimes have one meaning, and sometimes many.

When it comes to some subjects, a sensible reader will know better than to demand a complete exposition and will not expect any given meaning to be exhaustive. A sensible reader would never consider the possibility of removing all difficulties, ever, from the interpretive challenge. The most valuable truths may at best be glimpsed, and then concealed again.

Sometimes, in a long, dark night, a flash of lightning will illuminate the landscape. It’s like that, and yet––

Many a fool has so hungered for certainty that he refers to pretend the flash continual, pretending night is day,

––hence the parable, the riddle, the poem, the allegory. Let me show you a deep well. Would you drink? No, you cannot reach it, except by attaching the pail to one, and the next, and the next of each of these, in succession and with humility of mind. You will find no rope long enough, but the vulgar won’t bear this truth. They’ll keep insisting, tell it straight and in a single breath, and when you can’t they will call you a liar and when you won’t you are nothing.

My goal: to guide a single, virtuous reader to rest. Most will be highly displeased. Here is no answer, no show. What may be told to mortals of their own beginnings, except obscurely?

Moon Life, Revisited

Inspired by the visions of the naturalist-artists from centuries past.

October is a great month for moons and all manner of star gazing––and perhaps, in this vein, also for attempting to throw the mind back to the imagined lives of those ancestors who knew nothing of video footage of astronauts stomping in lunar dust, nothing of the desolate-looking gray surface against black sky, whose thoughts of visiting the orb were in the same category as musings on Atlantis, the afterlife, and other wonderlands. With imagination as the chief informant, one gets documentation like that of Bishop John Wilkins, the distinguished natural philosopher who penned the mid-seventeenth century text, The Discovery of a World in the Moone, Or, a Discourse Tending to prove that ‘Tis Probable there May be Another Habitable World on the Planet. I came across images of the text this morning, in reference to the work that inspired Italian engraver Filippo Morghen’s 1776 Suite of the Most Notable Things, a series of fantastical etchings of moon life, no doubt inspired by discourses by Wilkins and other scientist-dreamers.

In this version of the moon, there are obvious parallels to New World mythology, complete with (predictably, perhaps) savages who ride winged serpents while battling a beast with porcupine spikes. The beasts are so large that the savage lunarians need to fashion a sort of guillotine-device, of a blade as tall as a circus-tent pole suspended by ropes from a tall tree, in order to cleave the bodies “from head to tail,” a process that is presumably a favorite pastime, second only to riding in carriages drawn by sails catching lunar winds, and fishing in vessels of hollowed-out pumpkins with sails attached. One may live in the pumpkins also, which provide excellent protection from any beasts that have managed to escape the giant knives. If a pumpkin sailboat is not to your liking, there are other models, wherein a standard canoe may be fitted with a pair of enormous wings. After a day on the water, one may dock at the pumpkin house, to summon the geese that will pull the carriages to the next planet, with the beat of an enormous drum. 

***

Inspired by this article in The Public Domain Review: “Filippo Morghen’s Fantastical Visions of Lunar Life (1776)”

Like a Caul

Thoughts on perception.

Continuous stream in perpetual motion,

no levees until we build. The mind wants

a fixed pattern, some mollusk shell against

the swell. So, we make and remake ourselves,

these others, our tools these numbers,

tests, images, sounds, scents, records

like Remember this. Color me a Milky Way

in turquoise, violet, rust, crimson tides of

possibility, a membrane across

these newborn eyes.

Desert Walk

A desert walk, and considerations of the pilgrim in borrowed space.

Forever with your help, reads the desert park slogan. Regarding longevity, consider Pliocene beds of oyster shells and the ancient remains of a coral reef.

Remember the saber-toothed cats, camels, giant turtles, and the condor-sized vultures. Remember the vertical faults, pushing up ridges with each quake. Remember when the river shifted course, filling the basin with two-thousand square miles of now-ancient lake, fringed with tule, arrow weed, willow, mesquite, palm.

Keep walking, keep looking, the names alone like an invocation of what was once understood: creosote, burrow weed, agave, mesquite, cat’s claw, jumping cholla, indigo bush, smoke tree, desert willow, ironwood. 

Watch for scorpions, watch for snakes, watch for ghost lights and the ghost rider, lantern in his chest; watch for bones, holding the wind.

Watch for it: every creature out here arranging itself in creative response to thirst. Watch for hidden water but beware the interior gorge. The ancients knew this as the home of the dead. Of course, it is also the most likely to be wet so there are those that take their chances, hiking down and further until every sound revolves into an echo of its origin, and the only place left to move is back up, or farther along the path you’ve been warned to avoid.

Rock News

Late-breaking developments in geologic time.

Today brings a preference for those sorts of conversations where it is understood that “recent news” refers to that which began to develop in the last one to two million years, such as the last ice age or interglacial period, or the rising of granitic mass of upstart mountain ranges.

For example, since the Pacific Plate beneath San Diego is drifting northwest as it grinds against the North American Plate at a rate of about two inches per year, forecasters are predicting that in fourteen million years, the southmost major city of the golden state will be a good deal north of San Francisco. Roads and aqueducts will obviously need some restructuring. It is unclear what current commissioners of infrastructure development and transportation are doing to address the issue.

Worldly-wise love to speak of pressing issues, but on a literal level it seems that the shifting of plates floating over the molten layer of planet should qualify here, except for the fact that one gets accustomed to speaking of it’s composition in familiar cliché’s like the ground beneath my feet

Confidence is one thing, but smug complacency is another. I like the confidence of the child who calmly and steadfastly articulates a vision of the universe in crayon. As in, here is the bottom of a rectangle of white paper. Here is a box of eight colors. This brown horizontal line, the beginning of earth. These vertical hash marks, assorted vegetation. These longer ones, trees, and so on: sky, clouds, people with wheels for feet, legs and arms extending directly from their heads. 

Give me this, or talk of volcanic islands sprouting in the ocean, their collisions into the mainland. Let’s discuss the movement and crystallization of molten earth, the nibbling friction of wind and water and other erosive forces, in concert with pressure and time, the undressing of earth’s layers, exposing batholith and other decadent depictions of time. 

Let us banter about the goings-on among granodiorite, of tonalite trysts; may the gossip of the moment feature gabbro rock and scintillating details about sandstone, shale; a conference of conglomerate, an expose on metavolcanic rocks metamorphosed with the last island collision. That’s the news I need today.

Supernova

Considering questions of size and scope.

On this day in 1604, Johannes Kepler observed Supernova SV 1604, which inspired him to write De Stella Nova. The following is inspired by Chapter Sixteen of this volume, as translated by C.M. Graney. It uses phrases from Graney’s translation.

If this passage through a thousand miles in one hour seems still incredible, 

consider the density of air against the density of ether. 

Consider Ptolemy, the ancient opinion, every idea more incredible 

than the last. Philosopher, weigh carefully 

the proportion of accident to subject, and the elegance of proportion

––not of size, as some want, but of beauty, of reasoning. Consider

motion: sun as mover, the planets movables, the place that holds them 

a vast sphere of stars. People may resist, ridicule: what? Fuss about

––what? To critique the mote in another’s eye is forget the log in

our own.  How small, each body here, compared to the globe of earth,

the womb that grows us. What internal faculty sparked this beginning,

her infinite architecture of bodies? 

Bathe Like This

To see a baby elephant splashing and take it as a suggestion.

May I know it for answering thirst, and to wash; for cooling feet, brushing teeth, boiling food; for baptism. May I swim to you through it. May I always remember the depths of its substance, the hidden multitudes beneath its infinite unknowns, and the speed at which I might be swallowed whole.

And yet, let me also remember what this little one knows at first touch, when she is feeling only surface, undistracted by depth: how it presses back against skin, against the pressure of whomever leans in. How this willingness to return touch magnified makes it best for splashing.

The first praise song ever uttered goes like this: Splash, tap, tap, splash! Open hand, open mouth, open foot. Again, again! Not to make a point, but for the delight of having none, but this.

***

Inspired by this video of Chaba, a rescued baby elephant, enjoying the water in her new tub, which I encountered on My Modern Met:

Headlines Almost Missed

News of the world, in miniature.

This morning, catching up on news from past months, I find some worth sharing.

Orange Orb Owning Onus of Our Origins, Outcast Among Us.

Dancing bears circle: stomp, push, shove; their mother waits. I watch through a lens.

Baikal babushka crosses the lake on skates her dad made, after war.