Advice from the Ground Beetles

Confidence of cave-dwelling carabid.

You can hurry, but it won’t get you anywhere. You were way too late for this prologue’s conclusion, and still want to rush. We are the stagehands you missed, ushering the deaths you wouldn’t stand.

It’s not the worst, really, to let others make a punchline of your life, like Where have you been, under a rock all this time? As a matter of fact, you can tell them––or not, cleaning your sensors with smooth precision.

I don’t want to frighten you, but let’s face it; it doesn’t take much. We live in the settings of your nightmares. No one knows you better than the one who recognizes what you refuse––I won’t say, to look at. You really ought to consider your bias toward sight, along with a few other favorite metaphors. Look at the river of life, you say, let’s jump in! From the places you call nowhere and not yet, we laugh and call back, you first! ––which is always your preference anyway.

Any beetle can tell you about all the cries in the dark, but that doesn’t mean you will listen. So much grief in these places, but we’ve been here all along. We get a lot of tourists on quests, looking for a dragon to slay. Sure, we tell them, go farther, and then get back to our invisible work, laughing.

Do you have a friend who studies eyesight, who can talk at length about degrees of vision? The word vision suggests blindness all by itself. A person’s aspirations will tell you a lot about their fears. 

Please don’t expect a welcome every time you come back. As a matter of fact, you should try to go missing. Let them call you extinct, finished. We’ve been doing this for twenty million years, but the newcomers can’t help themselves. There’s a new announcement every few decades about how they’ve discovered us––again.

Every seed spends many nights in the earth, and what does this tell you about the dangers you presume of obscurity? Kid, you’re kind of a drag the way you go around trying to illuminate everything. That’s enough now, out with your light.

From this darkness, there will be no forgiveness for someone who refuses to meet it on its own terms. 

***

Over this morning’s coffee, I learned that today is the birthday of the Croation entymologist Josef Müller (1880-1964) who is best known for his extensive study of blind cave-dwelling ground beetles. I can only imagine that one would be compelled to shift perspective away from certain popular biases after spending so much time with any often-disregarded species, especially those that are regularly rediscovered after presumed extinction. The idea inspired me to play again with certain phrases and turns from Robert Bly’s “Advice from the Geese,” an exercise from The Daily Poet that I enjoyed very much when I first used it to make “Advice from the Silver Mollies” for Bly’s birthday.

Soul at Night

Considering the architecture of passage.

If, in the middle of these days, it’s time to leave, 

if we consider time a mid-point, holding histories, 

here is genesis, here an afterlife, and here

a map on fire.

Mineshaft, funnel, honeycombed monolith

buried in earth, nine rings of illuminated

heralds, the light blinds.

Next, a big freeze: saws, tridents, snakes.

Now the ghost-bodied eagle, the rule of

law, what recompense can follow?

Grip the talons, fingers in the sockets

of an ancient skull, soar. Hold it, this

reverence to bear other rays.

What They Said While They Were Leaving

Time to move some boxes, one said.
Another claimed he was missing a passport, unable to fly.

Artist Paul Klee, who died on this day in 1940, often invoked a childlike perspective when addressing matters of life and death. I’ve long loved the angels he painted, full of flaws and worries, trapped in human-like, sometimes animalistic forms. This morning I was looking at one of his last works, “Death and Fire” and the timing of this happens to coincide with my review of a book Words at the Threshold: What We Say as We’re Nearing Death, by Lisa Smartt. I bought it years ago. Thinking of a character was my official reason, but the interests of a character are always covers for the questions we carry. I pulled it out again today, because I have a character facing death, and I am struck by the inherent playfulness of so many of the last words recorded in Smartt’s accounts, culled from documentation of many hospice patients over time.  There’s a sense of play in the voices of many of the dying, even at the “most serious” moment in life. I am always drawn to those for whom seeming opposites can coexist in the same space: joy and pain; life and death; wonder and heartache.

Death and Fire by Paul Klee, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

The following are notes assembled partly from found phrases in the book and online, considering what people say as they are leaving:

Time to move some boxes, one said.
Another claimed he was missing a passport, unable to fly.
One claimed to be the master of his fate, the captain of his soul, 
then called Bullshit! and left.
One asked for chocolate shavings on her tongue. 
Another, a cigarette. Pancakes with whipped cream.

Then come the metaphors. Listen.
Get ready for the big dance!
Lots of new construction over there!
Magic time: watch me disappear!
See the little duckies now, lining up.
They are setting the table now.

The ones who saw it as a battle went hardest.
Another dreamt of being surrounded by crows. 
It’s a murder! he said, laughing.

Some heard music, exclamations of wonder.
So many people! Can you tell me where the platform is?
Can you get the door for me?
Where do you want me to put these boxes?
Next stop, real hope! Look, they left the ladder.

Some saw butterflies, the number eight, the color green.
Others said nothing, but reached with their arms, up and out,
eloquent as infants in their expressions of need.