Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jack Scott writes

One Black Swan (pt 9)

It was simpler in the old days before the old man died,
intestate and heirless, before the State took over
laying down restrictions which I early learned to skirt
by baldly lying and/or feigning ignorance if challenged, 
as happened rarely.
I was prepared to say whatever they wanted to believe
allowing me to slip between the short arms of the law.
Authority came to know me; I became accepted over time.
They grew to think me harmless, which I was,
neither threat or liability. 
Some thought I was a scientist
who knew what he was doing, so I swelled to fill the role.
Memorizing Latin nomenclature was one facade that helped.
I came to be on speaking terms with owners of property above,
agreed to all their terms, offered compliance with their wishes.
I wouldn’t dig or litter
or climb the stairs up to their homes
or upon that “attractive nuisance.” the cliff itself.
If they were on the beach or coming down to it
I would leave discretely as if I’d never been there,
unless they gave a sign of welcome as some would often do.
Technically, I was an interloper,
but they came to think of me as watchman of benefit to them.  

The old man’s house is long gone, razed by the state,
replaced by a bright museum, as opposed to gloomy,
now more like a hotel lobby. 
They retained his collection and expanded it.
It’s still a helpful reference
though they’ve not surpassed his accuracy or knowledge.
I check out their Indian points from time to time
to see if they’ve added to them.
They’ve come to think of me as the guy who came with the beach.
The public shore is often crowded now -
as are beaches everywhere -
more pickers picking, more so after rain or storms,
but the horn of plenty is as full as ever.
It won’t run out.

I sometimes gave the fisherman I was a day,
a small vacation.
I’d bring my tackle and just play.
That was acceptable.
I’d given at the office, paid my dues of debt.
I’d catch Spot and Bluefish, sometimes Trout or Flounder,
which are as they were, their fossils underfoot.
Multi-tasking conflicts with my religion,
but though this was technically a fishing day
I couldn’t keep myself from walking
with eyes cast down around my feet or upward at the cliff.
When my eyes and neck got tired I’d mix in some variety
prowling the open beach, selectively collecting -,
practicing catch and release.
To the bone
I’ve always been a beachcomber and fisherman. 

I took so many wrong directions - fundamental ones -
on the advice of others or through my own conjectures.
My first guess had been Indians,
because I’d found an arrowhead 
because they’d lived here - how naïve.
They were the settlers in this vacant place, or so it's said,
immigrants from the east and west of North
at most twenty thousand years ago.
The Miocene was more like twenty million.

My logic had been thus:
The traffic of migration was controlled
by something like a see-saw of water and its alter-ego: ice.
When one was up, the other’s down,
each a blanket of the planet either way.
Three quarters of the surface of the earth was water, 
ice more or less one fourth of that in variable ratios. 
Once the planet cooled and hardened in its infancy
water was sometimes on top and sometimes not,
but always under water lay solid rock or earth. 

When the margins of the seas became paved with ice
hardy humanoids braved their ways upon the icy shores 
to greener pastures previously inaccessible to pedestrians,
and risked their ways from continent to continent
across ice bridges spanning perilous depths
while others crossed narrowed straits on rafts or boats
and some other creatures kept right on swimming
waiting for their moment to emerge. 

Elsewhere, others of the Stone Age
streamed like molasses ‘round the world from Africa
over many different routes.
Irrelevant, because their legacy was only
one hundred sixty thousand years or so of bones
and those in very foreign lands.
Their first arrows flew at most
sixty thousand years ago or so the story goes.
No, they also didn’t leave my arrowhead.

Whenever error is introduced into a system or a history
it clones itself as gospel
repeatedly begetting endless copies of itself,
grooming self-replicating plagiarists as carriers.
In cahoots with comfort, error has great power,
once entrenched in its disguise,
defying correction or removal. 
Like any uninvited visitor, it doesn’t want to leave. 
It must be recognized, acknowledged, exorcized,
a ritual involving danger
for its brave or foolhardy undertaker.
The longer it remains in place, the deeper it becomes embedded,
the more resistance there will be to the pulling of this splinter,
an act sure to attract resentment, scorn,
and the risk of martyrdom.
It means going back to school again for kiddies of all ages.

On any stage there is an actor
casting himself in all the leading roles,
performing them because he’s unopposed.
He persists because unchallenged,
taking all the space, breathing all the air.
We host this parasite at our expense as long as he is in our face;
we are his captive audience
because he says the exit’s locked.
That’s why it’s said that science grows “a funeral at a time.”

If science fails us, may we simpler laymen,
find some core of truth within myth and legend:
pearls whose metamorphoses
began with grains of sand or diatoms? 
Willful ignorance is an insult,
especially from those in authority,
who should know better, act better
and be better than the rest of us.
Good role models never have been too plentiful;
maybe they aren’t paid enough.
Too often science dictates what it can’t pronounce or spell.
Looking at the bottom of a bygone sea
it’s hard to form a clear image of geology.
Some, having had a glimpse, say they know the rest
and so are paid to teach it.

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