Dead Teachers

First lessons in deep time.

Look at you, powerful danger, witness to our end and our continuance. Cipher of memory, speak into the borders of this condition.

The first body––of nature, will vanish soon. But the second goes slowly. A creature of culture does not exit so quickly from its binding web. There are decisions to make about the coming journey, and in these we find fiber enough to weave the net. 

We ease them gently from us and continue to invite them back. We live with them, and they know us. Gone is too easy a word; if it were complete, wouldn’t the loss have less weight? 

This is something else, a presence without assurance, a radical rupture, reminding what the soil takes back. No, we have never been clean.

But if not gone, then where? Here is the beginning of hope, thirteen ways of looking at a moldering body. What else could it be, these first lessons in seeing the invisible?

***

I was considering the presence of deep time in the work of artist Alfredo Arreguin when I came across a Social Research article by Thomas W. Laqueur called “The Deep Time of The Dead,” which inspired this post.

The Living, Remember

What we stash to save beyond selves.

This morning, I read that chickadees make it through the winter by eating through a stash of eighty-thousand seeds they hide during warmer months, and if I put my keys anywhere but on the ledge by the door I will be at a loss and probably late. 

There are different categories of memory, say cognitive ecologists, and this one is spatial. What is mine, then? It’s not spatial, nor is it numbers. I rarely have the right fact at the right time. Impressions, I have plenty. I remember the images, sounds, and sudden sensations that stopped me. The lilting laughs and mannerisms of departed loves, near-strangers included, the dimples in a former toddler’s chubby hand. I return to these only to be stopped again and again. From a lens of individual survival, this penchant toward becoming increasingly porous with each piercing recollection seems the opposite of useful.

It’s no effort at all to harvest cache upon cache of opportunities to grieve, to return to what is lost, and I’m hardly alone in this. Perhaps this is the best adaptation of our species, this enforced stoppage, this innate entanglement. 

We make music after death to sustain the living, our elegies like bridges reaching for the land of the dead, so that we are never fully in ourselves, but always reaching, from and to how many points? None of which seems essential for any one of us, and all of which complicate and tighten the weave of this larger forever netting, holding us, somewhere beyond the spatial Here to hear something else.

Because of this, any one of us can say to another, Remember This, and by this sacrament maintain some subtle evasion beyond death’s inevitable hand. It will get us each when the last winter comes, but not before we go around stashing parts of ourselves away in the living, remember.