Invisible, Unknowable, Outside and In

'Glass Ichthyosaur,' by Amanda Heath

[Image: “Glass Icthyosaur,” by Amanda Heath. I first
learned of this project at Scientific American‘s “Symbiartic” blog.]

From whiskey river:

A philosopher knows that in reality he knows very little. That is why he constantly strives to achieve true insight. Socrates was one of these rare people. He knew that he knew nothing about life and about the world. And now comes the important part: it troubled him that he knew so little.

(Jostein Gaarder [source])


It is life that does the thinking all around us, forming with playful ease the connections our reason can only laboriously patch together piecemeal, and never to such kaleidoscopic effect.

(Robert Musil [source])

Not from whiskey river:

If the human brain was simple enough for us to understand, we would still be so stupid that we couldn’t understand it.

(Jostein Gaarder [ibid.])


Recycling Center

The labeled bins on the California hillside
catch the glint and quarter-glint of passing cars.
Families pull up with their interesting trash
and start unloading: Here, sweetheart,
this goes over in Newspaper. The bundle
hits with a thud. Diet soda cans
spin almost noiselessly down, and the sun-
permitting bottles from a day’s pleasure
are tossed into Mixed Glass by the children
who like to hear the smash, unknowable, chaotic,
as matter greets itself and starts to change.

What mystery is inside a thing! If we peered
into the bin, we could see it waiting there,
could believe everything is alive and specific
and personal, could tell by the tilt of one
bottle against the next that it’s difficult
to be singular, to have identity, to keep
an outline safe in the terrors of space.
Even the child knows this. Bye, bottle! she shouts,
tossing it in; and the bottle lies there
in the two o’clock position, temporarily itself,
before being swept into the destiny of mixture…

And what if some don’t want to. What if some items
in the piles of paper, the orange and blue
envelopes from a magazine sweepstakes, numbers
pressing through the cloudy windows
with our names, some among those pale sheets curled
with moisture, would rather stay as they are.
It’s spring; we’ve thrown away mistakes—
tax forms, recipes, tennis-ball-sized
drafts of poems—that which was blank
shall be made blank again—but what if
that failed letter wants to be a failure,
not go back to pulp, and thought…
Or across the parking lot, where light insists
on changing the dull cans, a few cans don’t want
to be changed, though they should want to,
shouldn’t they, should want to be changed
by light, light which is called sweet reason,
honeyed, spectra, magnitude, light that goes
from the parking lot looking helpless
though it is matter that has been betrayed…

All afternoon the bins are carried off
by those who know about where things should go,
who are used to the clatter the cans make,
pouring out; and the families, who believed change
would heal them are pulling away in their vans,
slightly embarrassed by that which refused…
The bins fill again with hard substances,
the hills bear down with their fugitive gold,
the pampas grass bending low to protect
what was briefly certain and alive with hope.

(Brenda Hillman [source])


Do You Love Me?

She’s twelve and she’s asking the dog,
who does, but who speaks
in tongues, whose feints and gyrations
are themselves parts of speech.

They’re on the back porch
and I don’t really mean to be taking this in
but once I’ve heard I can’t stop listening. Again
and again she asks, and the good dog

sits and wiggles, leaps and licks.
Imagine never asking. Imagine why:
so sure you wouldn’t dare, or couldn’t care
less. I wonder if the dog’s guileless brown eyes

can lie, if the perfect canine lack of abstractions
might not be a bit like the picture books
she “read” as a child, before her parents’ lips
shaped the daily miracle of speech

and kisses, and the words were not lead
and weighed only air, and did not mean
so meanly. “Do you love me?” she says
and says, until the dog, sensing perhaps

its own awful speechlessness, tries to bolt,
but she holds it by the collar and will not
let go, until, having come closer,
I hear the rest of it. I hear it all.

She’s got the dog’s furry jowls in her hands,
she’s speaking precisely
into its laid-back, quivering ears:
“Say it,” she hisses, “say it to me.”

(Robert Wrigley [source])

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  1. Love the statue. If Socrates doesn’t know, who does?

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