The Geology of Norway

I keep coming back to these words about time, space and the body. Poetry has a way of unfolding slowly and releasing new ideas from the same words every time they are read. I wonder about the epoch we are in, and the beauty behind the stirrings that guide our discontented hearts.

 

The Geology of Norway

Poem by Jan Zwicky

But when his last night in Norway came, on 10 December, he greeted it with some
relief writing that it was perfectly possible that he would never return.
-Ray Monk, Ludvig Witenstcin

I have wanted there to be
no story. I have wanted
only facts. At any given point in time
there cannot be a story: time,
except as now, does not exist.
A given point in space
is the compression of desire. The difference
between this point and some place else
is a matter of degree.
This is what compression is: a geologic epoch
rendered to a slice of rock you hold between
your finger and your thumb.
That is a fact.
Stories are mere theories. Theories
are dreams.
A dream
is a carving knife
and the scar it opens in the world
is history.
The process of compression gives off thought.
I have wanted
the geology of light.

 

They tell me despair is a sin.
I believe them.
The hand moving is the hand thinking,
and despair says the body does not exist.
Something to do with bellies and fingers
pressing gut to ebony,
thumbs on keys. Even the hand
writing is the hand thinking. I wanted
speech like Diamond because I knew
that music meant too much.

 

And the fact is, the earth is not a perfect sphere.
And the fact is, it is half-liquid.
And the fact is there are gravitational anomalies. The continents
congeal, and crack, and float like scum on cooling custard.
And the fact is,
the fact is,
and you might think the fact is
we will never get to the bottom of it,
but you would be wrong.
There is a solid inner core.
Fifteen hundred miles across, iron alloy,
the pressure on each square inch of its heart
is nearly thirty thousand tons.
That’s what I wanted:
words made of that: language
that could bend light.

 

Evil is not darkness,
it is noise. It crowds out possibility,
which is to say
it crowds out silence.
History is fill of it, it says
that no one listens.
The sound of wind in leaves,
that was what puzzled me, it took me years
to understand that it was music.
Into silence, a gesture.
A sentence: that it speaks.
This is the mystery: meaning.
Not that these folds of rock exist
but that their beauty, here,
now, nails us to the sky.

The afternoon blue light in the fjord.
Did I tell you
I can understand the villagers?
Being, I have come to think,
is music; or perhaps
it’s silence. I cannot say.
Love, I’m pretty sure,
is light.
You know, it isn’t
what I came for, this bewilderment
by beauty. I came
to find a word, the perfect
syllable, to make it reach up,
grab meaning by the throat
and squeeze it till it spoke to me.
How else to anchor
memory? I wanted language
to hold me still, to be a rock,
I wanted to become a rock myself. I thought
if I could find, and say,
the perfect word, I’d nail
mind to world, and find
release.
The hand moving is the hand thinking:
what I didn’t know: even the continents
have no place but earth.

 

These mountains: once higher
than the Himalayas. Formed in the pucker
of a supercontinental kiss, when Europe
floated south of the equator
and you could hike from Norway
down through Greenland to the peaks
of Appalachia. Before Iceland existed.
Before the Mediterranean
evaporated. Before it filled again.
Before the Rockies were dreamt of.
And before these mountains,
the rock raised in them
chewed by ice that snowed from water
in which no fish had swum. And before that ice,
the almost speechless stretch of the Precambrian:
two billion years, the planet
swathed in air that had no oxygen, the Baltic Shield
older, they think, than life.

 

So I was wrong.
This doesn’t mean
that meaning is a bluff.
History, that’s what
conhses us. Time
is not linear, but it’s real.
The rock beneath us drifts,
and will, until the slow cacophony of magma
cools and locks the continents in place.
Then weather, light,
and gravity
will be the only things that move.

 

And will they understand?
Will they have a name for us? — Those
perfect changeless plains,
those deserts,
the beach that was this mountain,
and the tide that rolls for miles across
its vacant slope.