All the Directions of Time

Marc Chagall: 'Clock with Blue Wing' (1949, oil on canvas)

[Image: Clock with Blue Wing, by Marc Chagall (1949, oil on canvas). Translator Susanna Nied identifies this painting as the source or inspiration for Inger Christensen’s poem, below.]

From whiskey river:

A mysterious thing, this branching structure of life: one senses in every past instant a parting of ways, a “thus” and an “otherwise”, with innumerable dazzling zigzags bifurcating and trifurcating against the dark background of the past.

(Vladimir Nabokov [source])


One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer and which in a general way are naturally believed, surmised, and admitted by you, but which you’ll unconsciously deny when it comes to the point of gaining hope or peace from such an admission. In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.

(Franz Kafka [source])


If I Stand

If I stand
alone in the snow
it is clear
that I am a clock

how else would eternity
find its way around

(Inger Christensen [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Do you suffer what a French paleontologist called “the distress that makes human wills founder daily under the crushing number of living things and stars”? For the world is as glorious as ever, and exalting, but for credibility’s sake let’s start with the bad news. An infant is a pucker of the earth’s thin skin; so are we. We arise like budding yeasts and break off; we forget our beginnings. A mammal swells and circles and lays him down. You and I have finished swelling; our circling periods are playing out, but we can still leave footprints in a trail whose end we do not know.

(Annie Dillard [source])


Then we are agreed, said Uncle. There will be animate matter with intelligence, and there will be an immortal soul in each living being, connecting it to you.

Wait a moment, I said. Only we, and the Void, can be immortal. Immortality does not exist in Aalam-104729. The thing has a direction of time, caused by the dulling of its energy, and everything in it will eventually dissipate. Nothing lasts forever in Aalam-104729, or in any of the universes I have created. I will consider a soul, but it cannot be immortal. It must follow the direction of time, like everything else. It must gradually decay and disintegrate. We cannot begin making exceptions to the rules here and there, helter-skelter, or we’ll end up with chaos again. Let me consider this… Maybe in the life of each creature I will allow a brief recognition of something vast, a flash of Me, a hint of the unchanging and infinite Void.

(Alan Lightman [source])


Unit of Measure

All can be measured by the standard of the capybara.
Everyone is lesser than or greater than the capybara.
Everything is taller or shorter than the capybara.
Everything is mistaken for a Brazilian dance craze
more or less frequently than the capybara.
Everyone eats greater or fewer watermelons
than the capybara. Everyone eats more or less bark.
Everyone barks more than or less than the capybara,
who also whistles, clicks, grunts, and emits what is known
as his alarm squeal. Everyone is more or less alarmed
than a capybara, who—because his back legs
are longer than his front legs—feels like
he is going downhill at all times.
Everyone is more or less a master of grasses
than the capybara. Or going by the scientific name,
more or less Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris
or, going by the Greek translation, more or less
water hog. Everyone is more or less
of a fish than the capybara, defined as the outermost realm
of fishdom by the 16th-century Catholic Church.
Everyone is eaten more or less often for Lent than
the capybara. Shredded, spiced, and served over plantains,
everything tastes more or less like pork
than the capybara. Before you decide that you are
greater than or lesser than a capybara, consider
that while the Brazilian capybara breeds only once a year,
the Venezuelan variety mates continuously.
Consider the last time you mated continuously.
Consider the year of your childhood when you had
exactly as many teeth as the capybara—
twenty—and all yours fell out, and all his
kept growing. Consider how his skin stretches
in only one direction. Accept that you are stretchier
than the capybara. Accept that you have foolishly
distributed your eyes, ears, and nostrils
all over your face. Accept that now you will never be able
to sleep underwater. Accept that the fish
will never gather to your capybara body offering
their soft, finned love. One of us, they say, one of us,
but they will not say it to you.

(Sandra Beasley [source])


Addendum (not really related to the week’s theme): After reading Sandra Beasley’s poem, above, I came across the following, too good not to share even if it stretches the meaning of whiskey river Friday:

All year long, wild animals of all shapes, sizes and degrees of amphibianism sensibly make use of the road, an easy, tick-free route between forest and river.  Their behavior sometimes perplexes us. Take the capybaras.  Scarce during the dry season, once the savanna floods they are everywhere.  Or at least their tracks are, for the actual animals have been spotted just once or twice.  There are two strange things about their tracks:  They appear only at night, even though capybaras are active by day, and they always head in one direction.  This implies that the animals walk from the hill to the river and never come back again, as if we had some perpetual-capybara machine that pops out animals at night, and a mysterious creature that gobbles them up in the water.  I suppose we could put a radio-collar on one, but I would hate to lose a $300 piece of equipment to some slimy river monster.

(Kirsten Silvius, “Letter from Brazil,” Wildlife Conservation (Jan/Feb 1998))

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