December 21, 2010

Why say apart from when it is just as possible to say a part of? I remember my mother darning my socks by first slipping a light bulb into the toe, then sewing criss and cross, warp and weft, with thread that always approximated but never equaled the color of the sock. Later she’d scrutinize as I slipped my toes into the expanded space where the bulb had been, the sock forever stretched now, never comfortable in my shoe again, but whole at least with her hidden tapestry.  If men should ever inhabit the moon, I’d hate that, because the sharp feet of their landing crafts and angled steel structures might well rip scores of holes in the lunar skin, and in time let the interior gas escape, so that the whole sphere reduce to the limpness of a deflated ball, or a hole-riddled sock hanging from, say, the southern cross, a Christian figure but hanging feet first as from gallows. So darn it up, my mother would say, darn and inflate again, climb the ladder, there is always a ladder to the moon just as there is always a ladder to the cross. Darn the wounds in the feet, the hands, the side of the collapsed moon, and all right, as long as you’re up there, carry him down draped across one shoulder, a sagging and leathery thing, to remain down here among us, a lunar balloon that drifts around weakly, barely aloft, apart from, when it comes up close and cold, a part of, when it hovers warmly just out of sight.


Frau im Mond

November 21, 2010

It is night in the old story, and there is a lake. A peasant is standing at the edge of the water, not fishing, but lunging out with a rake toward the reflection of the moon that trembles on the surface, nearly out of reach. The moon has fallen into the lake, he explains, and I am trying to rake it out, in order to put it back where it belongs.

This story is meant to make us laugh at the ignorance of peasants, I think, and maybe there is a bit of humor to it, but imagine that the lunatic succeeds, and hauls in the reflection very easily, and pockets it, just as he would if it were a reflection of the moon in the form of a photograph, or a sliver that has broken off some lunar corner and spiraled down to settle in the lake like a scrap of skin, or a tooth.

Later, alone in the woods, bitterly cold, he empties his pocket and there it is: the light, the photo, the skin. What is most striking as he passes it from hand to hand is its softness and warmth, so much so that in order to survive a November night in which he might otherwise freeze, he abandons the idea of putting it back, and eats it instead, swallows it whole. Then, like one chewing on roots  in order to gain rootedness, he absorbs lunar fire, silver nitrate, fraulichkeit, salts, enamel, wit. The moon has fallen into my gut, he pronounces, where it belongs.


Endymion II

October 23, 2010

Because of poor eyesight during my childhood, I liked to read about the physiology of the eye, so much so that I worsened my vision, which in turn caused me to read more.

One day I read that the eye absorbs light, but I thought this meant that light was a substance, a kind of liquid, and the eye soaked it up like a sponge, growing larger and perhaps too large as it took on more and more. Therefore best, I thought, to keep the eyes closed.

Later, eyes wide, I read how certain victims might die with an image of their attacker imprinted on their retinas, fixed there like a rough watercolor, so that the murderer could be identified upon dissection. Or that loved ones, viewed everyday, could end up absorbed and painted there instead. Therefore best, I thought, to keep the eyes closed.

And this would go on for weeks, this eye shutting, this not daring to look. After a time I began to have the sense that the moon was examining me from above, a giant ocular orb something like a doctor’s eye, blinking so slowly, closing and opening once per month, cautious and thoughtful and kind. Which led me to suppose that my image was being affectionately blotted up, imprinted on the hollow interior of the moon, a representation of me on a great stone retina, revealed to earth in time by those who had the means to split open the satellite and reveal the identity of its most beloved.

In that way I supposed, fatuous child, that when that day arrived I would either be viewed as a god, or as the tiny impostor of a god. Then it struck me as more likely that those who broke open the moon – the moon’s killers – would show up there, their faces replacing mine.



September 22, 2010

While abroad, a traveler receives news that his pet cat has died. The pensive Selima, he recalls, bitterly, from the old Thomas Gray poem. This cat had already been suffering from a cancerous ulcer in the mouth, and finally, untimely, it becomes clear that she must be, as they say, put down. Put to sleep is what they also say. Never killed. Put down, as if to say, what? Placed in a box? Laid flat on the floor? Taken to the basement?

Perhaps there is a better word. That same week, in an old church in Amsterdam, visitors take turns bending down to read the label of a dark, awkward painting in the apse, certainly not the work of a Dutch master. It depicts the Virgin Mary stretched out on a bed, not under the covers but queerly elongated on top of them. Apparently she is deceased, and surrounded by mourners, none of whose faces can be seen, only hers, with its closed eyes and bared, yellowed teeth. “The Dormition of the Virgin,” the label reads. An organ is playing somewhere, just single notes, descending thirds, so it’s not a performance, only a tuning. Dormition. There is time, plenty of time, to consider the title. It’s a familiar and also unfamiliar word. “Does that mean,” asks a visitor, probably in all innocence, “that they had her put to sleep?”

Later, in one museum or another, there comes into view a painting of Endymion. There he is, asleep as always, the beautiful shepherd who stared so long at Selene, the moon, that she fell in love with him and, in order to enjoy his beauty for all time, charmed him into eternal sleep. Dormance as romance. No mention is made of what he may, still, be dreaming.

What remains of the put down cat is neither assumption, à la the virgin, nor infinite slumber, à la the shepherd, but only the memory of her jumping, without effort, as if climbing a ladder of her own bones, into my lap. She repeated this hundreds of times over the years, curling there like a potato bug, furry and slight, colored in browns and grays in such a pattern that in private I liked to address her not by her name but as what she reminded me of. Moth, I’d say, petting her, fingering the loose skin under the fur. Pretty Moth. She never liked to sit for long, but always, after a few minutes, would depart, hardly noticeable, fluttering away very softly as if slipping into another world  But it was only to go lie on the heater vent, where she would settle into another bleary curl. Mi polilla está durmiendo.


On a marché

August 24, 2010

I nudge a cartoon version of myself toward a new, more esoteric turn on the moon – still chasing a dog through the shadowy Stalactite Cave, still slipping on an ice sheet, but this time going down the dog hole, burning our bottoms on bottomless corkscrews leading to the moon’s hollow core.

By this means we learn that the proper way to exit the philosophy cave and step out into the Good, is to drop deeper into the interior, down where there are no decoys, just the same darkness that makes up black holes and that works as a portal to all other points and spirals. New adventures: I and the Skewed Nautilus, or the Strange Loop, or the Spiral Jetty. Or the Return to the Threshold of the Stalactite Cave, where one opts to go in, or return to the rocket for the defeated trip home. I can’t go in I’ll go in.



July 25, 2010

There are practices that liberate and practices that shackle. Some bodily posturings allow for spontaneous escape from gravity while others increase it, hastening mortality. Paradoxically, rolling up like a spider or armadillo facilitates all journeys to the moon, and this is because the traveler can be easily blown through space in that form, as if a ball shot by gunpowder. Even though I know that when the journey begins it will come only through a rush of emotion, each night on the floor I try to permit myself  a state of relaxation and acceptance. Sometimes, in a move toward greater compression, it seems best to firmly grasp the soles of the feet, intertwining fingers and toes, and the result is a state, I think, of prayer, though it’s a prayer addressed to witches, since they provide escort through the blue angry vacuum between world and world, holding a moist sponge to one’s nose. Other preparations for the journey include the removal of all clothing. Massaging of the joints with great gobs of oil. Having friends cinch ropes around the now nearly spherical body for greater compression. Placing the tail, if there is a tail, between the teeth. Reading and re-reading Kepler’s Somnium. Once at the moon, if it’s the real moon, all restraints can be removed, with proportionate expansion, so my arms stretch out, like gold to aery thinness beat, letting me reach all the way back to earth to tap with my forefinger on the heads of all those who need to be reminded to prepare themselves to join me.


Make Belief

June 26, 2010

1. There are false cities, citizens, nations – so there is good reason to project false worlds.

2. There is good reason to welcome one, but resignation also if the falseness false.

3. An egg is about to hatch, two eggs are hatching, the first giving birth to twins, Pollux and Castor, the second to famous friends, Damon and Pythias. In both cases the first infant memory is of using the fists to break through translucent shells, furiously spurred on by the growing outer light.

4. Their last memory, years later, is of crawling back into the broken shell, trying to piece back together the dome they rashly shattered.

5. When planets hatch, colossal new forms come into being. Beasts from the id, like those who destroyed the Krell. Before that moment, there is never a reliable way of telling which side of history I am on, or which will evaporate first: my foreground or background.

6. If only there were a way to know, a way to find out ahead of time. If I would drill down through mantle to the earth’s core, then start the machines going to pump great seas of magma onto the surface of the planet: a victory of mineral over vegetable, of permanent over ephemeral.

7. Choose:

a. We don’t know it, but this is the Earth, and that’s a real Earth-beast.
b. We don’t know it, but this is not the Earth, and that’s not a real Earth-beast.


Journey to the Center of the Earth

May 27, 2010

I go for a walk in a strong wind and keep one hand on the crown of my head, as though hanks of hair could blow off and away. They won’t, I know, but still. The earth turns, losses mount, treasures dwindle, we are always already reduced, already blanched. It’s commonly thought that the earth was much larger once, nearly twice the size it has now, but that something came along and sliced it like a knife chopping down accidentally on a  fingertip, and a living apportionment was cut away from us and flung aside to become the moon. And this is confirmed, it’s said, by how the moon has the same isotopic composition: iron, lime, magnesia, calcium, ice.

It seems more reasonable to some, though, to picture the earth violently coughing up the moon, projectile vomiting it out and away, a great owl’s pellet, awkward and gluey, originating from our planetary stomach. In that sense the moon is our center, the original middle displaced, and what we call the earth’s core  is  what seeped in slowly  to fill the gap left behind. Those who walk the lunar surface have no understanding of this, never transmit a word about it, never say, “Now I am walking on the face of the moon, though I am also stepping on the original crux of the earth, and the trick is that I had to move outward to arrive inward.”

The owl pellet, disgorged from the interior of the owl, dissected, tells the story of the interior of the mouse: radius and ulna, vertebrae and shoulder blade, scapula and rib and sometimes skull. I go for a walk on the moon, planet without wind, pressing down on my lower teeth because they will float free, zero at the bone, nothing to bind molar to jaw. And off they go then, knuckle and root, neatly orbiting around me.


First Men

April 28, 2010

Full moonlight illumines us only from without, and when we step out into it, it renders us poorly: bumpy and wan.

Elsewhere, say on the moon, earthlight performs the opposite, lighting the inhabitants from within: lunar luminaria, candles set deep within thin bags of skin.

Wells has his First (and Last) Men in the Moon, Cavor and Bedford, overpower the natives through size and strength, which they attribute to having lived all their lives on a planet with heavier gravity. Imagine if the Selenites had invaded Earth first: to prevail through luminosity, lightness, foaminess. How would that have changed history?

Few recall that when Bedford returns home, Cavor stays behind in order to teach English and radio engineering. In milky old caverns far below the surface, at the mercy of a cramped and foreign syntax, one day the bored students sense one extra pull, not gravity but light, a tug of body fluid toward the ceiling. Put away radio  projects, it’s better to levitate at our desks, so slightly, grinding our beaks, and tapping ourselves on the forehead to remember we’re creatures of Earth author, dead.

Gravity attacks and breaks us. Look out. Once I shattered my elbow so badly in a fall that the neighboring muscles had nothing to cement themselves to, and floated free, each snatching away one chunk of bone. “What holds the body together vertically,” said  the osteopath, “are big white pins or as we call them bones.”

Cavor’s great invention, cavorite, is a substance that is “opaque to gravity,” and, once brought to the right temperature, cancels any weight.

Tonight, in the milky old office, my chamber, slumped in the hardest chair, the slow depth of earth still pulls me, shatters in slow motion. The solution is to paint my bones with a solution of cavorite: spring up, rush out, and leap opaquely from orb to orb. Later transparently.


Calvino, Conigli

March 29, 2010

The moon is more concerned with us than we with her, as we know from the way she turns toward us constantly, vigilant and doting, while we turn our backs to her, thankless children. In early times, when the moon was much closer to the earth, this constant presence and watchfulness blotted out the sky, and it finally began to oppress me, to the degree that one night I rowed out to the middle of the lake, out to the perigee, taking with me the longest ladder that would fit in the boat.

I don’t know why now, but at the time I was convinced that a humble climb from planet to satellite would somehow lead to greater understanding, that a sense of mutual trust would automatically arise. In the end, though, it proved impossible to balance the ladder in the keel of the little boat and at the same time place the top rung against the highly jagged surface, which after all pursued, as it pursues now, its moral orbit, and forever was already slipping away.

However, inevitably, certain individuals followed my lead, built longer boats, more delicate ladders, and succeeded where I failed. Soon numbers of people could be seen up there, tramping about endlessly on the surface, raising clouds of dust, treating the moon as a camping ground. At night, when a buttery wind blew over every surface, large family groups huddled and sang around little fires—fires which for us, those left behind, flickered overhead like stars.

Nothing can last, and nothing should last. One day, a lunar visitor went up the ladder with the pockets of his coat stuffed with rabbits, presumably with the intention of creating a population there that would provide amusement, beauty, and an endless supply of buck teeth, which at that time were reputed to cure human tooth aches. The plan might have worked well enough, but the moon eventually inched too far way for even the longest ladders to reach, and human visits came to an end, while the rabbits stayed and multiplied.

Of course the moon has slowly receded ever since, so that now, look, there it hangs,  distilled to its diamond distance, all those generations of rabbits invisible to us except through lenses of solitude and mythology. By this time they are the moon, their teeth are the mountain peaks, their eyes the seas, vigilantly doting, adoring, reconciling.