Five six sixteen

Guy on the street corner wearing an army helmet. He nods at traffic. When I arrived 3 hours ago, he was there. He’s still there as I am leaving. He has long grey hair and a grey beard and he reminds me of my father, had he lived long enough to grey completely. He doesn’t rave, he isn’t angry. He simply nods at every car that passes him. It’s a 3 lane street at rush hour. He makes eye contact if he can. He doesn’t with me because I look away. Everyone looks away. And I’m struck with the thought that he’s broken, just not in a way that conforms to the way everyone else is.

Before I know it, I’m crying. I don’t know if it’s the familiarity that does it or the fact that “the world breaks everyone” and if you feel too deeply, it leaves deeper wounds. I carry them and you carry them. We swallow our dreams. We postpone and we ache. We are told we can be anything and so we open our hearts wide. Our eyes brimming with possibility. Our minds whirling with the how and the when. And we wait. Not idly. We save and create, we work and we learn. We drag our bodies through time bent toward that absolution. Clarity. The moment when it’ll all have meaning. Make sense.

Slowly, we are told we aren’t the right shape, that our minds are warped, that we love differently, that we are crazy or damned or both. But we wake and we ignore the ache in our spine, we sleep little or not at all, we survive on stimulants. We scatter our hopes at the bottom of lakes, at the feet of the unworthy.

We mold ourselves into what we think will be good enough, we lock ourselves in kilns. 1,900 degrees and we start to melt and we blame ourselves. The daily take. Love and the little losses of breaking our bones to find homes in the hearts of those who’d discard us. The subtle thief of years. The little lines at the corners of our eyes beckon. Days and weeks and months and years. Decades blending together in an array of blue and black. Bruised, limping toward oblivion, smiling warily at strangers. Speaking softly so as not to disturb. Demure and full of apologies. Lies weave their own language and meaning.

Sometimes we recognize the atoms in other beings knowing the same star forged us. We have been a millennia together, screaming silently. We kill our kindness or it is murdered by treachery. Lost in a sea of could have been. Never was. always will be.

No one said one word to him.
Not one meaningful glance.
No one to say it’s alright
Life in its terrible beauty can save you.

No one made him feel the laughter within each shadow, the way the light plays with the corners of buildings, the million year old particle/waves that illuminate everything

No one to pour out like water the fine art that lives in each shattered remnant of who we are.

The rain menaces him rather than bless.

All of the pain all in one moment, all of it a finely honed blade at my neck.

Kill me now for looking away. It is one of my greater sins. I just couldn’t bear it. We are all just one crack away from nodding at apathetic traffic in the dark.

Aggregate

Moss covered stone

Sun beckoned

The snow runs off,

Stays in shadow.

Petrichor and

Woodsmoke.

Its said to

Follow beauty,

But forgets.

Swift water flows,

Slows at the bend

In the middle frozen

Hand outstretched

Hard pack and

Hardpan

Veins of quartz

Veins of clay

Dust and ash

Pockmarked with

Grinding rock

Laden and vacant

A thousand years.

Shot rock

In granite

In agate

In aggregate.

Pine needles

In a panic.

Wind summoned.

The sun sets

And fills pockets

Valleys

Inlets

Seethes against

Mountainside.

Long strides

And echo

Against cliff face.

Falling and fallen

Pebbles and ember.

Oxygen fed and

Carbon starved

Stars burn and

Scatter

Then

Burrow

Nestle

Soften the

Darkness.

Relic

The stars are a fragile constant. Their permanence only an illusion. A trick performed by size and scale and time. Ghosts in the sky.

Our sun is in main sequence. Main sequence means our star is of average size and luminosity. A flickering candle, glimmering in a cathedral at midnight. It’ll take billions of years for it to decay to the point that, when swollen, it absorbs us.

Our minds aren’t made to contemplate time on that scale. Our lifespan, laughably short, stunts our comprehension of it. It becomes an abstract. Knowable but unknowable. Unreachable epochs looming in the deep. Shadows and cinder forever on the periphery.

Light takes one hundred thousand years to reach the surface of the sun from the core. The density inside of our “average” star slows the progress. From the surface it only takes eight minutes to reach us. Standing outside on a sunny day, you are the recipient of something ancient, your skin bathed in relics.

You are also created with them. Calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, carbon, hydrogen, billions of years in the making. The ruins of a long dead star with breath and pulse and synapse and neuron. A cataclysm that laughs.

The iron from blood

Artist depiction of a Magnetar – ESO

Neutron star - “a celestial object of very small radius (typically 18 miles/30 km) and very high density, composed predominantly of closely packed neutrons. Neutron stars are thought to form by the gravitational collapse of the remnant of a massive star after a supernova explosion, provided that the star is insufficiently massive to produce a black hole.”
Magnetar - “A magnetar is a type of neutron star believed to have an extremely powerful magnetic field. The magnetic-field decay powers the emission of high-energy electromagnetic radiation, particularly X-rays and gamma rays. The theory regarding these objects was proposed in 1992 by Robert Duncan and Christopher Thompson”

I read once that a magnetar’s magnetic field is so strong it could pull the iron out of your blood from a thousand miles away. It frightened and thrilled me to consider that sort of power. The Cosmos is an unimaginably vast sea full of silent and efficient machines churning and devouring.

I’ve seen people address the universe as if it is some benevolent being with their best interests in mind. “I asked the universe…” they say.

If asked, the universe would answer by atomizing, then ionizing the matter that comprises you.

Existence is the exception, not the rule.

Though the universe may not be vengeful, it is apathetic. That is somehow more frightening as we hurl blindly through space.

We cannot command the universe, bend it to our will, or expect it to be considerate of our desires. What we can do is acknowledge the source of that iron in our blood, the way it was formed.

Over billions of years, as a star burns through its gaseous fuel, it fuses it into heavier elements until finally it produces iron. Iron is the death knell. Iron causes a collapse. This collapse causes a supernova.

The star killing elements are then ejected into space, carried over light years, and deposited in places it can be used to produce complex matter like the blood in your veins.

It is not the universe’s will that you get the job you’ve been hoping for, the love you’ve given reciprocated or that you even exist. But you are part of a stellar life cycle. A sentient artifact of the universe itself. The bloom in the ruin.

Oh.

So, I’m reading about the potential end to theoretical particle physics. One quote struck me about the discovery of the Higgs Boson:

“According to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the Higgs Field should either have a value of zero which would not give particles mass, or it should have an extremely great value which is likely to give particles too much mass.

But this is where physicists are confused.

Instead of viewing a value of either extremely high or non-existent, experts have noticed that the Higgs field is just slightly on”, which is not as low or high as it should be.

Mr Cliff said: “It’s not zero, but it’s ten-thousand-trillion times weaker than it’s fully on value — a bit like a light switch that got stuck just before the ‘off’ position.”

Oh.

The article went on to mention dark energy predictions and potentially proving the multiverse theory to account for such wide variations, other universes having either too much mass or none at all, never coalescing or collapsing under their own weight.

Oh.

How many times
Have you fucking felt
Like a light switch that
Got stuck just before the off position?

Just slightly on

Ten thousand trillion times weaker than your fully on value

And you still manage to hold it all together.

Arcturus

Arcturus by EPOD of USRA

When you stare at the stars long enough they start to do this silly little swim. For a moment, maybe a millisecond, you believe what you’re seeing is true. Your heart jumps and you rub your eyes and you try to refocus them. What did I see? Why? Between one star and another, you see that there has been no change in distance or location. You breathe deep. You may be still, but you are always making micro movements. Your heartbeat, inhale and exhale of your lungs. Your body is a chorus of stirring. Stillness is just another state of movement. Logically you know this. But your mind keeps being dragged back to that initial feeling of belief. because it exhilarates you. Because you want to make a home in the feeling. Fires in a Black Sea swirling just for you.

Of course you want more. You always want more. so you are drawn to believe what your eyes have told your mind they see. You wait and you stare and you speak softly to yourself: “this is Arcturus.” It is fixed. A landmark. You’ve aimed telescopes and your heart toward it for years. For ages before you, there have been legends, poems, splendid things inspired by the light it gives. Eons before human existence, unseen, unloved, it never ceased it’s shimmering. 37 light years. 11 parsecs separate you. But it dances and you’re dizzy in your foolishness and love and it suddenly feels within reach. A living thing. It breathes. Maybe you’ve dipped your longing in and stirred the sky. What hubris. Van Gogh knew what I mean.

You can suddenly perceive the spinning, the roll of the earth along the path it has carved in spacetime, Falling toward the sun. And how we sail blindly. All of it. Ever expanding outward. How it has started to decay. Moving ever toward entropy, half as luminous as it was 2 billion years ago. Lights slowly going out one by one. A carnival at closing time. Your minuscule life laughably short. An iota. A grain of time.

And what if it has already collapsed in on itself? Arcturus. The guardian. The last gasps still hurdling toward us, 370,000 years late. Corpse light in a haunted sky.

Nothing lasts. Rather than being dismal, this is heartening. It elicits bravery.

I will love in full measure.

I will love in full measure when it is returned and even when none is given me.

Eppur si muove.

A Dirge for the Barely There

You were more than
A trail of blood,
More than the fires
That forged the iron in it.
Weak gravity
And heavy elements.
Eons in the æther
Before you came to me.
You were more than
These filaments,
Proton and electron
And the atoms they knit,
And in that great
Undying place,
Where we will not
Be created nor destroyed,
May we one day collide
And know we knew
And shared
The same space,
Though you were barely there
And I only just.

-MJG 2021

Empty and desolate is the sea.

I buried you

In the marrow

Of my bones.

I carry you

In this wreckage.

This derelict

Body full of

Curses and portents,

Salted wounds and

Blood in the water,

Tall ships on

Strange shores.

Satellites in

Perpetual free fall

Following stars

Named for

Blasphemed

Gods,

All their supplicants

And temples

Long since consumed

By fire

Or by moorland

Drowned

And exhumed

A cuneiform adorned

Tomb

-MJG 2021

Tracks and Traces

Shigir Idol, photo by Constantin Voutsen

Have you ever heard of the Shigir Idol? It’s a 17 foot wooden statue that has been carbon dated to about 12,000 years old. Roughly at the end of the last ice age. Its named for the peat bog it was found in, on the eastern slope of the Middle Ural mountains near Yekaterinburg. It’s a striking sculpture, featuring several human faces and geometric lines and shapes. After being microscopically studied, it was discovered that the Shigir Idol’s features and designs were carved with half a beaver jaw with teeth still intact.

Since reading about the Shigir idol, I’ve been running my fingers over the grooves in my mind. Over and over again, tracing the carefully carved lines, feeling the smooth wood, stopping at every angle and turn. A prayer of sorts. A map leading backward. Veins. Beckoning mountain ranges and lakes and forests. An unimpeded night sky full of constellations. I wonder if it was meant for that. I wonder if, 12,000 years ago, the people responsible for creating it could fathom my doing so? I think they did. I think they meant for us to. It feels arrogant to make assumptions. Almost sacriledge.

The face at the “head” of the idol is placid, peaceful and seems to be singing. or breathing into the cold air. Or pleading. Or any number of things. But it is undeniably human.

I think about 12,000 years in the bog. The murky dark cast about with scattered sunlight only occasionally. The moss and the rock. The sediment. The sediment that drowned and preserved it. An ancient lake gasping. A toppled giant forever asleep. Why are tears so close when I do so? Why am I so moved? Why is it so easy to feel the weight of the clay and the water?

I feel a sort of kinship with both the Shigir Idol and the artists who created it. An eternal reaching forward. Toothed beaver jaw, warm wood, calloused hands. Shaped and molded, tracks and traces, whispered truths and prayers. Nightmares and daydreams. Falling. Sinking. Turning to stone unseen. 12,000 years undreaming. Hieroglyph after hieroglyph. Surfacing in pieces. Messages and lessons in the lesions.