The afternoon rests on our shoulders in a semi-oppressive way due to the heat and the seeming lack of oxygen. We’ve been waiting around and now the eco disaster tour bus has arrived. We are stationed at our respective outposts. We volunteer our insight and vitality whenever Randy conducts a tour. He is a poet whose practice has branched out and has extended to include site specific performance. Many of the others who make up the troupe are also poets, though a few are dancers and musicians. A jumbo cumulus cloud dominates the vista of sky and cool shadow prevails. I watch another of us lunge and twist their midriff. A translucent shimmering shape attracts my attention. A hallucination conjured by gentle pelvic motions starts to crystalize. The more attuned one becomes to submerged presences the more intimate time becomes. For a split second I look over to J and I register the alienation of the world, our western paradigms dissolve. The barely felt presence that J has summoned is responsible for the breakthrough. J seems to make eye contact with me. I feel their pupils—I can’t be sure, our gear obscures our features. We all have gleaming white, boxy hazmat suits on. Gender is nullified, as are our identities. Height is pretty much all that distinguishes us—our bodies are tubular and clumsily morph with the movements we make. When the cloud unmoored, I pivot around the dusty corner of a building and head out of focus from the others. The wind directs me easterly toward a fissure in the roadway, a minor tectonic fault line. Part of the road is sunken about an inch, the other side is raised; between the asphalt is a crack filled with sand, dirt and rotting matter, and, from these nutrients a miniature forest has begun to flourish. In a scorpion position I’m able to examine the tiny trunks, the tiny canopy. Insects navigate the green swatch of this indented forest chasm. From an aerial perspective the forest twitches and sways with the coastal wind. The smallest mushrooms I’ve ever seen sprouts from the rough, aged copper colored lichen that thrives under the seedlings. Hardly a car, truck or pedestrian travels this utility road—the micro forest is undisturbed for the time being. A cluster of microscopic red mites dart to a pebble. The moth that landed on my brow now touches down on the top of the tree near the lip of the crack. In this position it is clear that the rumbling earth resonates and ever-presently reconnects with energies that are at once, distinct and drawn into a membrane that quivers in its wholeness. Spending time as a giant on the edge of the forest reminds me that scale is contextual. My mind’s eye zooms in on a diagrammatic image of our galaxy. Earth is depicted as a pea-sized blue orb—a transiting dense mass projected into deep space after an epic explosive scenario. The fact of its wetness is defiant in the face of deep expansive stardust and antimatter. The last time we performed I got fixated on studying the surfaces we tread on because I wanted to know what the components of our planet are, to no longer remain ignorant to what dirt, concrete, asphalt and gravel consist of materially. To know the origins of what I’m constantly stepping on and walking over gives me a sense of plantedness. Planet Earth is a boulder hurling through a cluttered universe that may or may not form a boundary with nothingness. A herculean rock. A rock is a composition of molecules that cling together forming a gravitational center. Planet Earth has a solid outer crust made of rock forming, silicate minerals, a highly viscous mantle, a liquid outer core that is much less viscous than the mantle and a solid inner core with a radius of approximately 760 miles. This inner solid core is made of up of an exceptionally hot iron-nickel alloy. Earth is a planet, not a star—the difference being that stars emit heat and light continuously because of nuclear reactions firing inside of pressurized cores of hot gas. Yet, Earth would appear a star, as electricity illuminates its surface area and human-created nuclear facilities with firing reactors working nonstop smashing atoms are everywhere. The geologic record suggests that continent formation was episodic, beginning with the earliest crystal vestiges, 4.5 Ga ago. Acasta gneisses were formed during the precambrian supereon. In and around the deepest lake in North America, the Great Slave Lake, in the Northwest territories of Canada acasta gneisses are exposed. Geochronology is measured in Ga. One Ga is one billion years. Ma, the next unit of measurement is one million years and the lesser Ka is one thousand years. I feel the rush of continuum, a viscoelasticity. Sensitive of the torque necessary to rotate a spindle in a fluid. Like Earth, human anatomy contains an inner core of liquid. When I move I concentrate on the sharp right angles of joints connected to spongy flesh and the muscle mass that allows for contortion. I sit here perched on sharp gravel and sift the Earth’s broken chronology through my fingers. The amnesia of deep time vanishes when fondling rocks. The oldest Earth object known is a tiny zircon crystal found in Western Australia and was dated with a Shrimp ion probe. Maybe this fact is already obsolete, maybe an older entity has been located. A rush of wind lifts off the fine particles of dust and momentarily I’m blinded by the irritation. Feet lift skyward and my stomach scoops, hips sink concave and my chest forms a bowl. My body scrambles in participatory fusion. All the Earth’s water pours into the vessel of my body and I’m paralyzed because the weight is unfathomable. The impossibility of water in a stone environment, yet Earth’s interior and exterior is rheological. I rock back and forth syncopated with the ebb and flow of the tides that beat upon the shores that meet up with this forsaken space. S is suddenly towering over me, his legs straddled over my shins. His shadow is smoky quartz velvet. With his shadow overlaid, I roll over and play dead within the shade of a projected grey portrait. I assume the corpse position and instantly feel a narrative of death invade my thought centers. Absorbing the pain of this decommissioned fairground brings vomit to the back of my throat. Repetitive swallowing helps. During World War II a communication and command center for the Pacific theatre was established on these soils. And still another iteration—the place became a U.S. Navy base where Navy personnel practiced nuclear decommissioning. Decaying caesium-137 is part of the invisible archive of toxic substances the place tries to withstand. S wants to communicate something to me so I focus on him telepathically and images form. The participants in Randy's troupe are nonhierarchical but S is our soul protector. Without S maintaining this role, we would feel the weight of this place detrimentally. We would perhaps be bullied into submission by the pressure to abide by Randy’s objectives for the performance in ways that would cross the line. Thanks to S our dignity and respect is guarded. S’s unstated function is vigilance. Because he demands sensitivity we are always hydrated, don’t stay in the sun for long stretches. Regardlessly, we do absorb the ambient radiation because there is no way to insulate our bodies without actual equipment. The image in my mind’s eye is a red target. There is no context for this hologram. It floats in my imagination and I break the corpse pose to roll onto my back so I can once again gaze up at his face covered by the white hazmat suit. Without knowing what this mental cue means I file it for future reference. We give each other clues all the time. Randy is the explainer, we intuit. The red target has merged into a small globular shape and is translucent. It looks like a tunnel into space. Realizing that the crimson image is not a figment of my imagination—yet it feels as if I had somehow swallowed a wormhole and what I visualize is an MRI of an internal manifestation. It hovers in front of me simultaneously allowing me to peer into the contours. The raw shape comes in and out of focus. During the unfolding of this phenomenon, S shuffles away and briefly follows the path his shadow form makes. At the side of a dumpster our paths diverge. Unspoken arrangements help us navigate together. The gangly tree by the dumpster nonverbally insists I assume the corpse pose once again. Hyperawareness extends communication to all life forms. A stench from the dumpster amplifies aliveness. I take advantage of the rotten smells. Nostrils focus immediately on disagreeable input. Within the dumpster unknown quantities of matter are merging. It is a chemical process that signals death. I immediately realize that life thrives on decay. Holding still and deeply considering the odors intensifies a connection to the temporal location. The dead matter is shapeshifting. As I’m considering opening the dumpster lid to see what is inside I notice there is suddenly a shadow draped over the sandy surface of the roadway and the microforest. The shape of the shadow is oblong, in motion. Randy’s stipulation is that we not engage the visitors under any circumstances—not these specific visitors from the eco poetry conference or any others we perform for. We must resist interaction even when we know each other. We, the performers are almost impossible to recognize.
For more information about this piece, see this issue's legend.
Brenda Iijima’s involvements occur at the intersections and mutations of poetry, research movement, animal studies, ecological sociology and submerged histories. She is the author of seven full-length collections of poetry and numerous chapbooks and artist’s books. Her most recent book, Remembering Animals was published by Nightboat Books in 2016. She is also the editor of the eco language reader (Nightboat Books and PP@YYL). She is the editor of Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, located in Brooklyn, NY.
In the umwelt of Rose of Sharon, bamboo, lilac, camellia, London plane, locus, hemlock, crows, sparrows, blue jays, cardinals, juncos, etc.