What strikes me is its violence of grace.
Head thrown back upon body, finger-bones wrenched in a final fallen spread of wings. A specimen praised for its clarity of articulation, bones outlaid/joints meeting as they might have done in living. Image of a life form caught up in water caught up in mud surrounded by sediment and time just had its way; time just turned to stone.
The Berlin archaeopteryx has been called a work of art. Pulled from Bavarian limestone, the specimen stands for viewing in the Museum für Naturkunde. Archaeopteryx lithographica cased in glass, courtesy of careful excavation.
This specimen is famous, a genuine celebrity from time’s fallout. It is not alone in the world, but the number of its company is small: Eleven specimens of archaeopteryx, plus the single stone feather-print that started it all.
What archaeopteryx is or was has long been subject to debate. Is it a reptile? Bird? Some transitional fossil, long-sought link between the two? The remnant begs question after question seeking certainty, solution.
If you were an archaeopteryx, men with important degrees and burgeoning reputations would spend years debating your reality. Were you a fraud? Were you planted by vigilante scientists hoping to prove evolution’s occurrence? How could you possibly exist, you caught between species, you breaking rules of what can be!
Of course the logical conclusion is that you don’t exist, you can’t exist. Never mind that it’s a matter of interpretation, bone-reading a divinatory technique of its own. Easier to void the possibility than revise structures of comprehending. Easier when faced with complications to suggest an absence.
I feel as if I’m being pointed here. But of course I mean what I say.
Say information is given to us with purpose. Say we become educated through what we hear and what is crammed into our comprehension.
This is a thought.
At each turn, our knowledge consists of collected fragments, bones, impressions of the worlds and words time’s left behind. Tracings in stone keep us from forgetting. Its answers are of course unclear, its answers are infinite, but its being grants access to knowings elsewise unrevealed.
I have found part of my being in the pockmarks of stone.
As have you. As, I think, have we all.
I find myself drawn to natural history museums. Always feeling somehow at home among these figures speaking pastness. Where self can find self rifted in, divided through time. Wanting to know what life once crept across these skulls, thinking that we carry these skeletons-to-be, our last remaining pieces, through life.
The trouble with museums is that I can’t quite trust their tellings. That though I may desire sense of time’s dissonance, I stand aware of histories erased by formal framing, of remains tossed to the wayside.
What I mean here and ever is hear and learn with apprehension. Accompany yourself with disbelief.
A proposition to bear in mind, if you will: That every fossil once took the air (or near enough), presenting what could be classed as life. What we see now as solid held existence in organic change.
Corollary suggests that every living creature may become a fossil. That we carry the potential for fossilization in our very being, by (f)act of our existence.
And some of us may already be half-altered, living fossils as we stand, the creep of time grown anchored in our bones, the fashion of our being calcified.
You may or may not know a fossil.
What you make of this is your business.
Say every word I speak has been unearthed. Discovered from the history of my self or excavated from the circumstances of the world. This word, the sum of its parts and your observation.
It’s a dust of words, I think, that connects one place with another. Sometimes.
I used to dream about visiting subterranean unknowns, with a Verne-inspired dive to find living fossils and the deep-earth storm. This adventuring was workable in softness of sleep, but my aversion to enclosure, my near-panic at containment could never handle it. What I require is space. I mean open, or discernibly open, space.
I have been underground. Family trips (we were and we remain a family that takes cross-country trips, which tells a thing or two) invariably brought us to some sort of cave, with tours through the more safely presentable areas. Go down even twenty feet, can feel yourself miles removed, as if natural light has been rendered unreachable. Air itself drawn at a distance. Like suddenly the stakes have shifted, all suppositions thrown awry.
Didn’t mind the darkness, didn’t even mind the cold. As long as tunnels didn’t narrow off. As long as there was space around.
But, Jesus, show me close-crushing walls, I could forget to breathe.
So maybe underneath isn’t for me.
Still the thought of it, I hold.
A few years ago, my mother and I undertook a haphazard hunt for fossils. Our method was simple: Sit on a bank and throw medium rocks at larger rocks.
We’ve never claimed to be expert excavators.
This is just a thing we do.
I could tell you a story, an actual-facts story about a pebble. The pebble was my… great-uncle? My mother’s uncle. Or some relation of that sort, I don’t know. The pebble was Kevin. Kevin was by this time a corpse, nicely powdered and placed at the back of the church. The pebble rose to being through the words of the presiding priest. Say the man was a rock because the man was an irritant, pebble in the shoe of friends and family. Thank fuck Jesus wanted him, because apparently no one else did.
This story is true in the surface-level, "yes the words were spoken released into the air" way. I still laugh, and I still wonder. Pebble exists because pebble was a person, but even more importantly because the idea of the pebble found form in words through the conduit of this priest. These words withstand as remnants in my memory.
These words have been released again.
Somewhere in my being is the DNA-trace of a pebble.
I can believe that.
I could tell you another story, truer in a different sense. Beneath earth’s surface there is a man who is not a man freely entombed and remains given to rifting.
Think scent of stone and long-packed earth, echoes in a condensation-drip atmosphere and the man’s throat filled with dust and thousand-year droplets. Can taste the growth and crawl of time, its stagnance and its domination.
This man a fossil of his own being, archaeopteryx if archaeopteryx were given human form. Child of sedimentation, child of calcification, stiff-limbed broken voice.
And this man’s eyes are nothing but flint.
How the man came to be here stands a mystery. Whether birthed from rock, whether crawled out from fossils. Whether he began aboveground and found himself thrust downward, perhaps began by scraping at the earth and one day found he’d dug himself too deep.
Or think it that he never acted, only found himself pushed down from air. Buried over time, if you like. The way it happens: earth’s accumulation creates a dweller of beneath.
His call is terrifying to me and his cry is lovely.
I heard, every time, I heard every word,
heard formation and frustration of each sound
something akin to rage and to wounding.
It’s surrounding’s crush that aches him, I imagine. What won’t stop straining down.
Something I would do is take you down beneath the surface, as far as you can stand it. Where the fossil is or would be.
So watch your breathing. Watch your lungs.
Breath is a requirement for articulation. Cannot compose a word, let alone a skeleton without recourse to your exhalation. Can’t create a thing without the rise and fall of your own chest.
And it is easy, it is so easy to be caught up stifled.
To be choked by sediment of what was, as much as by dust of present motion. To find time caught in your veins, weight of stone against lungs stagnant coil clutching in throat, all that clamps the head as well, that keeps thoughts from formation.
So strangulation. Is a word for what a fossil feels. And what strikes me about the word itself is "strange"—that to be strangled is to be strange and strange strangled, tangled and tensioned with oneself, within the unstill form that pulls a being whole.
Everywhere, a quantity of distance.
Distance of this under-earth. Distance of your absent breath. Nothing here to imitate
Down here, call it quiet, but you know if you close your eyes can hear it in your heart, drum-strikes of those million marking feet, symphonic-wayward pull of breath and motion, disparate but heard as if moving all in time as one. Down here guided by the shape of rock, five hundred miles pressured up against itself. Feel the weight of the surface, hold aware with every rising of the chest. Where air hangs wracked by dissolution of time, so time in fracture is all the taste and the matter of my lungs.
hold it, am held within and outside of its crushing.
So time sinks into air around. At turns breathing in, at turns feeling almost its connection. But mostly time hangs distant. Mostly I forget I forget I’ve forgotten.
Everything has its purpose. Arrangement and decision.
And think now—we can think now—that this here, this wording, this presenting is a way of setting forth my own bones. Encounter yields display. Museum the self with(in) expression. I assume an anyone may glance into these words. I assume the potential for reception.
Presumed presence of others thus becomes a way to keep a hold of self. A way to retain context that makes a matter of must. Aware of any you, my breathing finds forward, finds ways to burst forth. Self can give impress, but at times there must be observers. Witnesses, guests at the museum
before life goes out of these bones.
Say I think myself scaled avian, still human.
Here is a fact: I’ve never broken a bone in my life. Which is strange to me. I’ve rolled and sprained many an ankle, but actual breaks? Not so.
Actually, bendy ankles are sort of a family thing, inherited from our father and shared among we-siblings. We have this game, a contest to see who’ll be next, and how and where. (Fractures are another category entirely, their trophy held by the elder of my brothers.) I once managed an ankle roll while standing on my aunt’s front lawn; my sister’s claim to fame is a wrenching hers on flat pavement. My youngest brother twisted his in a fit of post-shuffleboard euphoria. But our father’s still winning the game: he twisted his ankle while sitting at a desk.
My bones may never have broken, but they aren’t precisely healthy, either. Not so solid as once they were. So my being bears an odd resemblance to those who fly. My own bones, that is, have been hollowed out, though not as bird and not from birth. Not to permit soaring. Call it more prosaic, a time-tracked disintegration of my own doing. What happens when bones don’t have what they require.
Lacking sustenance, bones change. Structure alters.
I don’t know how brittleness fossilizes. If its impress is the same or if it leaves a lighter, lesser impact.
But that isn’t the point. What I mean is I have effected change. That the body down to its frame is prone to alteration. My acting, you see, my self-expressing revises the form of my being down to the very structure. Down to the way this form may persist once I have gone.
Been left with this structure, but it is not final.
Been left with this structure, but how I am and how proceed may change it.
Time not only always weighing bones down, but enacting transformation. So I am—if you will—a transitional fossil between my past and future self. My structure never solid till it’s bounded into rock (or burned away to ashes, cased in wood, whatever you like).
For the most part, we reform, reshape, resolve ourselves.
Sartre talks about destruction as natural change, one form to another. Matter eroded from a stone doesn’t disappear; it becomes other than. Turns to smaller stone or turns to sand. Then adheres to some new form, helps build its being to partake of another identity.
Existence itself becomes a simultaneous process of disintegration and creation. That I am always, you are always, at once eroding and on the way to finding form.
So behold what we had and behold what will have.
What is it falls to loss between one and the other?
Is it you or I or all?
Where are we founded on if not this shifting, shaking?
Nothing end-wise about it. Just another way to see.
It is important to me. That I discover how to draw air, exhale, repeat recur recall. You know a creature could swallow its own breath, neglecting to remember surface. You know stone has swallowed the breath of countless voices.
And what I am is not saurian or bird, but maybe there is/ Flight in my bones. In my blood, in my veins. What I gained through my structuring and deep-grown pastness is anybody’s guess and who can say that there is not propensity?
I am and am not as I frame my self. Relic and un-remnant in each moment.
Half-unfixed, and wishing nothing other.
The wonder of the being who is human and is feathered saurian is that, however flint his eyes, however far compassed in stone, he remains yet changing. That there exists a one (and I should guess a many) who never did cohere. Never changed in the ways stone commanded, never listened to the way time begged concretion of the bones.
Fossilization one way and another.
What isn’t always, only ending.
revisit and revision.
Years, eons ago there was a bird that was not a bird; it was a reptile that was not a reptile and there was a death that became a burial beneath earth’s sand, mud and water. Accumulation of years. And the not-quite-bird-reptile became bones and the bones became stone and the stone became silence awaiting destruction or discovery.
But some ways. Some times, the fossil holds living.
I am not yet stone, and so with every instant I dissolve, re-form.
Change is all that I ask of myself.
Erosion at each level.
I am what you see and I am what I say and I am all the pieces dusting in-between. So if I stand below the surface if I know myself through pieces of my was and worlding’s remnants, through all that crowds my edges, still I shift uncaptured to the end.
Call me an uncaught ever, sustaining as I do remain.
This is not grace, but it is motion.
And I, defiant of conclusion, will linger unknown on.
kristi banker exists in the form of an unfinished pun and that is about all. sometimes she has lived in michigan. sometimes she has lived in iowa or wyoming or maybe other places. now she lives in a forest of wounding and could confess herself compact of jars. one day a bee fell into her pocket. it was a good day.