The Soil You Stand On
The condition of the construction and destruction of originals leave nothing more than carbon copies for the mind to ruminate. Yet, archeologists dig, unearth earthen pots and tell us that here, under our very feet, perhaps rising and falling with the ebb and flow of the sewer water once moved a nation of sedulous, archaic culture, settled into the lacustrine soil and washed over the Great Basin by alluvial fans in sediments.
I told the tour guide of the Middle East, while I held a pebble formed from feldspar and quartz, that this particular pebble had been used to kill Goliath. “Preposterous,” he said in his heavy accent. “That pebble could not still exist. The wind would have turned it to sand by now.”
“Maybe it had been relocated and kept as a relic of what the earth can do to a man, and now, after a time, has reappeared.”
“Things don’t reappear,” he scoffed and continued telling the lummox of tourist about the landscape.
In my home town the shibboleth story goes that if you happen or purposefully find yourself in the cemetery on 18th Street, and you drive, you have to be in a car for this to work, even superstitions have their governance, around the statue of Harry Crowning, born 1818, died 1840 in a gun fight, his head will follow you. My mother said her mother told her the story, and back then, his head really did follow you. Some drunk kids claim the same thing. Perhaps the head only follows those who believe, like the devout who see Mary in a stain. “If you look hard enough, with the eyes of discernment, you will see and you will believe,” a man of the cloth told me. “Faith sees things that the common eye misses.”
We bought a Mitsubishi van when we lived in Germany. Our tour stops consisted of my dad pulling over and beating one of four boys for not shutting up when our mother told us she had had enough. One time we stopped at Dauchau. Dauchau, held in proper onerous for all time, for being the first concentration camp on German soil, happened or happens to have been built on the very ground of an abandoned munitions factory. “Does history prepare itself for future events, or do past events rise out of the very walls atrocities were committed in?” A valid question my history teacher asked us after being struck by a feeling of disproportionate melancholy after she visited Civil War battlegrounds.
We walked the grounds, entered the barrack-looking buildings, saw the shower heads of death, people ovens, black and white pictures of what took place then we walked to an enormous pit where we were told the dead bodies were thrown. We didn’t say a word during the tour, nor after. Not until an hour’s worth of distance stood between us and that place did my mom ask if anyone needed to stop to use the bathroom. We held it in. I have heard that the pit, by some macabre occult feat of nature, continues to deepen by four inches per year. Time and pressure factor into nearly everything, including the making of diamonds and the decay of life.
In folklore, and this is my folklore, the ancients of Northern America, used to perform a ritual not unlike that of Robinson Jeffers’ poem, “The Torch-Bearers’ Race.” A flame of charcoal, contained within a wicker structure of thinned willows covered and blessed by a fire retardant, of what it contained no one knows, remained on a pole at the center of all camps, whether the camp moved or dwelled in the same area, the pole remained. It had been passed down, that from the beginning a lightning strike created the first light, and out of the crack, man and woman were created. The first order of business man and woman conducted consisted of containing the fire. They placed it in a pit and fed the flame until they had somewhere to take it. Once man multiplied, first man and first woman taught tribes about the flame and helped them construct their torches. The folklore does not specify whys and hows, but only that the flame must not go out. Since that time, bearers have carried the flame through the land, never seen by day, only at night, and lit the torch of the next tribe, so that upon waking, the next tribe must choose the runner who will continue the tradition. What it portends? I don’t know my own folklore, only that history never stops because the flame no longer lights the torch of this or that tribe.
An old man told me that we did not pick where to build modern civilization. He said, “We simply inhabit the same areas tribes waited for the flame. If you want to see the flame these days,” he continued, “go out to where no light reaches you, turn around and try to find a city. If you have gone out far enough you won’t see any light, but you will learn something brutal, horrifying but enlightening, and then you will run on.”
Under South American’s feet, stratified charcoal dates back to Pre-Columbian times.
It’s as if the fossil in me speaks these words to a future generation: You shall never annul me. One day, I shall be the soil beneath your feet, underneath the foundation of your modern house. When you look out your modern windows and see that old sunset, know, I support you, as those before supported me.
I wrote this for Precipitate: an interesting journal that is tackling the space/time/ continuum in a way very different than that of Proust's memory.