Thursday, May 24, 2012

Grand Canyon Part 2: Unleash the Poems

I cannot seem to post poems on this little blog without an admission that I know my poetry is terrible. (I disclaim at length and provide my apologia for ‘doing things poorly’ here.) But I enjoy it. And the mix of mental downtime and metal stimulus on a scientific float trip produced some entertainingly earnestly nerdy poetry at the interface of geology and theology, which may just make up in ironic value what it lacks in aesthetic value.

The first poem is about the great unconformity: a stratigraphic plane at the base of the Canyon Formation where the rocks above are 1.2 billion years older than those below it. You can span the conspicuously missing time with the breath of your hand.

This kind of cognitive incongruity almost demanded aesthetic response…and my response is usually a terrible poem.

The Great Uncomformtiy

Books are mostly white space;
Absence the dominant content of narrative.
And geologists are spendthrift with years.
What’s a million here or there?
But a billion year silence?
…It's deafening.

Ediacaran, we hardly knew thee
Cryogenian need not apply
Toninan has not Trilobites
(so we hardly care anyway)
Just beneath Tapeats,
encroaching on the dawn of life
Vishnu rumbles
Biding its isostatic release

Like Similarion [1] dusty on the shelf
Back-story imagined but unread
One point two-thousand-million
Years of pre-Cambrian lack
Like confessed sin
A Story that was, isn’t
And is more startling for its absence

The reference to Vishnu in the first poem is from the name of the metamorphic base unit[2]: the Vishnu Schist. It is a gorgeous unit. And it is dark and complicated, ancient and mysterious. And the ancient metamorphic mass seems an apt metaphor for a deity who is known as ‘the preserver.’ It makes you think the naming geologists may have actually given it some thought. But there is also evidence that they just had the surface understanding of eastern faiths that accompanied shallow 60’s religious experimentation and syncretism.

The Vishnu schist has two sub-units: the Rama and Brahma formations. Rama makes a ton of sense...But Brahma…as a sub-unit of Vishnu??? I am no Hindu scholar, but even I know that Krishna makes way more sense there. Rama and Krishna are the two most famous avatars or incarnations of Vishnu. They are taxonomically ‘sub units.’ But Vishnu is a Trimurti ‘sub-unit’ of the Brahma whole. To make Brahma subordinate to Vishnu smacks of “dude, isn’t it cool to name rocks, like, after Eastern ideas…that will make me seem worldly…and totally piss off my mom.”

Oh, but we are not done. The Vishnu schist is stark and lovely in its own right, but it is most dramatic when it is criss crossed with streaking granitoids…plutonic intrusions marking the dark tangled matrix of the schist with sharp, bright, pink streaks of K Feldspar. For this formation, the namers came west a bit, and selected a more novel deity to match the more novel rock, calling it the Zoroaster Granite.

Well, I have a few rules in life. And one of them is, if you spend multiple days staring at two gorgeous intertwined units, named after ancient eastern deities, to the point that they start to take on the properties of those deities in your mind…you write a poem.[3]

A Confrontation Epic...In Basement Rock

If Vishnu and Zoroaster were to meet,
Anywhere but the Mumbai streets [4]
I suspect that the story would repeat
The drama just beneath Tapeats

Vishnu ‘s ancient complex rock
Slow steady change on an enormous clock
Ancient but mutable basement block
Rama [5]opens a can and draws his Gloc

Then flashing through the dark formation
Zoroaster’s plutonic nation
Bringing novel simplicity[6] (and a Persian persuasion)
Like (very slow) lightning through the seventh incarnation [7]

[1]This is Tolkein’s encyclopedic history of middle earth that even some of his biggest fans mostly ‘mean to read but have never gotten to it.’
[2]I am convinced of two things: 1) Metamorphic rocks are so rich with wonder and narrative that they may bee the coolest of the geologic Trimurti (see what I did there)…and…2) Metamorphic geologists are kind of like the drummers in high school band. Everyone respects them, no one understands them, and we all think they are a little odd. (As to whether or not, like the drummers, they also get the most girls…I have no data.)
[3] Actually, you write 4. I filled notebook pages with fragments, stanzas, even a comically bad limerick. I hesitate to tell you this, because that suggests that the drivel below is the better than that…but sadly its true.  But my favorite unuse line was actually from the first poem...'Uncomfortably unconfomable."
[4]The only extant substantial Zoroastrian community currently lives in Mumbai.
[5]I had one line I really liked that likened the army of the monkey king in the Ramayana to the invasive tamarisk, trout or burrows. By the way, if you’d like a primmer on the Ramayana, I recommend ‘Sita Sings the Blues.’ It tells the story in 3-4 recurring art forms. My favorite is an animation of a discussion by 3 people who only vaguely remember the story from their childhood, and the narrative changes as their memories surge, wane, conflict and converge.
[6] Zoroastrianism was a form of stark Persian dualism which substantially post dates Vaishnavite Hinduism.
[7]Rama is the seventh avatar of Vishnu.

Part 1: a photo post is here.


D. Ian Spencer said...

I like this post. That over-1 billion-year gap is pretty intriguing.
Re Note 1: I must have been a true geek in high school since I must have read the Silmarillion like five or six times (along with several volumes of the "History of Middle Earth" series of unfinished or discarded histories and stories).
I also can relate to the feeling of wanting to share what may or may or may not be seen by others as bad poetry (actually, I liked yours here) - I once gave Gilda a hand-illustrated copy of a compilation of mine called "cheesy poems", complete with a picture of a platter of swiss cheese on the cover.
Oh, and Zoroaster/Zarathustra is the prophet of Zorastrianism, not one of its gods (the good god was Ahura Mazda). :)

stanford said...

I guess anyone who read 'City of God' for fun in high school might have made it through Silmarillion a couple times.

The story about your hand illustrated book of poems made me giggle.

Yeah, my langage about Z was sloppy. I almost went back and changed it once I posted...but didn't because it was itn the description rather than the poems itself.