Something Beyond

'beyond, the river,' by 'bunchadogs & susan' on Flickr

[Image: “beyond, the river,” by a photographer whose name displays simply as “susan” (her full account name, though, is “bunchadogs & susan”). I found it on Flickr, of course, and use it here under a Creative Commons license. The photo was taken by a pinhole camera.]

From whiskey river:

An Inventory of Moons

If you live to be very old, you may see twelve hundred full moons.
Some come in winter and you trudge out into the deep snow to
stand beneath their glow. Others come to you in the city and you
take an elevator up to the roof of the highest building and set out
a couple of folding chairs to watch it glide across the sky. Or the
moon finds you along a foreign shore and you paddle out in some
dingy and scoop its reflection from the waters and drink it down.
The moons of your old age are the most potent but seem few and
far between. They make their way into your marrow and teach it
how to hum. When your final moon arrives, it’s as if youth has
come back to you. Though instead of flaunting its yellow hat, now
it’s dressed in black.

(David Shumate [source])

and:

…many of us in this time have lost the inner substance of our lives and have forgotten to give praise and remember the sacredness of life. But in spite of this forgetting, there is still a part of us that is deep and intimate with the world. We remember it by feel. We experience it as a murmur in the night, a longing and restlessness that we can’t name, a yearning that tugs at us. Something in our human blood is still searching for it, still listening, still remembering. Nicaraguan poet-priest Ernesto Cardenal wrote, “We have always wanted something beyond what we wanted.” I have loved those words, how they speak to the longing place inside us that seeks to be whole and connected to the earth.

(Linda Hogan [source])

and:

On the windless days, when the maples have put forth their deep canopies, and the sky is wearing its new blue immensities, and the wind has dusted itself not an hour ago in some spicy field and hardly touches us as it passes by, what is it we do? We lie down and rest upon the generous earth. Very likely we fall asleep.

(Mary Oliver [source])

Not from whiskey river:

In 1977, when the Voyagers were launched, one of these spacecraft carried the Interstellar Record, a hoped-for link between earth and space, that is filled with the sounds and images of the world around us. It carries parts of our lives all the way out to the great Forever. It is destined to travel out of our vast solar system, out to the far, unexplored regions of space in hopes that somewhere, millions of years from now, someone will find it like a note sealed in a bottle carrying our history across the black ocean of space. This message is intended for the year 8,000,000.

One greeting onboard from Western India says, “Greetings from a human being of the Earth. Please contact.” Another, from Eastern China, but resembling one that could have sent by my own Chickasaw people, says: “Friends of space, how are you all? Have you eaten yet? Come visit us if you have time.”

There is so much hope in those greetings, such sweetness. If found, these messages will play our world to a world that’s far away. They will sing out the strangely beautiful sounds of Earth, sounds that in all likelihood exist on no other planet in the universe. By the time the record is found, if ever, it is probably that the trumpeting bellows of elephants, the peaceful chirping of frogs and crickets, the wild dogs baying out from the golden needle and record, will be nothing more than a gone history of what once lived on this tiny planet in the curving tail of a spiral galaxy. The undeciphered language of whales will speak to a world not our own, to people who are not us. They will speak of what we value the most on our planet, things that in reality we are almost missing.

A small and perfect world is traveling there, with psalms journeying past Saturn’s icy rings, all our treasured life flying through darkness, going its way alone back through the universe. There is the recorded snapping of fire, the song of a river traveling the continent, the living wind passing through dry grasses, all the world that burns and pulses around us, even the comforting sound of a heartbeat taking us back to the first red house of our mothers’ bodies, all that, floating through the universe.

The Voyager carries music. A Peruvian wedding song is waiting to be heard in the far, distant regions of space. The Navajo Night chant travels through darkness like medicine for healing another broken world. Blind Willie Johnson’s slide guitar and deep down blues are on that record, in night’s long territory.

(Linda Hogan [source])

Yeah: Blind Willie Johnson, sailing night’s long territory… Specifically, the song of his which was included aboard the Voyagers was this one:

The recording is one of the selections on the so-called “Golden Record” sent out by NASA with the Voyager spacecraft launched in 1977. (You can hear and see more details about that record at an earlier RAMH post.) The leader of the Golden Record project was astronomer Carl Sagan; according to Wikipedia, “‘Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground’ was included, according to Sagan, because “‘Johnson’s song concerns a situation he faced many times: nightfall with no place to sleep. Since humans appeared on Earth, the shroud of night has yet to fall without touching a man or woman in the same plight.'”

Johnson didn’t write the song; it’s actually an old spiritual. You can see one transcription of the lyrics here. In Johnson’s version, however, the lyrics are irrelevant — indeed, not even discernible: they’re replaced by wordless, moaned vocalizations…

We tend to think of “the blues” musical genre in latter-day terms, as rendered by rock performers on electric instruments. But Blind Willie Johnson’s voice here practically presents a transcription of the meaning of the entire genre: pre-verbal expressions not of mere heartbreak, but of a deep, deep sorrow, a sorrow being inhaled and exhaled through the pores. What the inhabitants of Antares B will think when they recover it — if they recover it, and if they can even figure out what to do with it — well, your guess is as good as mine.

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