I am a linguist who loves literature and who is fascinated by science. I quantify randomness. I paint. I travel in a power wheelchair, hoping to capture the ordinary.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Today we witnessed the touchdown of NASA's rover Curiosity on Mars. It has already sent back its first pictures.

How exciting to glimpse other lands, other stones! I often thought as a deeply star-gazing child upon whom gravity worked harder than most, such that I dragged myself and later rolled and tumbled across the floor, that I would be the first to sign up to leave this planet, a first colonist.

Yet, as I age, I realize that am deeply attached to the earth, as echoed in Caetano Veloso's love song to Earth, "Terra."

Eu sou um leão de fogo                        [I am a lion of fire
Sem ti me consumiria                           without you I would consume myself
A mim mesmo eternamente                  myself eternally
E de nada valeria                                 and it would matter nothing
Acontecer de eu ser gente                   that I happen to be a person,
E gente é outra alegria                         and a person is another joy
Diferente das estrelas...                       different from the stars...]


This attachment goes beyond humanity. Anthropologist and primatologist Dawn Prince-Hughes, in her memoir Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey through Autism (which I recommend; see a good "non-review" here), writes of her experience of walking and standing, of pulling her body upright, as a painful separation:

Songs of a Gorilla Nation
Physically, I thought about how standing up on two feet leaves you exposed. One's naked belly and chest and genitals are all uncovered and laid bare, as if standing has lifted a great warm cover made of the sacred space between body and ground. Like a plant uprooted, with the last of its anchor and succor falling in abandoning clods, we stretch up to the sky and let the close and nourishing earth fall away. This standing had often been too much for me to bear, and when it was, I would go and curl up somewhere, nursing the raw wound that my upright front had sustained in the million-year tearing away that my ancestors had undertaken. (p. 121).

In explaining her affinity with the gorillas she studied and worked with and loved, she explained:

What I found I had always had with the gorillas was such vulnerability and ferocity and love. Our similarities were beyond perseveration, a need for space and a space for hiding; we were always drawing inward and exploding outward, sharing laughter out of fear and sharing a ferocious sense of justice, beyond mere caring. Our similarities also went beyond a difficulty dealing with the human race, sensitivities to the world around us and to the stereotyping in the face of the soullessness all around. Our affinity met in being filled with archaic darkness and persisting memories of a time when all things were one. (p. 122)
Sacred Rock. Machu Picchu, Peru.

We are earth beings. Now, perhaps always, as New York Times contributor Adam Frank somewhat sadly pointed out in his piece, "Alone in the Void."

Since time immemorial, the earth stones have been watching our growth. Do we not caress them and spill our tears and blood into this great rock? And our waste, too, and our bombs of rage? What better than the earth to serve as witness to all promises, all covenants made between living beings? Who better to know when we have forgotten ourselves?

Image found here.
Come now, let us make a covenant, you and I. And let it be a witness between you and me.” So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar. And Jacob said to his kinsmen, “Gather stones.” And they took stones and made a heap, and they ate there by the heap. Laban called it Jegar-sahadutha, but Jacob called it Galeed. Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” (Genesis 31, 44-48)

For all it has seen, the stone, the earth, like a stillness we can create in our own spirited flesh, offers the relief of an energetic, living silence:

Thomas Aquinas said that beauty arrests motion. He meant, I think, that in the presence of something gorgeous or sublime, we stop our nervous natterings, our foot twitchings and restless tongues. Whatever that fretful hunger is, it seems momentarily filled in the presence of beauty. To Aquinas’s wisdom I’d add that silence arrests flight, that in its refuge, the need to flee the chaos of noise diminishes. We let the world creep closer, we drop to our knees, as if to let the heart, like a small animal, get its legs on the ground. (from Stirring the Mud by Barbara Hurd, © 2001 by Barbara Hurd, from Tricycle)

I do not think that have ever felt the earth so keenly, so close, as when I lived in Mexico. There, in Cholula, at the foot of the great volcano Popcatepetl, artifacts of tiny clay faces, rain gods and jaguar-men, surfaced around the edges of ancient dusty roads. When the volcano erupted, the ground would rock slowly, like being rocked in the arms of someone who has forgotten just how little you really are.

Cholula with an erupting Popocatepetl. From A Gringo in Rural Mexico
Here is a poem of mine about the land of Cholula. The title, Huellas, has several meanings, including footprints, fingerprints, traces, and tracks. (The story of Footprints was one of my favorites as a child, and I carry a hint of this into the poem as well.) (Trigger warning)



Five hundred years ago, a burned white man broke
ground for Catholic rites, the pyramid cradling
gold-spun idols. Today, a child crawls underneath mud
stone upon stone in small doorways, ancient
stories painted on the walls where her ancestors knew
one day she would laugh, remembering how
everyone always leaves a trace of what was, even
if it was not worth it. Even if we are lost in the end.


She is a cherub, round and brown
like the angel cheeks: they cried wax tears
where her mother knelt in a copal cathedral.
That whole month her knees were bloody
and she kept those flowers she picked
dried and thirsty among the saints
the day the youngest of her dozen
came home, defiled and married, but home.


At the market on Wednesdays, downy
chestnut-skinned fruit is split open to seduce
buyers who will suck out the burnt orange
dripping mamey, only to say it is not
yet ripe, let me try another, because
the uncut ones always taste best
and cherubs who do not run home fast
will most certainly get eaten alive.


The golden hour thickens in vapor,
lightening pouring red through woven cloth
windows. Just about any two bodies here
know each other to be sacred and hold
like a cross against the salted earth,
against the stumbling gait of those damned
by ancient pictures and buried ash. Volcanoes
boom and the ground, it breaks, it trembles. 

© 2010 J. Aaron