Archive for April 2009

Lamp Unto My Feet

April 25, 2009

underground

While I understand that the oil drilling that goes on in my neighborhood only slowly sips petroleum from the pores of rocks far below us, it is a popular misconception (and one that I prefer) to suppose that oil extraction in fact leaves behind underground caverns. When I stand in the street in front of my house, only two blocks from the last working oil well in this part of midcity L.A., I can easily imagine the great drained cave that lies directly under the blacktop, and even sometimes hear, if the evening is quiet enough, the conversations of those who live down there. Further, I sometimes fall under the impression that I have been in that cave and know it in detail, having several times in my life stumbled down some rabbit hole or other, and spent days exploring the splendors of a new world, a whole country contained in a geoluminescent cavity, one that I would gladly visit again had not all the rabbit holes, like deep wounds, been stitched shut. Meanwhile, barefooted, I can take up a stance in the middle of the street and feel the tremors that emanate from below, at once filled with perfect visions of past visits there, soles of my feet tinged with seeping light.

Another kind of Alice in Underland cavescape, Laura Barrett’s narrative in cut paper, The Sleeping City, inspires and provides illustration to mine.

Mnemonics

April 18, 2009

stalagmites

I was taught in childhood, perhaps on a visit to Timpanogos Cave, that the way to remember the difference between stalactites and stalagmites was to consider how stalaCtites cling to the ceiling like icicles, while stalaGmites grow from the ground like grass. Now another way to think about the distinction, all these years later, is through the act of writing, and how stalactites resemble this paragraph, each little drop of language oozing out at the bottom, adding to the downward-reaching mass of text, while stalagmites imitate this blog, with each post an accretion at the top, while earlier posts slowly stratify below. The difference is that the paragraph and the blog, though they seem to move in opposite directions, are always already one and the same, while in caves, the two growths, like separated lovers, slowly move toward one another, and finally fuse after thousands of years, forming an hourglass, milleniumglass.

Death and the Harp and the Maiden

April 10, 2009

hermeslyreegypt

Thoreau, coming upon the new telegraph lines that were going up around Concord in 1851, was drawn to both their practical and poetic qualities, and wrote several entries in his natural history notebooks that invoke a key metaphor of this blog—the harp or lyre. Fifty years after Coleridge, Thoreau is moved by the music of a vast aeolian telegraph-harp “girdling the earth,” and marvels at “the sound of a far-off glorious life, a supernal life, which came down to us, and vibrated in the lattice-work of this life of ours.”

The telegraph harp sounds strongly today, in the midst of the rain. I put my ear to the trees [i.e., poles] and I hear it working terribly within, and anon it swells into a clear tone, which seems to concentrate in the core of the tree, for all the sound seems to proceed from the wood. It is as if you had entered some world-famous cathedral, resounding to some vast organ. The fibres of all things have their tension, and are strained like the strings of a lyre.

What an awful and fateful music it must be to the worms in the wood…such vibrating music would thrill them to death.

Thoreau’s worms remind me of Vonnegut’s harmoniums, indigenous papery cave entities of Mercury in The Sirens of Titan, who subsist entirely on music, but who fall so much in love with new songs brought by humans that they inch toward the source from miles away, only to be overstimulated, thrilled to death, and die by the thousands.

When I play my guitar no one hears the music, except perhaps for some distant unknown creatures, already dead (ghosts of fleas, ghosts of maidens), moving slowly toward me from all directions.