Spell: against the moving of mountains

(For what it’s worth, this is Via Negativa’s 500th post.)

The spell says everything connects. Though sometimes I long for a little more randomness in events, you know? Without mere chance, without the notion that the mind can somehow lift itself above the web of causality and inference, where might true autonomy be found?

Dale’s had some interesting things to say lately about the illusory nature of individual autonomy. I alighted on his site mole last night before bed and read a really evocative essay on rain, the nearly endless rain of winter in the Pacific Northwest. This put me in mind of Jorge Teillier with his rain- and nostalgia-drenched poems from his childhood in the south of Chile, and I thought I might start the morning with him.

And so I do. It’s raining here, of course – the remnants of Hurricane Ivan – and I’m sitting on the front porch with my morning coffee and a copy of the bilingual In Order to Talk with the Dead: Selected Poems of Jorge Teillier, translated by Carolyn Wright (University of Texas Press, 1993). I open the book at random, and the first lines I come to are these:

Ruega por mí­, reloj,
en estas horas monótonas como ronroneos de gatos.

Pray for me, clock,
in these hours monotonous as the purring of cats.

And this brings to mind a dream-image from a few hours before: a crate full of purring kittens, each packed carefully away like fine china among rags and crumpled newspapers. I remember setting the crate down on the hardwood floor here in my writing room and lying down next to it, pressing my ear to the floorboards to listen to the loud hum from all that purring.

In reality, of course, it’s my old computer that sits on the floor and hums like a dozen cats. Cats upon cats! It seems as if this computer, the worldwide web and the endless chain of felines at the Infinite Cat Project have begun to blend together in my subconscious.

There was another animal in my dreams, too: a little black bull that ran slow figure eights, trying to escape a matador. But somehow the scene shifted from Spain to Great Britain, prompted perhaps by news of Parliament’s debate over outlawing foxhunts. The bull became not quite a fox but something like a wild boar, I think, and the matador turned into a picador with a sword, then a hunter with a rifle, who walked casually behind the wounded, staggering animal with the barrel almost touching its hide. Why didn’t he shoot?

In Order to Talk with the Dead doesn’t seem to fit my mood this morning – I guess I’m looking for gravity more than nostalgia – so I go back inside and pull a volume of Charles Wright off the shelf: Appalachia (FSG, 1998). Again, I open at random and read:

Only the dead can be born again, and then not much.
I wish I were a mole in the ground,
eyes that see in the dark.

Star-nosed mole, I think. Blind, but carrying a beacon, a prehensile headlamp.

It’s always a dilemma, you see. Should I write poetry or prose this morning?

Wright, in “The Writing Life”:

Give me the names for things, just give me their real names,
Not what we call them, but what
They call themselves when no one’s listening –
At midnight, the moon-plated hemlocks like unstruck bells,
God wandering aimlessly elsewhere.

Elsewhere: there’s a ball I could run with! But I forgot to say that mole in the ground made me think momentarily of the waterlogged soil hereabouts – and then back to cats, again. Because ordinarily that’s the only way I ever get to see a mole: if a cat kills one and then leaves it in the grass when it discovers how bad it tastes. And right on cue – I swear! – a feral cat trots down the driveway. The black one with white stockings, out in the rain no doubt because she’s hungry and has no choice, and/or because she knows the rain will give her cover. Sure enough, she makes it down around the bend and out of sight without a single heckling squirrel or wren marking her passage. It’s been so long since my unilateral cease-fire went into effect that I don’t even remember to squint as I once would have done, drawing an imaginary bead on the back of her neck.

It’s so dark, I think, it might as well be 7:30 at night instead of 7:30 in the morning. Flash floods are forecast for later on today as Ivan moves through, and I worry about our access road. Two days after Frances, a section of the road bank slid into the stream down in the steepest part of the hollow, leaving a new, precipitous drop-off right at the edge of the track. We half expect to walk down to the slide area tomorrow and find the road half gone. If that happens, we’ll be cut off from the outside world for a month or more, until a contractor can get the necessary permits to bring his equipment up and rebuild the bank with limestone riprap.

*

Black cat in the rain, hunter,
avatar of luck I cannot begin
to classify, may the first star you see
herald a clearing sky. May it lead you
to slow prey & a quick kill: mouse
or vole or chipmunk, no star-
nosed mole. May hunger make you
attentive, disinclined to play with
your food. One slip
& the owl’s talons, those four-
pointed throwing stars, can find
their mark. May you keep
your distance from anything
with feathers, large
or small. I’ve never given
you a name, O wary one – I couldn’t
begin to hazard it. The bullets rest
in the cartridge case now
like little gold eyes, any one of which
could bore a blind tunnel through
the back of a neck. Let lead
lodge elsewhere, its paths
uncrossed. May all miners
stay dry in their tunnels, pray
that the mountains stand firm,
don’t backslide, & the creeks
don’t rise.

UPDATE (Saturday morning): The creek rose. Ivan has caused the worst flooding here since Agnes in 1972. The Plummer’s Hollow Road is still there – barely. Several portions are channelized too deeply for auto traffic, however. In addition, the river is over the highway at the bottom of the mountain. It looks as if I’ll be backpacking in groceries for a little while. Oddly, we never lost power.

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