31 May 2011

The Old Man and the Snows of Kilimanjaro

I wrote about the graves of famous authors, but I held off on one story, preferring to save it for tonight.
     '"There are right graves and wrong ones, just as there are good times to die and bad times."     "So you think that grave up on the hill is a wrong grave for a right man, do you?"
     "That's about it," I said.
     "You think there are all kinds of graves along the road for all of us?"
     "Could be," I said.
     "And if we could see all our life one way or another, we'd choose better? At the end, looking back,'' said the hunter, "we'd say, hell, that was the year and the place, not the other year and the other place, but that one year, that one place. Would we say that?"
     "Since we have to choose or be pushed finally," I said, "yes."
And thus Ray Bradbury describes the central message of "The Kilimanjaro Device," a short-story contained in the sci-fi masterpiece I Sing the Body Electric.  It is the story of a time-traveler who has come back to offer Ernest Hemingway a "right" final resting place, one befitting a man like Hemingway: atop Kilimanjaro, where only "dark warriors and white hunters and swift okapis know the grave."

"Papa," suffering from the ravages of a lifetime of alcoholism and a loss of that manly virility so often acclaimed in his stories, committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho.  It was a tragic end for a man whose writing meant so much to so many.  Bradbury must have felt so too, and so decided to rewrite it.  

I read this story years ago, but it's one that has stuck with me.  I'm not really sure why--perhaps it's the unusual use for a time machine: most of us would want to somehow rewrite the past, but I don't know how many would focus on a gravesite.   In some ways, too, Bradbury's story is an ultimate sign of respect--not apologizing for anything Hemingway did in life, but wishing for a death worthy of the man.

At any rate, it seemed to fit with yesterday's theme.

In Memoriam

Last night I read about one lesser-known Memorial Day tradition: people visit the graves of their favorite authors and leave tokens of remembrance.  In honor of that tradition, I've selected a few epitaphs from renowned authors and poets:

Here lies a man whose name was writ in water.
John Keats

Alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn.
For his mourners will be outcast men
And outcasts always mourn.
Oscar Wilde

Blest be the man that spares these stones,
And curst be he that moves my bones.
William Shakespeare

Quoth the Raven, Nevermore
Edgar Allen Poe

30 May 2011

A Day of Rest

My apartment overlooks the Seattle Art Museum and Jonathan Borofski's "Hammering Man" sculpture--I guess I should more correctly say one of Borofski's "Hammering Men" statues (there are at least eleven scattered around the world) and that we look one another in eye: I live on the sixth floor and he is six stories tall.  As I look my bedroom window, this is what I see:

The giant raises his hammer, the backswing arcing high and well behind his enormous steel head. There he pauses, as if contemplating...one..two...and then swings the hammer toward the piece of metal held in his other hand.  The strikes rain down smoothly, mechanically, and relentlessly.  He used to rest for evenings and holidays, but now the work is unending, although I'm not sure if that's out of necessity or choice.  As it is--nearly midnight on a Sunday--he is hammering away.

Borofski's website explains that the Hammering Men are intended to symbolize the unity of laborers worldwide, but it is hard to imagine a more depressing representation: endless, mindless physical labor with no apparent result.  He stands eternally in front of one of the nation's premier cultural venues, but is unable to lay aside the tools of his trade in order to enjoy the fruits of a society free from incessant toil.

I suppose it's a good reminder to keep this internship (and my twelve weeks here in Seattle) in perspective.

12 May 2011

Circuit City

I completely disassembled (not to be confused with dissembled) an old, broken laptop yesterday. Her name was Abigail, may she rest in pieces. At any rate, I was astounded to see how closely a circuit board resembles (not to be confused with reassembles) a miniature city--the myriad processors and etchings and pins like roads and buildings and topography. My cellphone photo doesn't really do this justice, but reminds me of something I read about recursive structure, by David Gelernter:
A structure is recursive if the shape of the whole recurs in the shape of the parts: for example, a circle formed of welded links that are circles themselves. Each circular link might itself be made of smaller circles, and in principle you could have an unbounded nest of circles made of circles made of circles....
Benoit Mandelbrot famously recognized that some parts of nature show recursive structure of a sort: a typical coastline shows the same shape or pattern whether you look from six inches or sixty feet or six miles away.
And so with the microscopic insides of a laptop, which mirrors what I see when flying thousands of feet over the planet. It is a strange and beautiful world we live in.

10 May 2011

In honor of my brother: firefighter and poet

Riding the Elevator into the Sky

by Anne Sexton
As the fireman said:
Don't book a room over the fifth floor
in any hotel in New York.
They have ladders that will reach further
but no one will climb them.
As the New York Times said:
The elevator always seeks out
the floor of the fire
and automatically opens
and won't shut.
These are the warnings
that you must forget
if you're climbing out of yourself.
If you're going to smash into the sky.

Many times I've gone past
the fifth floor,
cranking upward,
but only once
have I gone all the way up.
Sixtieth floor:
small plants and swans bending
into their grave.
Floor two hundred:
mountains with the patience of a cat,
silence wearing its sneakers.
Floor five hundred:
messages and letters centuries old,
birds to drink,
a kitchen of clouds.
Floor six thousand:
the stars,
skeletons on fire,
their arms singing.
And a key,
a very large key,
that opens something—
some useful door—
up there

09 May 2011

Feel the Rhyme

19 words with no perfect rhyme: angst, bulb, cusp, film, gulf, kiln, oblige, opus, orange, pint, plankton, rhythm, silver, yttrium, depth, breadth, width, month and glimpsed

(Courtesy of Mental Floss)

07 May 2011

Back porch, 11:52 pm, May 7th, 2011

Inside, the Xbox is cooing like a mechanical dove, while faraway road noise laps like ocean waves.  Two--make it three--train whistles.  One dog barking, and another snuffling around the patio.  Muffled conversations.  The reassuring tiny clicks of the keyboard, and the finality of this last period.

Magic Fingers

My Fearful Symmetry

Courtesy of the geniuses at Radiolab.

05 May 2011

Dweller on the Threshold

I stand before a black-bright portal,
Passage leading beyond this mortal.
The doorway beckons, but I hesitate,
Reluctant to face my fading fate,
And to meet the Keeper of the Gate.

04 May 2011

Miss Collier's Blinds

Paint peeled off the blinds, cracking like reptilian scales.  Motes of dust formed yellow slashes in what dim light pierced the darkened room.  Closed and fastened, the blinds had borne the sun's assault on the south side of the house for forty-three Septembers, but the long, sultry, weary afternoons had had aged them even more.   

Permanently concealed behind the blinds, the room remained dim and airless, tomb-like.  And in it sat Miss Collier, barricaded against warmth and light by a belief that kept the blinds closed.